Growbag Blog

So what IS making us smile this autumn?


Oh boy, if ever we needed our plants and gardens to keep on and on putting a smile on our faces, it is NOW. A long, slow beautiful autumn right into the back end of October at least, please.

But what plants will help us rage against the dying of the light? (Don’t worry if you don’t get the literary allusion there, Laura – we know you’re a scientist and are much more at home with the latest paper on Phytopathology from the Royal Society…)

Today we Growbags want to give a shout-out to some plants or foliage that put joy in our hearts at this time of year, and may do the same for you whatever outdoor space you’ve got.

First up for me is Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’. The burgundy foliage of this herbaceous perennial knotweed is as lovely in autumn as when it first emerged in spring – thumbs up for beauty in old age, I say! They slowly deepen to a purply beaten-metal sheen, and the red stems carry delicate white flowers through the autumn. Even better, this is a clump-forming cultivar, and doesn’t have the thuggish tendencies of the species types.

The extraordinary colouring on Persicaria ‘Red Dragon’ lasts right to the end of autumn

My next choice is a rose – Oh! But which to choose? So many will flower again and again, so many are quite ridiculously beautiful and worth growing. A peacock butterfly draws my attention to a fresh glowing bloom of R. ‘Tickled Pink’ against the plum foliage of Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’

Can you spot the peacock butterfly on this lovely rose ‘Tickled Pink’?

and then my eye is caught by the rich grey-lilac petals of R. ‘Rhapsody in Blue’. It’s a semi-double shrub rose, that won Rose of the Year in 2003. I love its golden stamens, I love its sweet fragrance, I love the way it shoots from further down the stem, almost the moment you deadhead it. Rhapsody indeed, and we need some of that at the moment for sure.

Dreamy rose ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ just keeps giving

For my last suggestion, you may think I’m channelling my inner Caroline (for our many newer readers, just a note that youngest sister Growbag is not well-known for her sophisticated plant choices…………….) I’m going to propose growing big orange zinnias! Mine are ‘Orange King’ which I grew from seed this spring. A doddle to look after, and happy as Larry until the frost gets them. Got a pot in a hot spot? Then try these Mexicans next year for a blaze of autumn audacity.

Zinnia ‘Orange King’ – a fabulous plant for a pot in a hot spot….

Well actually that Dylan Thomas quotation is quite helpful to illustrate a botanical phenomenon known as photoperiodism. Instead of raging against the dying of the light, there is a group of plants that respond positively to the shortening day length by springing into action and coming into flower. In my book it is one of these fresh newcomers you need to lift your spirits not the tired old has-been that’s still gamely clinging on (that’s a reference to her plant choice, not Elaine herself, you understand)

The best known ‘short day’ plant is the garden chrysanthemum, or aster. There are loads to choose from, many going under their new horticultural classification of Symphotrichum and it’s a wonderful thing to have them exploding onto the scene just as everything else is sagging.

Great Dixter plant sale
OK so I may have got a bit carried away with the choice of asters at the Great Dixter plant sale last autumn.

Or invest in some Cyclamen hederifolium. Dormant over summer, but never bedblocking other plants as they will grow in the most no-go areas imaginable in the parched soil under trees and in deep shade, and will burst into life after the first decent rain of early autumn. They come in a range of pinks and whites followed by beautiful marbled leaves and are our feature picture this week.

Or how about the sophisticated herbaceous Clematis heracleifolia, which keeps its powder dry until at least mid September before gracing us with waxy blue bell flowers. Give me this over a doddery old overblown English Rose any day (again no direct reference to Elaine intended)

Clematis heracleia
Elaine actually gave me this plant years ago but has since been led astray by David Austin


Argh – my sisters have chosen yet another very tricky topic for amateur gardeners (me) living in marginal locations (me again). 

To be honest it doesn’t make much odds to which botanical group a plant belongs, my garden on the North Sea’s shore has largely elected to wipe its bayonet by September. The dahlias have run up the white flag (who wouldn’t) and my watering routine long since lost its battle with the wind’s effect on the sweet peas, which are now in the compost bin.

Convolvulus cneorum – if only I could take the credit for this late performer!

There are exceptions, such as a little Convolvulus cneorum aka silverbush which has inexplicably started flowering its charming head off, (annoyingly purchased at random by my husband who knows less about gardening than me), but generally in these conditions you must simply go with the 45mph flow.

And this is where the grasses are 100% coming into their own –Miscanthus and the Stipa tenuissima simply can’t get enough of the shortening days and worsening weather.

And I’m so pleased for the kaffir lilies. They’re surging into life amid these autumn gales with a toughness that contradicts their pretty delicacy. Mind you, who wouldn’t be feeling great if you were told by botanists your real name wasn’t the terribly ugly ‘schizostylis’ but much more beautiful ‘hesperantha’? So much better news than the sedums received.

Meanwhile Louise has trumped us all with a plant that’s special enough to put a smile on anyone’s face. Click in the box below to find out what it is.

NB: If you’d like a bit more gardening chit-chat from the3growbags, just enter your email address here and we’ll send you a new post every Saturday morning.

By the3growbags

We're three sisters who love gardening, plants and even the science of horticulture but we're not all experts. We'd love everyone even remotely interested in their gardens to be part of our blogsite.

2 replies on “So what IS making us smile this autumn?”

Sorry I can’t comment on your choices as we are going into Spring here in South Africa but I store your ideas to use later. Of course our nurseries have not the variety of yours but we still find gems. We absolute;ly loved gardening in north UK and Scotland – your soil is so willing!! Thanks again for your wonderful blogs. Mary

OH Mary what a lovely comment! Yes in the UK we probably don’t properly appreciate how lucky we are with our growing conditions….rain and all! Although as the one who lives in Scotland, I have to say I’d need a bit more of Elaine’s southern sunshine to grow those zinnias she talks about! Wishing you a lovely weekend!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.