The rich colour palette that autumn brings with it, doesn’t have to be confined to the canopies of trees. There are many autumn plants that can inject these warm shades into the garden and fill borders and beds with long-lasting colour. Nurserywoman Fleur van Zonneveld runs the Dutch nursery De Kleine Plantage and here, Fleur has recommended ten of the best plants for autumn that are long-lasting and pollinator-friendly.
Ironweed takes its Latin name from the 17th-century English botanist William Vernon who collected many plants in what is now the US state of Maryland. It’s a large plant for the back of a border that blooms exuberantly until late autumn with fluffy purple tassels combined in large umbels. This autumn plant grows best on a rich, slightly moist soil with lots of sun. It is beautiful as a cut flower, very attractive to butterflies and makes a nice successor to Eupatorium in autumn borders.
Height 2m. Origin North America. Growing conditions Moist but well-drained soil; full sun. Hardiness RHS H7, USDA 5a-8b. Season of interest Summer to autumn.
Aster rugulosus ‘Asrugo’
A beautiful and hassle-free aster that flowers abundantly and for several months. It doesn’t proliferate and doesn’t suffer from mildew. Over time it changes colour from white to dusty pink, making it a perfect plant to combine with other perennials in the pink and burgundy colour spectrum, such as Lobelia x speciosa ‘Fan Scharlach’, Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Blackfield’ or Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Tanna’. Its somewhat looser inflorescences make it ideal for more naturalistic planting schemes in autumn.
Height 70cm. Origin Garden origin (species Japan, eastern Asia). Growing conditions Moist but well-drained soil; full sun. Hardiness RHS H7. Season of interest Summer to autumn.
Commonly known as the cup plant, for its cup-shaped leaves, this tall plant is often used in meadow plantings and among tall prairie grasses, but can also look striking at the back of a border. Some find its height, spread and large leaves a little intrusive, but this seems insignificant compared to the radiant, yellow daisies – sometimes with up to 20 flowers on one four-angled stem – that are held high above the leaves. The autumn plant Silphium has about 12 known species, including a very beautiful, shorter plant we once saw at Great Dixter with greyish leaves.
Height 2.5m. Origin Central and eastern North America. Growing conditions Moist but well-drained soil; full sun to part shade. Hardiness RHS H7, USDA 3a-9b. Season of interest Autumn.
Bidens Campfire ‘Fire Wheel’
In recent years there have been several new developments in the orange, red colour range of Bidens, including the Campfire series, which make an excellent autumn plant for any richly hued border. This one blooms – in abundance – until late in autumn and has beautiful reddish-brown flowers with a striking golden ring in the middle. As the plants fan out broadly and have such a long flowering period, they make excellent fillers and are also ideal for weaving in among other plants at the front edge of the border or in pots. Not hardy.
Height 40cm. Origin Garden origin (species Mexico). Growing conditions Well-drained soil; full sun and part shade. Hardiness RHS H2, USDA 9a-11. Season of interest Summer to autumn.
This small impatiens is a big favourite. Although not hardy, provided winter temperatures remain above freezing it will continuously bloom from summer through to winter, and in warmer climates can bloom all year, producing an abundance of white-pink, violet-like flowers, hence the name pseudoviola. An excellent autumn plant for pots, it also works well as a bedding plant in moist and shady places. In our northern garden it is quite difficult to get this balsam through the winter, so we always take cuttings in the autumn, which, as with most impatiens species, is quite easy.
Height 40cm. Origin Kenya, Tanzania. Growing conditions Moist but well-drained soil; part shade to full shade. Hardiness RHS H2, USDA 10a-11. Season of interest Summer to winter.
Helianthus ‘Triomphe de Gand’
In the Netherlands annual sunflowers are very much in vogue at the moment. However, there are also several perennial helianthus worth looking at, including this lovely cultivar developed in Gent in Belgium. Its large, lemon-yellow flowers are around 15cm in diameter and have a heart of dark, slightly ochre-coloured, disc-shaped florets. If you regularly remove the spent flowers, it will continue to bring a sunny, golden glow to the garden until late in the autumn.
Height 1.8m. Origin Garden origin (species North America). Growing conditions Well-drained soil; full sun. Hardiness RHS H6. Season of interest Late summer to autumn.
Also known as the Kashmir spikenard, this giant of a plant makes a wonderful architectural statement. In summer it produces large clusters of cream-green rounded umbels that can illuminate the shadiest of spots. Then in autumn its brown-black berries give it a slight air of mystery. Most bizarrely it dies completely above the ground and rises in full glory the following season. Other species in the genus – Aralia californica and Aralia continentalis – are also voluminous while Aralia racemosa and Aralia cordata remain much smaller. All are very special autumn plants.
Height 2.5m. Origin Asia, from Kashmir to Nepal. Growing conditions Moist but well-drained soil; full sun to full shade. Hardiness RHS H5. Season of interest Summer to autumn.
Colocasia esculenta ‘Blue Hawaii’
Non-hardy colocasias have become extremely popular as architectural garden plants, possibly because there are so many beautiful examples to be found in exotic gardens. Colocasia is an extensive tropical genus with both valuable ornamental garden plants and edible plants. The cultivar ‘Blue Hawaii’ has beautiful dark reddish-brown veins in the leaves. It is especially spectacular with backlighting. The arrow-shaped leaves can grow up to 60cm. It is also a very useful autumn plant for the edge of container displays.
Height 80cm. Origin Garden origin (species southern India southeast Asia). Growing conditions Moist soil; full sun to full shade. Hardiness RHS H3. Season of interest Summer to 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.
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.
Saxifraga ‘Silver Velvet’
With its velvet red leaves decorated with a silver stripe, this saxifraga is one of the most beautiful, looking at first sight very similar to a Begonia rex. Its leaves look so soft and beautiful you may feel tempted to lay your head down on this attractive pillow, but if you did you would only destroy the exuberant fairy-like white pinkish blooms that rise above the foliage. It is a slow grower that seems happy in our clay soil, but prefers a soil that is slightly more acidic. Try this autumn plant in a pot on a shaded table.
Height 40cm. Origin Hybrid of garden origin (species Asia). Growing conditions Moist but well-drained soil; part shade to full shade. Hardiness RHS H4. Season of interest Spring to autumn.