Even when summer is coming to an end and the days grow shorter, there are many hardy perennials, trees and shrubs to provide colour and form through autumn and into winter. Many shrubs and trees produce colourful hips and berries and other fruits while hardy perennials can flower right up the beginning of winter.
Here are our top 10 favourites for late summer colour.
Japanese anemones are one of the most popular late flowering perennials and perfect for any late summer and autumn flower border. One of the best varieties is ‘Honorine Jobart’ with pure white single flowers which are great for cutting. Japanese anemones are very easy to grow in sun or light shade and any moist, well drained soil. Once they have established, they readily spread. Other varieties include single and semi double flowers ranging from white to deep pink.
The cottage garden essential for autumn colour. Recently the botanists have reclassified Asters under names such as Doellingeria, Eurybia and Symphyotrichum but we still like to group them together under the heading Aster. Our favourite is the New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) because they are generally free of mildew and stay healthy right through the growing season. Pollinators love the late blooms. Grown in full sun in any moist, well-drained soil, they spread easily in the border to create a mass of autumn colour.
Ceanothus ‘Autumnal Blue’
Ceanothus ‘Autumnal Blue’ (Californian lilac) is an easy to grow, bushy evergreen shrub that becomes covered in mid blue flowers in late summer. The flowers are so profuse, they literally cover the plant. Grow in a sheltered spot or as a wall shrub in full sun.
The Chinese plumbago (Ceratostigma willmottianum) is probably our most popular shrub for late summer and autumn colour. Thriving in full sun or part shade, the amazing rich blue flowers last well into early autumn with the added bonus of lovely red autumn foliage. Plant in a well-drained soil.
This traditional favourite never fails to perform. Chrysanthemums work well in mixed borders with other autumn-flowering border plants, such as salvias, sedums and asters, as well as ornamental grasses. Choose open daisy forms to attract pollinators to the late summer garden. Avoid poorly drained soils and exposed locations. Most hardy chrysanthemums are hardy to at least -5˚C but it is safer to lift and store them over winter in the greenhouse or conservatory.
One our all-time favourites. The best choice for reliability and autumn colour is Cyclamen hederifolium which will soon self-seed to provide ground cover from winter to through to spring. The delicate flowers appear before the leaves in September. This is followed by marbled ivy-like foliage which provides added winter interest. They are especially useful for dry shade under trees where they will quickly establish to brighten the border.
No garden would be complete without Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ which gives wonderful colour from late summer right into the autumn. The lemon yellow flowers are an important nectar source in the late summer garden. Lemon Queen can reach up to 2 metres in height but don’t let that put you off, even in the small garden. They are easy to grow in most garden soils in full sun.
Reclassified by the botanists as Hylotelephium, we still know them as Sedums. One of the best performers is Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ with its large flat clusters of starry flowers in early autumn which are loved by butterflies and bees. Plant in a free draining soil in full sun. They are extremely drought tolerant.
We had to include at least one grass in our autumn favourites and the fountain grass, Pennisetum, is a must have. They thrive in full sun and look great as mixed autumn plantings in the border or planted in a container on the patio. We’ve also found them to be pretty drought tolerant, producing their feathery fluffy flowers in shades from white through to pink and reddish-purple.
The lilyturf, Liriope, is an evergreen perennial. The violet purple flowers, carried in dense spikes are a star performer in autumn, followed by densely packed black berries. We have found it to be a useful drought tolerant plant for shady conditions around trees and shrubs. It works well planted in a mixed shade border with Hosta, sedges and ferns.