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October 2012
4th October: Perennials for autumn leaf colour

Trees and shrubs are well-known and chosen for their autumn leaf colour. Less well-known is that many herbaceous perennials can give a really good autumn display as their leaves turn colour and then die.

Among these are the deciduous Euphorbias like E. griffithii Fern Cottage here and E.villosa below.


Some of the green and variegated leaf Hostas also colour up well about now. 

Other good colours come from Geraniums and Lythrums.

6th October: Salvias for late colour

Many of the New World Salvias continue to put on a great show through October. Provided we don't get any hard frosts there's nothing you need to do to make this happen: most of these Salvias don't need deadheading, indeed its a great idea to leave seed pods to mature and collect the seed as it matures. Janet sows the seed in a little hear in February and most will flower in the first year. Not all will come true from seed as hybridisation can occur between species, however most do come true.

On frosty nights it can be worth protecting the more tender species and these will have to be brought inside for protection soon in any case.

Salvia atrocyanea (above) is hardy at the roots but will be cut back by a moderate frost, sprouting again in spring It doesn't set seed in our garden but I'm not sure why.  This plant is currently about 7-8ft tall (it can reach 14ft in ideal conditions) and in full flower with the arching stems covered with these dangling blue flowers. Hopefully next year I'll get some cuttings going for sale later in the summer.

Salvia guaranitica Black and Blue is also looking great. This one grows from a tuber which is hardy in well-drained soil. We've not tried seed yet.
Salvia confertiflora is definitely tender and I will need to keep this frost-free over the winter. I have it planted in a large pot. Its only just come into flower, which is quite a lot later than usual thanks to the cool summer.
Salvia microphylla Pink Blush is very hardy in our garden and flowers all summer and autumn. It seems to come true from seed, if not cuttings in late spring are equally successful. 
7th October: Butterflies galore.

What a lovely day with warm autumn sunshine after a crisp start with a slight touch of frost. The butterflies seemed to enjoy it as much as we did, basking in the sun just waiting to be photographed!

This Comma was really loving the nectar feast on this Helenium El Dorado


Aster Vasterival is also popular at the moment and covered with Small Tortoiseshells. 

Early this morning it was covered by a fine veil of dew drops (photo below) sparkling like diamonds in the October sunshine.

8th October: Enjoying the wet

I know that this year has been difficult for a lot of gardeners. Thankfully our soil and situation is such that we haven't had to contend with floods and waterlogged soils. 

For us on free-draining sandy soil this summer and autumn has been a revelation: not need to water and greatly extended flowering times for a lot of plants.

Lobelias like Bees' Flame (photo right) have been flowering well. They started in late August, which is a little later than normal and they are still looking good well into October - a good 3 weeks later than normal with plenty of buds still to come. 

Phlox have bloomed better and for longer than ever before in our garden thanks in part to ample moisture but also to the cooler, duller weather. 

Rudbeckia are later than normal but ones like deamii have just reached their peak making a welcome late burst of colour. 

Leucanthemum have been extra tall but also with extra large flowers that lasted nearly double their normal lifespan.

Hemerocallis have had a bumper crop of flower over a longer period. Many are attempting to flower again now, but alas I fear the weather is a little too cold to allow the buds to develop properly.

Can I learn any lessons to help recreate this show again next year. Well, the obvious one is to make sure these plants have ample moisture in normal or dry years but this is frankly hard to achieve and artificial watering and mulching isn't the same as the real thing. One thing I can do is to plant these plants in a little more shade as they seem to have coped well with the low light levels of this summer.

12th October: Asters

Asters like Anja's Choice here are looking wonderful in the sparkling autumn sunshine. One lesson I've learnt with this one is to avoid cutting back the foliage in early spring as the newly exposed shoots really suffer from frost damage. So the choice is to cut back in autumn or leave it until late April or even May. 

Calliope seems to be more frost resistant and I normally cut this one back during the winter as time allows.
13th October: Grasses galore

At this time of year in the garden I'm really pleased I grow so many ornamental grasses as they add grace, height, colour to the garden throughout autumn.

Stipa gigantea catches the afternoon sun and will keep on looking good right through to February.

Molinia Transparent is difficult to capture with a camera but looks graceful and airy.
Miscanthus Gracillimus has fine leaves that are beginning to take on autumn tints that carry strings of diamond dew drops in the morning. 

This variety flowers in November and so needs a mild end to the autumn.

Miscanthus Sirene on the other hand is just coming into flower with this tall pink, silky tassels.  
Molinia Windspiel has an excellent upright habit providing strong vertical accents in the flower beds. 

The leaves will turn progressively more fiery orange as the season progresses before mellowing to straw colour in early winter.

17th October: Pied Wagtails

Our house Martins left us a couple of weeks ago, and almost as if they were waiting in the wings, Pied Wagtails appeared a day or two later. 

We rarely see them in the summer but in the autumn and winter they are a common feature usually seen running about our house and garage roof making short forays into the air to snatch a fly.

Pied Wagtails are varied in plumage colour and pattern. Some have more black, others more grey, some more white (often named as White Wagtails although they are all the same species).

There are two other Wagtails common in the UK: Grey Wagtails, usually seen by water and are grey with yellow on underside of rump and bib; and also Yellow Wagtails which are summer migrants with a wide range of patterns but normally pale yellow underneath and grey or olive above.

18th October: Asters

Asters are one of the mainstays of our late blooming garden and about now they are at their peak. Here is Aster novi-angliae Connie, a variety being protected by the HPS Conservation Scheme. 

With most fibrous rooted perennials it is best to divide them straight after flowering, however with late bloomers its best to wait until spring otherwise they won't have time to establish before winter sets in.

Timing for cutting back Asters is a matter of choice, after flowering or in spring, but I do remember that the new growth can be damaged by late frosts if the old stems are cut back in spring during a cold snap.