Tag Archives: Perennials and Grasses

Plant Selections for Autumn Colour

Autumn is a magical season and now in early November there are many plants with leaves, berries, and flowers that display autumn colour at its best.  The autumn light especially illuminates leaves as they turn colour so almost every hour of the day, the plants look different.  Look out now for those that delight you and plant them for next year.

Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’

Autumn colour of Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium'

Fabulous leaves of Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ in rainbow colours.

Acers of course have wonderful autumn colour. For smaller gardens, Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ is a fascinating tree.  Its leaves are palmate or hand-shaped with deeply lobed and attractively cut leaves as you can see in the picture here.  The leaves change colour from green with purple-tips through soft purple with flashes of yellow to deepest orange and red.  It has the open fan-shape which is typical of many acers, and enjoys some shade, and neutral to slightly acid, moist but well drained soil. It associates well with azaleas, rhododendron, cornus and camellia. It can also be planted as a specimen tree, and under-planted with bulbs and perennials.

Sorbus hupehensis

Delightful clusters of white berries on Sorbus hupehensis

Clusters of white berries on this Sorbus hupehensis, last well into winter.

The sorbus or rowan family provide great autumn and winter interest with clusters of berries of varying colours. The leaves are pinnate or feather-like with several leaflets that also provide lovely autumn colour.  Birds like red berries the best and leave the white ones to last so choose a species like Sorbus hupehensis, shown left, or Sorbus cashmiriana to keep the berries well into winter.



Kniphofia rooperi

Kniphofia rooperi looks magical in autumn with its striking orange, red and yellow colours.

Kniphofia rooperi looks magical in autumn with its striking shape in orange, red and yellow colours.

Gorgeous candles of orange red flowers appear on Kniphofia rooperi from early to late autumn, providing extra interest in the border very late in the season. The plant is evergreen so its strappy leaves are there throughout and it is a robust and hardy plant. It grows well in moist, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade.




Berberis chinensis

Red fruit clusters in early November cover Berberis chinensis

Striking clusters of pinkish-red fruit cover this Berberis chinensis in autumn.

Seen less often than some of the better known berberis or barberries, Berberis chinensis has rather special clusters of reddish-orange fruits in autumn which follow on from yellow flowers in spring. It is hardy, thorny and grows well on a range of soils including heavy clay. Several berberis have good autumn colour and lovely spring flowers and foliage.



Miscanthus sinensis ‘Emmanuel Lepage’

Beautiful red flower  panicles which fade to a straw colour cover this Miscanthus  from early summer to late autumn

Beautiful red flower panicles which fade to a straw colour cover this Miscanthus from early summer to late autumn.

Many grasses have fantastic florets and seed heads which provide excellent autumn colour.   Miscanthus varieties often produce red panicles when in full sun and ‘Emmanuel Lepage’ produces these in abundance from early summer to late autumn.  It makes an elegant fountain of green grass and each blade has a narrow white stripe. It grows to about 1.2 m and associates well with other grasses and long flowering perennials such as Echinacea and Verbena. In early spring cut it right back before the new seasons growth.



Other Plants for Autumn Colour

Many roses produce flowers well into November and add delicate flower colour in autumn.   Rosa ‘Ballerina’ is a pretty pink example of a long flowering cultivar which looks great as a bush or a standard. The spindle trees Euonymus alatus and Euonymus europaeus have lovely autumn colour and unusual red fruits.  Amelanchier and Cherry trees have some of the best colour and many trees that are beautiful in autumn are equally spectacular in Spring.



Marine Border – Planting Design

Marine Border – Planting Design


Grasses, Achillea, Loosestrife and Bees Balm in the long border

Grasses, Achillea, Loosestrife and Bees Balm in the long marine border

The planting design for this 20 metre long marine border in Kerry has arcs of different species of plants separated by bands of upright Karl Foerster grass which provides structure from spring to late winter.  Provided there is shelter from prevailing winds, many herbaceous perennials are suitable for seaside locations. 

The planting is interspersed with Euphorbia characias subspecies wulfenii and Euphorbia martinii. The marine border has lots of sun and good drainage as it is on a sloping bank between the lawn and driveway. The plants are loved by bees and butterflies which buzz and flutter through adding their own colour and interest.


Two species of Achillea are grown here – Achillea millefolium ( ‘a thousand leaves’ ) and Achillea filipendulina ( ‘like meadowsweet’).  Both yarrow and meadowsweet grow prolifically in this Kerry location so these garden equivalents are good bets.

Several deep pink colours of Achillea millefolium 'Cerise Queen'

Several deep pink colours of Achillea millefolium ‘Cerise Queen’

The ‘Cerise Queen’ was grown from seed 9 months ago and has produced several different pink coloured heads which look gorgeous together. The foliage is very soft and feathery.





Achillea filipendulina 'Gold Plate'  contrasts with grasses and pink loosestrife.

Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’


‘Gold Plate’ provides eye catching bright yellow plates of flowers and contrasts with the tall grasses and pink loosestrife. Its foliage is deeply cut and a bright green.



Monarda / Bergamot

Purple Monarda  'Prairienacht' -  Bees Balm

Purple Monarda ‘Prairienacht’ – Bees Balm

Monarda ‘Prairenacht’ has rich violet- purple whorls of flower up its stem,  smells delightfully of bergamot ( as used in Earl Grey tea) and is a haven for bees justifying its common name of ‘Bees Balm’.

It is also in  the picture below with the loosestrife and crocosmia.



Lythrum / Loosestrife

Lythrum salicaria 'Robert' - pink loosestrife with Crocosmia 'Canary Bird'

Lythrum salicaria ‘Robert’ – pink loosestrife with Crocosmia ‘Canary Bird’

Pink spires of Lythum salicaria ‘Robert’ look attractive through the summer. It is a cousin of the native purple loosestrife which grows abundantly with the native orange Crocosmia or montbretia.  Here it is planted with a pale tangerine Crocosmia ‘Canary Bird’ as a natural companion.




Salvia vertillicata

Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain'

Whorls of flowers on the dark stems of Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain’


This ‘Purple Rain’ variety of Salvia verticillata has a long flowering season to display its red-purple stems with its whorls (hence ‘verticillata’ which means whorl) of purple flowers.




Catanche caerulea

The prettiest blue flowers of Catanche caerulea

The prettiest blue flowers of Catanche caerulea

Delightful pale lavender-blue flower heads with dark blue centres (hence ‘caerulea’ which means dark blue) on grey-green wiry stems catch the sea breeze and are a very pretty companion for grasses.   Papery buds and seedheads are attractive too, but their heads are cut as they die to prolong the flowering for as long as possible. The bluer patch of the border is introduced by junipers and heathers and spring colour is provided by narcissi, tulips and alliums throughout.


The planting of this marine border was started in September 2012 and is looking good less than a year on.  It is planted through weed control fabric mulched with gravel which also retains moisture, deters slugs and provides protection from drying winds.

Grasses: Light and Motion

Seed Heads of Blue Oat Grass

Grasses backlit with the morning sun and swaying gently in the breeze beautifully link herbaceous plants. As the quality of light changes from warm yellow to the white light of midday to the glow of early evening, flowers and seed heads are illuminated in interesting ways and provide an ever-changing live painting in our gardens.

The motion of the grasses is gentle and relaxing and draws us into the ‘painting’ to examine a lovely flower.

Favourite Grasses

Helictotrichon sempervirens

Helictotrichon sempervirens

Morning light on Blue Oat Grass

There are so many grasses to choose from.  Some of my favourites are Blue Oat Grass ( Helictotrichon sempervirens) – evergreen with blue blades and tall racemes of flowers and blonde seedheads, Silver Grass – ( Miscanthus sinensis) – fountains with panicle type florets, Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) bright green young grass with airy golden panicles and the tall, erect Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora).   


Spires of lavender, purple wallflowers, Russian sage are great companions.  Claret red Knautia macedonica and Cirsium rivulare work very well as do the flat heads of brightly coloured  varieties of Achillea.

A striking red coneflower, Echinacea purpurea ‘ Hot Summer’ shown below combines beautifully with the grasses.

Echinacea purpurea and grasses

Red Coneflower with Silver Grass and Blue Oat Grass

Contemporary grass planting as well as being very attractive has a long season with minimal maintenance.  Leave the seed heads through the winter and then comb the dead grass from evergreens or cutback perennial grasses in February for the new season’s growth. 




 Miscanthus sinensis ‘Emmanuel Lepage’

Silver Grass - Miscanthus sinensis 'Emmanuel Lepage'

Fountain of Silver Grass – Miscanthus sinensis ‘Emmanuel Lepage’


Miscanthus sinensis 'Emmanuel Lepage'

New red flower panicles emerging from Silver Grass

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Emmanuel Lepage’ is rather lovely and shown here developing its fountain shape in early July with its first red floret emerging.




The array of shapes and the colour changes of the grasses through the season provide dramatic effects and wonderful combinations with flowering perennials. 

Planting Inspiration

Geranium, Amsonia and Feather Reed Grass

Beautiful planting with grasses in Piet Oudolf’s garden

Deschampsia cespitosa

New growth of Deschampsia cespitosa in Piet Oudolf’s garden

Several famous designers and planters use grasses inventively and provide inspiration for our gardens.  Piet Oudolf has had a long association with contemporary naturalistic planting and has developed striking combinations.



My pictures here shows Geranium, Amsonia and Feather Reed Grass with other perennials in his garden in late spring and new bright green growth of Tufted Hair Grass.  Later in the year the colours will be golden and the seedheads will remain for winter.