In the Garden: Autumn pops of colour light up your life

Olive Ryan takes a look at the garden at this time of year - and suggests getting organised for Spring planting
In the Garden: Autumn pops of colour light up your life

Dahlias, Salvias and Geraniums providing a great September display of flower and foliage.

AUTUMN can be a really great time to enjoy the changing tempo of the garden, as plants start to slow down, and falling temperatures provide the cue for plants to start shutting down in preparation for the winter months.

The enjoyment of the garden during the months of autumn can be increased by the addition of some late flowering herbaceous perennials.

Asters, Rudbeckia, Sedums, Salvias, Persicaria, Echinacea, Dahlias and Anemones all provide great colour and life in the borders as the evenings draw in and the temperatures begin to dip.

At this time of year the garden is layered with plants at different stages of growth, decay and development. Most are readying themselves to retreat back down into the soil, but later flowering perennials are just coming into their own. 

Annuals have completed their life cycle and are setting seed and winding down, while autumn flowering bulbs like autumn crocus and cyclamen are just springing into action.

Mature deciduous trees and smaller trees are beginning to register the shortening day length and occasional leaves can be seen twirling to the ground when there is a slight breeze. It really is a magical time of year as most plants in the garden begin to slow down and prepare for winter dormancy.

With the evenings drawing in, I love white flowering plants as they appear to become almost luminous in the fading evening light, and even have the effect of illuminating the garden or providing some guiding reflective torches at intervals!

Very aptly named Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’, with its white/green flowers, is currently doing this well (see Plant of the Week). A great plant in our climate, although it did struggle if it was not watered this summer. Hydrangeas love moisture at their roots and a lot of the flowers dried out and went brown this August, leaving slim pickings of quality flower heads to harvest and dry for our winter flower arrangements!

It’s time now to consider planting spring flowering bulbs, there is a great selection available in shops and garden centres but they sell quickly and it is great to have a range to choose from, so make your purchases now, even if getting them into the ground is not achieved until later in the year.

It is great to look forward to the emergence of some newly-planted treasures each spring, trying out different cultivars and types of bulb to assess what does best in your garden.

A bed of tulips today in the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin. Picture:  Leah Farrell /
A bed of tulips today in the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin. Picture:  Leah Farrell /

Tulips flower best in their first year of planting, so they really need to be planted every year to achieve a good display.

I have been planting the Darwin hybrid tulips in the open ground each year for the last few years as they do make a reappearance in the garden for up to five years and the colours are so cheerful with shades of red, yellow orange and everything in between!

Spring flowering bulbs make great spring pot displays that can be planned now. Colour co-ordination can look great positioned at the front door. Often, the colour scheme chosen is forgotten until it appears as if by magic early next year.

It is a worthwhile endeavour to undertake this planting now and reap the rewards in a few months when new growth and colour will be just what is needed.

Planting up pots of bulbs over the next few weeks and putting them to one side can make for great Christmas presents also, which friends and family will be thankful for as many people do not have the space, time or materials to undertake this task.

Autumn is a time for reflecting on what worked well in the garden over the last growing year and where improvements can be made for next year.

Changes can be made over the dormant growing season, which enables plants to be dug up and moved around if necessary. Making notes throughout the growing season helps, as plants flower and sometimes outgrow their space they may become leggy, not flower as well, or become overcrowded.

This is particularly true when trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants are combined together, as trees and shrubs get bigger the herbaceous layer beneath can suffer and may need to be moved to a spot with more light.

The garden is a constant work in progress and that is part of the joy of it, nothing ever stays the same and we as gardeners are constantly reviewing and planning. Happy Autumn planning this year!

Plant of the Week

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ is a robust shrub that will get to four metres tall with a similar spread if not pruned annually.

The flowers are cone shaped and emerge a lime green, fading to cream/white eventually, and taking on a flush of pink. This will do best in a moist but free draining soil in full sun to partial shade.

Flowering on the current year’s growth makes annual pruning more straightforward than the mop head or lace cap hydrangeas.

Pruning is usually undertaken in spring before buds burst, and they can be pared hard back to about 45-60cm from the ground, and to an outward facing bud, ensuring the new stems will grow outwards and avoid crowding at the centre of the plant.

Some thinning of the centre of the plant may benefit the overall shape and prevent too much congestion. Propagation by hardwood cutting in winter is quite an easy way to obtain new plants.

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