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Plants for autumn interest

Posted: Monday 30 September 2013
by Adam Pasco

As we move into autumn, and the crescendo of vibrant colour from pots, baskets, bedding and hardy perennials fades away, it's all too easy to think the garden is shutting up shop for the year. Far from it!


Pennisetum 'Summer Samba'

As we move into autumn, and the crescendo of vibrant colour from pots, baskets, bedding and hardy perennials fades away, it's all too easy to think the garden is shutting up shop for the year. Far from it! There are many plants just coming into their element, and adding a few of these to your garden will inject new life into tired displays.

Some of my favourites are the ornamental grasses. Many of these have actually been making a contribution throughout the summer with their fantastic foliage, and in particular I must mention Miscanthus 'Zebrinus' with its waving stems of striped foliage, now around 1.5m high. You could grow this in a border, but mine has lived in a large patio tub for perhaps three or four years. For this I'd recommend using a plastic one that prevents compost drying out as quickly as a terracotta pot.

As we move from late summer into autumn, many grasses produce the most beautiful flower heads. Just look at the arching feathery heads of my Pennisetum 'Summer Samba' – irresistibly silky to the touch. Provided with a free-draining sunny site, these hardy grasses will look magnificent for months. Just a single plant in a patio pot makes a perfect seasonal feature, so position it carefully as I know you won't be able to resist stroking it as you pass.

Travel back to the 70's and gardens across the country boasted at least one clump of pampas grass. Do you still have one? This week I was reminded of just how majestic a mature pampas can look when I spotted one in a neighbour's front garden. Their tall, bushy silvery heads do look wonderful, so I wonder why they've fallen from popularity. Was the pampas grass just a plant of its time? Perhaps it grows too large for small, modern gardens. Well, pampas does grow quickly into large clumps, and its thick leaves are quite sharp and vicious!

On the plus side, I remember visiting Cambridge University Botanic Garden one spring and seeing dozens of ladybirds crawling from their winter sanctuary... at the heart of a clump of pampas grass.

Yes, do give ornamental grasses a fresh appraisal and check out those being offered at local nurseries now. In particular look at varieties of pennisetum, miscanthus, Arundo donax, Imperata, Stipa and perhaps even Cortaderia. Whether simply for foliage or striking flowers, I'm sure you'll find something that will enhance your garden this autumn.





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