Do you remember waiting to be picked up from school? Most parents would be there at the normal time, then all the ‘late parents’ would sweep in, leaving you still standing there until finally, finally, just as you were contemplating walking the eight miles home, yours would nonchalantly roll up wondering what all the fuss was about.
There are plants like this, that keep you hanging on until almost all hope has gone. And I am not talking here about those that have started flowering in mid summer and are still desperately clinging on trying to prove they still have something to give the world, but rather those that have kept their powder dry and then burst onto the scene fresh, classy and intriguing; think Jacob Rees-Mogg rather than Vince Cable.
Clematis rhederiana for instance, a robust bastion of healthy foliage all summer which suddenly erupts all over with charming cream, cowslip scented bells, or the herbaceous Clematis tubulosa ‘Wyevale‘ gorgeous slate blue bells, also scented.
I don’t remember being picked up from school at any hour, but then of course I was the fourth child. As I recall I was expected to get the bus or walk to the hospital and get a lift from our radiographer mother. Worse, she made me go and talk to the patients to pass the time – a one-sided dialogue as those waiting for a barium enema generally had things on their minds other than ponies or boys.
Now, and as usual I might be lowering the tone here, why hasn’t Laura mentioned to obvious candidates for autumn colour? What is the matter with marigolds? (can you hear E & L inhaling?), the Calendula ‘Indian Prince’ I grew from seed this spring are literally the talk of the neighbourhood. And why has L ignored the fantastic Rudbeckia ‘Goldstrum’; Helenium ‘Moorheim Beauty’; and the fabulous blue and mauve Asters. Obviously I grow the most common type, A. amellus ‘King George’ but if, like Rod Stewart, it was to ask ‘Do Ya think I’m sexy?” a million bumble bees and I would shout ‘Yes’!
So we’re talking late bloomers, are we? Well, let me tell you, at the concert I was leaping around the dance floor laying it down yelling ‘You wear it well’ in a way that would simply render my younger sisters open-mouthed in admiration. Maggie May but I definitely did. Girls, jealousy is a terrible thing.
As for pleasures in a September garden, like Caroline I am not in need of anything terribly fancy at this time of year. A plant I am hugely enjoying is something I bought as Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’, and now glories in the name of Hylotelephium spectabile ‘Herbstfreude’ (even a Classics teacher feels a touch of despair, sometimes, Caroline). I cut down one in three of the stems to half their height in May, which makes them less top-heavy and apt to flower later (see the short 3Growbags video on Chelsea Chopping). Their fat crimson flowers are glowing in the sunshine.
Laura mentioned Sternbergias, which reminds me of the enchanting Cyclamen hederifolium – a Persian carpet of pink and white in the garden’s quiet shady spots. What wonderful things these are, with their dramatic marbled foliage in spring, and then all these delicate nodding blooms in autumn. It’s so unexpected that these little butterflies come from a corm so outrageously ugly (unlike my Rod Stewart strut). Don’t plant them upside down – their tops are all hairy and bumpy, their bottoms are round and smooth (I dare say there are people who go for that sort of thing). This round turd-like ‘stone’ gets bigger and bigger each year until it’s the size of dinner-plate, and bears hundreds of flowers!