Sunday, 17 May 2015

Colours of Autumn

 There’s chill in the air; we’ve had a few nights around 3°C and the garden is definitely winding down for winter. But the garden is still full of colour (surprisingly pink in fact). Some plants are throwing a late party (dahlias), some have just arrived (fungi - honorary plants, I guess) and some have only just germinated (broad beans, lettuces, peas and mustard greens seedlings).
Dahlias started their long flowering season in early summer and I started by growing only dwarf, sunny yellow (years ago), then dwarf white as well, perky plants to barely 45cm requiring absolutely no staking – a strict rule – for dahlias, anyhow. But recently Dahlia `Bishop of Llansdaff’ (left) with dark, smoky leaves and rich, velvety red flowers has made its way into the garden – in pots, for now. Reaching over one metre (so far) what stands out is that there is still some flowers now in May on tall, firm un-staked stalks; truly a fine plant. The dwarf ones require lifting and storage over winter (our soil is wet, wet, wet) but I’m hoping just to move my 3 pots of Dahlia `Bishop of Llansdaff’ to a dry spot during this time. Mid-spring might see me unpacking the biggest pot: that is the time to split your dahlia tuber clump, just before replanting.
Over summer I planted a favourite annual: cosmos (above), a handsome daisy which blooms in autumn. I prefer the tall ones but this year has exceeded expectations with 2.5m triffids towering over nearby salvias (deep pink and mauve ones) and roses (soft pink and white ones); while they’d look great in a vase, I can’t bear to rob the garden.
Roses are still flinging out a bloom here and there. Crimson. Pink. White. Yellow. Delicious shapes and scents.
This and last month were exciting for seeing the first blooms on some new roses – always a fantastic experience.
Rosa `Princess Alexandra of Kent’ flowered last week: placed to contrast with white `Wisley’ (rather strongly) it’s a most perfectly shaped bloom and, as with other recently bought roses, has a strong perfume, said by David Austin’s handbook of roses to have “a delicious fresh Tea fragrance which changes to lemon, eventually taking on hints of blackcurrants”.

A tall sage the colour of an English summer sky, Salvia uliginosa, still bobs up with a colour so pure that – luckily the bed is deep – you can forgive its wandering and unsteady nature. I just banish it from the front foot or 2, or about 50cm: the `neat’ zone for bulbs, bugle (Ajuga) , clumps of white tulips and short blue salvias.

Spirea and dogwoods are flaming up in hot leaf colours – virtual bonfires here and there – but the plant that still surprises each autumn is a perennial, Tweedia caerulea; possibly known best for its starry little flowers of porcelain blue in spring. Completely herbaceous, the leaves turn butter-yellow before the perennial dies down for winter; an additional charm, outweighed a little by the need to cut back the stalks soon afterwards.
Yes, it’s chilly but there’s plenty to see.
Jill Weatherhead is horticulturist, writer, garden designer and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design who lives in the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, and works throughout Victoria (

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