Blooming amazing – How to get autumn colour in your garden.

“Colours are the smiles of nature” – Leigh Hunt

If critic Leigh Hunt’s words are true, then my garden currently bears the widest smile I’ve seen in a while. A garden full of autumnal colour is Mother Nature wrapping her arms around us and giving us her final hug before she cues winter’s entrance, stage left.

Myriad colours reminiscent of a backlit stained-glass church window glowing in the glorious, golden rays of a watery autumn sun. Hauntingly beautiful, long shadows cast across a dewy lawn and ripening berries of pyracantha sparkling red, orange and yellow. It’s late September and the garden is at its most fragile, most delicate, unsurpassed best as it breathes its last breath for the season.

My own back garden – September 2019

The players in this sumptuous piece include a distinguished cast of gardening stalwarts including Michaelmas daisies, dahlias, cosmos and nerines. A supporting company comprising golden grasses, and the fiery vermillion foliage of Euonymus alatus, Cotinus coggygria, acers and cercis.

So how is such bountiful, late colour achieved? I remember years ago watching Monty Don’s kaleidoscopic-coloured garden in September absolutely burgeoning, whilst mine comprised a handful of rather lacklustre, lanky cosmos plants. The answer, my gardening friends is ridiculously simple. Water (W) and deadhead (D) daily and feed (F) weekly (WDF!). It really is that simple. And in the years that had preceded this stunning revelation, in all honesty, I had tired of the WDF routine by the end of July. I was tired of the morning and sometimes evening sojourns into the garden to WDF far too many pots, baskets and tubs. However, I was green with envy at Mr Don’s magnificently, multi-coloured Jewel Garden. I wanted my own Jewel Garden, a slightly smaller version, of course. Frankly, I disbelieved our glorious, gardening guru as I was told that late colour was just watering, deadheading and feeding. I seethed as I imagined a secret stash of something spectacularly magical being spread across his borders in the dead of the night to bring about this tapestry of high colour. I boiled with rage that I wasn’t privy to whatever wizardry was in place. My own little garden was destined to be fallow by the fall.

Daily deadheading really works.

If I were to be the owner of my own jewel garden, then I had to do something. With no option other than to follow Monty’s recommended regime, I knew that if it were to work I would have to downsize the numerous pots around my garden. Downsizing was tough! After agonising decisions my pot collection was reduced significantly.

With fewer pots but more determination, I immediately set about the WDF regime. Watering daily, twice daily, if required, and feeding with Tomorite or an equivalent every week. I even introduced ‘Feeding Friday’ to give my ‘new’ regime gravitas, and probably more so to help me remember! But, perhaps most importantly, in this plan of action, I began deadheading; daily deadheading. Any plant’s purpose in life is to reproduce, just like us humans, to keep the species going. With plants, the production of seed is its easiest and most reliable reproduction mechanism. So for plants the process is all about flowering, seed production, leading to reproduction before job considered ‘done’. But, prevent the production of seed through deadheading, and the plant will try again to produce seed via the production of more flowers. Continue to deadhead and the plant continues to produce more and more flowers again, and again. A fantastic by-product of this continued deadheading intervention is more blooms for us gardeners. And it really works! Yes, at times the regime can seem time a little time consuming. However, the rewards are so worthwhile.

Dahlia ‘Thomas A Edison and Cosmos ‘Dazzler’

And now, I have my own late summer, prolifically flowering, jewel garden. Size wise its more tiara than crown but its beauty is nonetheless breathtaking. Dazzling dahlias, carmine cosmos, perfect pelargoniums and resplendent Tithonias.

Thank you Monty!

Author: Mike the Gardener

Freelance gardening writer, consultant and designer. Mike Palmer is a passionate and professional plantsman, offering services in garden writing, consultancy and garden design. Mike is also available for garden and plant related talks and presentations. Mike has been a professional horticulturalist for over fifteen years.

2 thoughts on “Blooming amazing – How to get autumn colour in your garden.”

  1. Since I retired I have had the time to WDF and yes it really does work. I have so much colour in my garden that I can hardly believe it myself. Thanks Mike.


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