Flowers for October: the best plants this month
The flowers that are blooming bright this October month are warm and vibrant to help ease the transition to cooler days. Head gardener Tom Brown and nurserywoman Fleur van Zonneveld choose the plants they love. Photographs Jason Ingram and Maayke de Ridder
An exotic-looking alstroemeria, a sophisticated dahlia and autumn-flowering camellia are among the October flower choices. Read our piece on where to go to see them.
For more suggestions of excellent plants and flowers, why not read our 100 most beautiful and useful plants.
The purple-and-white tones of this salvia sit really well as the garden begins to wind down for winter. The gentle and somewhat soothing colouration of the October flowers works very well with the unfolding autumn colours and textures.
Salvias come into their own in our gardens in late summer, but like many, this one dislikes a frost. If you want it in your garden again next year, strike cuttings, protect them from frost, and make sure they get plenty of light until the end of May when they can be planted out into borders or containers. Chosen by Tom Brown
Origin Garden origin (species from Mexico and tropical Americas).
Conditions Free-draining soil; full sun.
Hardiness RHS H3, USDA 8a-10b.
Season of interest Midsummer until the frosts.
Alstroemeria Indian Summer (= ‘Tesronto’)
Striking blooms make this an excellent cut October flower – but pull rather than cut the stems to encourage its generous nature. The bronze foliage also makes it useful as a foil among other shrubs and perennials.
Foliage colour is best achieved by siting it in a sun-drenched position, but it needs moist, fertile soil to achieve the best display. Experience has taught me to mulch the plants well during their first winter to insulate the roots and ensure perenniality. Chosen by Tom Brown
Origin Garden origin (species from South America).
Conditions Fertile, free-draining soil; full sun.
Hardiness RHS H4, USDA 5a-9b.
Season of interest Early summer until the frosts.
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Dahlia ‘Karma Choc’
Avoid the trap of planting too many dark flowers together, and keep them as an accent to avoid these October flowers losing their potent impact. With most dahlias, ensure that the plant has a good framework of sturdy stems by enriching the soil prior to planting. A weekly tomato feed from mid-June will go a long way to giving you great results. AGM. Chosen by Tom Brown
Origin Garden origin (species from Mexico and Central America).
Conditions Fertile, well-drained soil; full sun.
Hardiness RHS H3, USDA 7a-10b.
Season of interest July until first frosts.
Abutilon megapotamicum ‘Wakehurst’
When I saw this cultivar in the new Exotic Garden at RHS Wisley I was impressed by the colour this flower displayed on a bright, sunny, October day. Its large, bicoloured flowers appear throughout summer but increase as the season progresses.
It can be grown as a free-standing shrub or against a sun-baked wall – both situations needing shelter from the extreme winter. I always strike cuttings in summer and overwinter in a frost-free place as an insurance policy. Chosen by Tom Brown
Origin Garden origin (species from Brazil).
Conditions Reasonably moist but free-draining soil; full sun.
Hardiness RHS H3.
Season of interest Midsummer through to late autumn.
A delightful, hardy saxifrage that is great for partially shaded borders or containers. In terms of an October flower, masses of frothy, white blooms cover the bronze foliage, which has provided interest for most of late spring and summer. Ideal for the front of a shady border that has good fertility and drainage.
To achieve the ideal growing conditions for this saxifrage, aim to replicate a deciduous woodland floor, with rich, open and crumbly leaf mould. AGM. Chosen by Tom Brown
Origin Garden origin (hybrid of Saxifraga fortunei from China, Japan and Korea).
Conditions Moist but well-drained soil; partial shade.
Hardiness RHS H4, USDA 6a-9b.
Season of interest Late summer until autumn.
Camellia sasanqua ‘Narumigata’
I love a plant that stands out from the crowd and this autumn-flowering species does that. Originating from Japan, sasanqua camellias require a more sheltered position than spring-flowering species, but if you have an ericaceous soil they are well worth a try.
I find the elegant, pure-white, single flowers of this cultivar particularly attractive at this time of year. During October, and then sporadically throughout the winter months, the flowers help to light up shaded and protected positions beneath the canopy of a tree. AGM. Chosen by Tom Brown
Origin Garden origin (species from Japan).
Conditions Fertile, moisture-retentive, and well-drained ericaceous soil; partial shade.
Hardiness RHS H4, USDA 7a-9b.
Season of interest Autumn and winter.
Rosa ‘fru dagmar Hastrup’
Rugosas are worth looking at if you’ve struggled with other roses, as they are robust and reliable. This one stands out for autumn colour and fruit.
The compact plants produce pointed buds opening to mid-pink, single flowers that evolve into large, eye-catching, red hips that flower from October. The glossy, green foliage is largely resistant to pests and disease.
In poorer soils, I grow Origanum around the base to attract pollinators and disguise foliage sacrificed lower down the stems. AGM. Chosen by Tom Brown
Origin Discovered as a seedling of Rosa rugosa and named in Denmark in 1914.
Conditions Fertile, well-drained soil; full sun or partial shade.
Hardiness RHS H7, USDA 3a-9b.
Season of interest Flowers from June until the autumn; foliage and fruit from October.
Known as lion’s ear, this tender perennial produces whorls of bright-orange flowers in October, adding an exotic flavour to container plantings and borders. It can be shy to flower when planted in a border, and is best in a container where roots can be restricted and fed with potash to encourage a strong flowering performance.
As an insurance policy, I would suggest taking cuttings and overwintering in a frost-free place, although in a sheltered garden you may be fortunate enough to get it through to the following year. Chosen by Tom Brown
Origin Southern Africa.
Conditions Will grow well in most free-draining soils; full sun.
Hardiness RHS H2, USDA 8a-11.
Season of interest Late summer through to early autumn.
x Amarine tubergenii Belladiva Series
Amarines gives a high summer-like display towards the tail end of the season and October, as the colder nights creep in. Bred as a hybrid between Amaryllis and Nerine, amarines combine the flamboyancy of the autumn-flowering amaryllis with the delicacy and robust nature of nerines.
Like both its parents, this is a bulb that is best suited to a sun-baked location with little competition to cast shade over it while it grows. It is also a bulb for which drainage is key, so if you garden on a heavy soil, I would suggest you stick to growing these bulbs in containers. Chosen by Tom Brown
Origin Garden origin (species from South Africa).
Conditions Well-drained soil; full sun.
Hardiness RHS H4, USDA 8a-10b.
Season of interest Autumn.
Borage is one of what are known as pioneer plants, those hardy species that are the first to colonise previously damaged ecosystems. It’s an annual plant found in many parts of Europe often growing along grass verges and below bushes, with leaves and stems that are covered with a woolly layer.
It sows easily, naturalises well, is beloved by bees and quite simply makes the heart soar just to look at it. In spring we often make a delicious, dark-green borage soup, garnished with its blue flowers as festive decoration. It is also used as a herbal remedy for several disorders. Chosen by Fleur van Zonneveld.
Height 70cm. Origin Europe. Growing conditions Well-drained soil; full sun to part shade. Hardiness RHS H5, USDA 2a-11. Season of interest Summer to autumn.
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