The passing of summer's glory inthe garden presents you with new opportunities - from berry-bearing trees, fit for birds to feast on, to unusual seed heads and grasses.
Traditionally, autumn heralds the big clear-up - cutting down dead herbaceous perennials and clearing fallen leaves - in readiness for spring. But for me, the autumn to winter garden is as full of potential as any other season. Prepare your garden this autumn and turn it into a winter wonderland full of drama and beauty.
Plants can be beautiful in death, particularly if covered in a sharp frost that transforms seed heads and grasses into ghostly sculptures. Spiders' intricate cartwheel patterns glisten as they catch the rain, giving wonderful detail to your garden. Shadows are emphasized during the colder months, when the sun is low - more obvious when there's a covering of snow. For a dramatic skeleton silhouette, plant Viburnum plicatum 'Marlesii' and Cornus controversa - both have distinctive horizontal growth that extends their interest throughout the year. Weeping trees, such as Betula pendula 'Youngii' and Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii' also look splendid, with their strong outline and hanging branches.
Striking seed heads
Some plants really come into their own in the seed-head state, while others crumple into a decaying mess. Sedum 'Herbstfreude', with its succulent grey-green leaves and pink starry flowers that deepen to brick red, is one of the best garden plants in all stages. Butterflies adore the nectar of sedums and crowd the plant in early autumn, after which the warm-brown seed heads make a lasting display through winter. Phlomis russeliana flowers above a clump of soft, heart-shaped leaves and provides striking bobble-shaped seed cases, spaced at intervals on rigid, upright stems. Phlomis enjoy a sunny position in well-drained soil and have lilac-blue, lilac-pink or golden yellow flowers throughout summer. The brittie stalks persist well into the winter, even after a snowfall.
Echinops or globe thistles are among my favourite late performers. Their thistle-like leaves and flower heads are loved by bumblebees, and flower from midsummer to early autumn. Echinops ritro 'Veitch's Blue' has silver branching stems up to 1 m tall, clothed in dark green and deeply cut leaves with white backs. Indigo-blue buds open into balls of starry blue flowers. For a big impact, where there is space, Echinops 'Nivalis' has greyish-white flower heads and reaches a height of 1.2m. Plant in well-drained soil in the full sun.
Other plants with long-Iasting seed heads include echinacea, rudbeckia, acanthus, cynara and achillea.
The sight of Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberturm', with the seed heads weighed down by frost, can give much pleasure. Stipa gigantea and Helictotrichon sempervirens make beautiful focal points in a border. H. sempervirens has beautiful, arching blue-grey foliage, topped by oat-like panicles. It's best planted on its own, surrounded by lower plants. Stipa gigantea is a real beauty caught in early morning or evening light, and looks stunning planted with Verbena bonariensis, with its vibrant, purple flower heads that last late into the year.
Autumn berries arej often gobbled up by hungry birds, but, despite them, I'm still impressed by the display my humbie pyracantha puts on. Fire blight can be a common problem with pyracantha, but there are new disease-resistant strains available, such as P. 'Orange Glow', with vibrant and long-lasting red-orange berries. For a really spectacular berry display throughout the winter, Malus x robusta 'Red Sentinel' is perfect for a small garden. It has gorgeous white apple blossoms in spring, but its forte is revealed in clusters of red crab apples that look like large cherries. Birds seem to leave thern alone, ensuring a decorated tree weil into the New Year. Crataegus persimilis 'Prunifolia' has glossy dark green leaves, and the white flowers of early summer are foliowed by red fruits that deliver a long-lasting display.
Many roses produce ornamental fruit that can look very striking. I grow Rosa rugosa 'Fru Dagmar Hastrup', which produces large orange-red hips while it is still in flower with light pink single blooms. Rosa moyesii 'Geranium' produces cascades of plump orange-red rose hips, which reach their peak in October, and continue to decorate the leafless sterns weil into the winter months.
Grow it where you have space and enjoy the rich geranium-red flowers in summer.
Plant your spring bulbs
Planting bulbs can be very satisfying. For a little time and effort now, you get a glorious display next spring. Perfect for pots, beds or borders, bulbs should entice the laziest of gardeners. Here are some of my favourites:
Crocus tommasinianus 'Lilac Beauty'. This early spring-flowering crocus has lilac petals. Plant in full sun, where they will flower.
Daffodils are simply spring itself. Try Narcissus 'Salome' with its creamy petals and almost-pink trumpet. Flowers mid-spring.
Hyacinths look fantastic in terracotta pots. The scented 'Queen of the Pinks' has gorgeous, almost-cerise petals and flowers in late spring.
For something a bit different, try Fritillaria meleagris. Its display of pinky-purple, bell-shaped flowers is something to behold. Flowers mid-spring.
Tulips see out the spring bulb season. A new stunner is the mauve and cream 'Zurel' from the Alan Titchmarsh Bulb Collection, available from garden centres.
This indispensable 1ittle bible lists over a 7000 plants and a1so has a directory of stockists. So, if you've heard of a plant but can't remember its full name, start here (Dorling Kindersley, 12.99).
Things to do in October
- Prepare new rose beds with fertiliser
- Insulate your greenhouse with polythene sheeting to keep in heat
- Complete bulb planting
- Sow sweet peas in open ground
- Plant lily bulbs
- Cover tomato plants with a cloche to prolong the growing season
Q: In windy weather, I need sturdy ties to secure trees and shrubs. Which type are best?
A: Garden Ties trom Sellotape (3.99 tor six) have a Velcro strap so they can be used over and over. Loop the belt through and pull to secure. Call 01582 709530.
What's in bloom
- Japanese anemones
A real favourite at this time of year. A. x hybrida 'White Giant' has glorious semi-double flowers with a pale green eye.
- Nerine bowdenii
Even though it looks fragile, this beauty is as tough as old boots and survives frost. Its funnel-shaped flowers have a light scent.
- Rosa rugosa
This shrub rose has pink flowers followed by luscious, large red rose hips.