The ‘golden hour’ is well-known in garden photography terms. It’s that brief period of time when the harshness of the midday sun is gone, leaving a warm glow that suffuses everything with gold, picking out the shapes and forms of plants to great effect, and elevating the beautiful to the sublime. Winter may be fast approaching, but I like to think of late October as the garden’s ‘golden hour’. Seed heads shine in borders, their delicate forms highlighted with edges gilded by the low light. Berries glisten in heavy morning dew. Low, slanting rays of sun outline every delightful detail of the year’s final flowers.
In June you’d have to get up at the crack of dawn to get this kind of light, but in October gardeners are blessed with it almost all day. So it’s worth making the most of these conditions with your planting. Warm reds, yellows, bronzes and oranges really look their best now. In summer, these colours can seem garish and one dimensional, but at this time of year they surpass themselves and seem to brighten up every corner. Spend some time looking at your garden before deciding on the final spots for anything you plant now. I’ve lost count of the time I’ve spent moving potted plants around the garden to get their positions just right!
There are several tricks you can employ to really get the most out of your autumn beauties. The first is to give them a backdrop. For example, the tawny tones of many grasses look infinitely richer, and their shapes more defined, if they’re placed next to a dark, clipped evergreen. In my garden. Anemanthele lessoniana, (pheasant’s tail grass) wasn’t really noticeable until I put a box ball next to it. Suddenly, its reddish brown leaves stood out against the dark background and it looked a million times better. The theory goes that colours will look best with those opposite them on the colour wheel, which can give us some different planting ideas, too. So, greens and reds go together (think holly with berries), yellows and purples (just like a chocolate Flake wrapper). Basically, anything from green through turquoise to blue and purple can be combined with warm autumnal colours to make them stand out more and be pleasing to the eye. Blue-flowered perennials such as monkshoods (aconitum) and asters look especially good surrounded by buttery yellow falling leaves. Sometimes I wish I lived somewhere warmer, with palm trees and blazing sun, but every year, without fail, autumn’s ‘golden hour’ makes me glad to be right here, among the falling leaves and glowing berries of the season.