Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Autumn colour

After a relatively overcast August in the UK, when the vibrancy of late summer flowers has been toned down by the grey skies, the sunny opening to September is a reminder of the value of bright light in maximising the impact of late summer and autumn plantings.
Many plants flowering at the moment have a daisy form - either simple as in the Rudbeckia deamii shown above or doubled up as in the Shasta daisies and asters that also make valuable contributions at this time of year.  Other groups with daisy forms at their peak include the annual Cosmos and  Helianthus varieties, Bidens and Coreopsis.  Colours tend to yellow and blue/purple with plenty of whites to soften the clashes.  Some of the sunflowers show wonderful rusty dried-blood reds - 'Velvet Queen' is a favourite, whereas the asters (often quite scruffy plants overall) have a colour range extending from the classic blues and mauves through salmon and white to eye-popping pink (seek out A. 'Andeken an der Alma Potschke').  In short, if you are looking for a daisy to enliven your September garden, you'll find something, although of course the scale of a sunflower will have a very different effect to a cloud of small asters...
I have to confess that I love the simplicity of the single rayed daisies, and the Rudbeckia, with its black cone offsetting the bright yellow petals or the blue of Aster 'King George' contrasting with its orangey-yellow centre are pleasingly unaffected - robust and dependable at a time of the year when to be fussing too much in the garden seems just wrong - we are in wind-down mode and should rightly be enjoying a lull in the ornamental garden after all the hard work of the spring and early summer. 
 It's a happy fact that, with often similar environmental origins, these simple flowers associate superbly with the late-flowering grasses - Miscanthus varieties often have purply-brown feather plumes that would look magnificent behind a stand of the 'Velvet Queen' sunflowers, with perhaps a few of the branching, smaller-flowered 'Italian White' to leaven the mix.  A combination of the Rudbeckia with creamier, less strident Bidens can be partnered effectively with the drooping awns of Stipa gigantea, perhaps loosened further with the extraordinary weaving flower spikes of Stipa barbata.  There is still plenty to enjoy, and while the sun continues to shine in September and October, the daisies are there to bring colour and structure to perennial plantings.

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