I hope that everyone enjoyed Mothers' Day and that you - like me - milked it for all it was worth! I didn't receive a bunch of chrysanthemums this time, which didn't worry me as I don't really like those enormous bouffant ones which are sold for high prices at this time of year. I have actually started growing some of the more compact and smaller-flowered varieties of these herbaceous perennials (Dendranthema x grandiflorum) to bring extra colour into the autumn garden.
They can be had in myriad shades of pinks, purples, lavenders, white and burgundy, as well as the warm sunset hues of gold, tangerine, mahogany, rust, scarlet and yellow which seem synonymous with the season. They need a sunny spot with reasonable soil and are best if staked earlier on rather than when they have already sprawled over everything else nearby. You can often get potted ones quite cheaply in nurseries the week after Mothers' Day!
I always think of spring as being when daisies are in bloom, but there are quite a few other members of the Asteraceae family which appear in autumn to brighten up the scene. The herbaceous North American prairie daisies which I wrote about on 22 February have all gone, but there are still quite a few Dahlia flowers around, and the month of May is when the bizarre tree dahlia (Dahlia imperialis) appears, lending a note of triffid-like drama to the garden. It has looming stems like bamboo, which can grow 2-5m tall, topped with colossal single (or rarely, double) dahlia-style flowers of lilac-pink or white, like a child's drawing of a flower. It likes the same sort of growing conditions as its smaller cousins: full sun and rich, well-drained soil, and plenty of feeding to fuel its phenomenal growth.
It eventually forms huge tubers, which require a lot of garden space and it needs to be sheltered from strong winds, which may snap the stems: which is what happened to my specimen only two weeks ago just as it was about to bloom! There are other colours, including red and rich purple (e.g. 'Timothy Hammett') as well as double forms, but the lilac-pink one is the most commonly seen. The tree dahlia is best grown in amongst other tall autumn-flowering shrubs, such as Camellia sasanqua or Tibouchina, to give it support and to provide companion flowers. Some of the statuesque autumn/winter-flowering Salvia which grow to around 3m - such as Salvia wagneriana, Salvia involucrata x karwinskii and Salvia purpurea are in bloom at the same time and provide a suitable sense of scale to the tree dahlia if planted nearby.
Another autumn giant is the tree daisy (Montanoa bipinnatifida), growing to about 4.5m tall, with white daisy flowers on tall canes. It also tends to be a bit brittle so should be planted in a protected spot with some stronger shrubs around it. Like the tree dahlia, it needs to be cut back ruthlessly in late winter.
The shrubby perennial green-leafed Paris daisy (Euryops chrysanthemoides, ht 1m) - which is actually from South Africa - also often seems to start its long flowering period in autumn, with its mass of cheerful bright yellow daisies which will continue through winter and into spring. It benefits from regular dead-heading and an overall trim at the end of its blooming period. Every few years it will weaken and become hideously straggly, but such a hardworking plant can be forgiven for that, and a new one is easily produced from a cutting or one of its many seedlings. The grey-leafed version (Euryops pectinatus) also has many flowers now.
The perennial asters - Michaelmas or Easter daisies - tend to flower earlier in autumn, but one cute little one I have is still in bloom. This is Aster sedifolius (syn. Aster acris) which is a vigorous species that forms into clumps and bears sprays of pretty, petite blue-purple daisies for a long period. Mine seems to be the cultivar 'Nanus' as it grows only about 40cm tall. It is a good colour contrast to nearby autumn leaves.
Annual daisies such as marigolds (Tagetes) and Zinnia may continue to flower well into autumn. It is worth seeking out some of the smaller, single ones, which look more at ease in the garden than some of the bigger, frilly types, and they often have some delightful bicoloured combinations of glowing colours. Cosmos sulphureus (ht 30-90cm) comes in brilliant oranges, bright yellow and red varieties, blooming from mid-summer into autumn, often self-seeding in subsequent years. The Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia, ht 1-2m) is one of the tallest of annual flowers, with giant burnt orange-scarlet single daisies on an imposing, shrub-like plant, from mid-summer into autumn, and is something I would love to grow one day. All these low-maintenance annuals originate from hot, dry areas and enjoy similar conditions in the garden.
My final autumn daisy is only just starting to bloom, and is probably strictly speaking a winter-flowering one, but I will mention it now. This is the mountain marigold (Tagetes lemmonii), which forms a shrub up to 2m tall. It has attractively feathery foliage which smells exactly of passionfruit. The little golden daisy flowers smother the bush: by mid-winter it is one of the highlights of my hot-coloured garden border with winter-flowering salvias, Lobelia laxiflora and orange browallia(Streptosolen jamesonii). Like most daisies, it likes a sunny spot, and needs to be pruned back after flowering.
All these daisies can add colour to the autumn garden, and they provide a nice contrast to the spires of autumn Salvia with their rounded blooms!
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Check out our new look!