Want winter colour and scent?
Viburnum are one of those undersung, but extremely useful groups of shrubs, that have representatives performing at almost every time of year whether through flowers, foliage or fruit.
The winter flowering varieties are especially welcome when little else is around. They can be deciduous or evergreen, with flowers produced in dense clusters, studding bare branches, or in flat heads among leaves, often sweetly scented.
Although Viburnum botnatense 'Dawn' is the most familiar, its worth looking out for 'Charles Lamont', which has stronger pink tones. The diminutive 'Nanum' form of the normally tall V.Farreri is a useful spreading shrub for the smallest borders. All the deciduous forms lend themselves to be under planted or associated with early bulbs and perennials, such as hellebores and associated with other winter-flowering shrubs, such as mahonia.
Most viburnums are indifferent to soil as long as it's not soggy or too chalky. They will grow in sun or shade, but will flower better in sunlight. Most need little of no pruning save to keep them in shape. Do this just after flowering.
Vibrant foliage and bright berries make a dramatic autumn effect
Hardy and easy to grow, the larger euonymus are very different to the commoner evergreen species, such as E. fortunei, grown for ground cover. Their beauty is really revealed at this time of year, when most have striking autumn colour usually accompanied by curious angular fruit capsules that split to reveal brightly-coloured seeds. Few of the 130 species are commonly available and the most common is the European native spindle tree, E. europaeus. While other species also come from the Northern Hemisphere, the most ornamental species are from China.
Most are attractive at the back of large borders, with solidago, rudbeckias or Japanese anemones or dahlias in front, or they make attractive specimen plants in grass or at the front of shrub borders. All are hardy and not fussy about soils: most will grow even in difficult chalky soils. To obtain the best fruit production and autumn colour, plant in full sun. Most species have a dense, twiggy habit, but some of the slender growers may need help forming a strong leader if you want to train them as small trees.
Delicate, fragrant flowers to brighten up the darker months
The Japanese Camellia sasanqua is often overlooked but is a charming and robust species that has the unusual qualities of having small, fragrant flowers that open in late autumn, usually in October and November. Like all camellias, they’re ideal for growing in pots but their small leaves and bushy habit make them suitable as garden shrubs and even hedges. Many have attractive, bronzed young foliage and the flowers open over several months. Their glossy leaves make them attractive plants for borders throughout the year. These camellias prefer a sheltered spot and may struggle in very cold, exposed areas but usually thrive in urban gardens. But, unlike most camellias, they prefer a sunny site and are the best camellias for patio pots. They’re also less fussy about very acid soils and will succeed in neutral soils. Most are upright at first and light pruning or pinching out the shoot tips in early spring will keep the plants neat and compact. Give plants in the border a mulch in spring and a dressing of fertiliser suitable for azaleas and rhododendron, and feed potted plants with a soluble acid plant food once a week from April to September.
FACT: Leaves of Camellia sasanqua can be used for making tea and its seeds produce an oil used in hair tonics and for lighting.
These easy-care spreaders give a profusion of bright blooms
Relatives of persicarias include some nasty weeds, such as the infamous Japanese knotweed.
But this large group of mostly herbaceous plants from Europe and Asia also includes really
useful garden plants, tolerant of moist and heavy soils, which bring attractive foliage and a
profusion of flowers to the garden during summer and autumn.
The most eye-catching can be mixed in herbaceous borders with day lilies, phlox and late-flowering asters, while the toughest, such as ‘Superba’, make ideal ground cover. They have
suffered from name changes and are often listed as polygonums.
Rich, moist soil will help you get the best from persicarias. Most will bloom best if they get sun
for at least half the day, though a few, especially P. campanulata, survive in tough, dry areas. A few are invasive but the most popular form neat clumps that can be divided in autumn or spring when dormant. They rarely need deadheading or staking, and are free from pests and diseases, although mildew can attack plants grown in dry soils.
The decorative clouds of showy flowers are an autumn bonus
Giants of the grass world, second only to bamboos in many gardens, miscanthus are bold and useful plants that are at their best in autumn when most erupt into clouds of showy flowers. They are mostly native to China and Japan and are deciduous, turning colourful bronze and yellow shades in autumn after they bloom. Many of the decorative forms are derived from Miscanthus sinensis, although the towering M. sacchariflorus is sometimes grown for screening.
The smaller kinds fit neatly into borders and their fountain-like growth contrasts well with taller herbaceous plants such as phlox, asters, anemones and rudbeckias, which flower in autumn. The taller kinds are best grown among shrubs such as hydrangeas, caryopteris, buddleias and hibiscus.
Keep them happy
Miscanthus thrive in most soils as long as they are not wet in winter, but all grow best in an open, sunny place. It’s best to cut them down in early spring before the stems get too battered by winds and before new growth emerges from the base. Once established, they do not need staking or other hard work but they may need dividing after about ve years. Do this in spring, just as growth starts. The smaller kinds can also be successfully grown as statement plants in pots.
Beautiful, long-lasting flowers offer a splash of fresh colour this autumn.
Hesperantha, also known as schizostylis and kaffir lilies, are like a cross between a gladiolus and crocus with their clumps of grassy leaves and slender stems of starry flowers. In fact, they’re distantly related to both and come from South Africa, the original home of most gladioli.
The plants have a creeping rootstock and form dense clumps of foliage that is more or less evergreen, but Hesperantha are valued most for their beautiful flowers that open over many weeks and that are a splash of fresh colour in the autumn. Once planted they can be left alone for many years. They make perfect cut flowers for the house too!
Keeping Hesperanthas happy
- Use moist soil and plant in a sunny spot to grow Hesperantha
- If you have dry soil grow them on the patio in a pot.
- If they become crowded in the border, split them and then replant in spring.
FACT: The original name of schizostylis came from the split style in the centre of the flower, which looks like three threads of cotton.
Find out the six best Hesperantha in our latest issue of Garden News, 17th of September, in stores now!
They’ll give you a profusion of small flowers late in the season...
What makes abelia's such valuable shrubs is that their small, but profuse, flowers are produced in late summer, long after most other shrubs have stopped blooming.
There are about 30 species of pretty summer and autumn-flowering abelia, native to Asia and Mexico. They can be evergreen or deciduous, but the evergreens tend to be rather tender. All have clusters of small, tubular, pastel-coloured flowers that are often fragrant. These blooms have large, showy sepals that are usually red or bronze. The most popular is A. grandiflora, a hybrid which, usefully, combines the hardiness of the deciduous Chinese A. chinensis and the rather tender but evergreen Mexican A. floribunda.
Abelias flower and grow best in well-drained soils, in full sun. Although A. grandiflora is hardy in most areas and is a good choice for coastal gardens, it’s worth planting it in sheltered places in colder areas. It makes a fine wall shrub and the mass of small, fragrant flowers attract bees and butterflies.
The smaller and less vigorous variegated forms are ideal for pots on the patio and can be planted at the front of borders. Plants can be lightly pruned after flowering, although this will remove the colourful sepals so it’s best to wait until spring to cut out a few of the older stems and tidy up the shrub. If they get very overgrown, they can be pruned hard in spring, but this will reduce flowering for a year.
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Exotic passiflora bring a touch of sultry luxury to any garden
Passion flowers (passiflora) are among the loveliest of climbers for a sunny wall or fence. Vigorous, evergreen climbers, they cling to their supports with tendrils and have intricately-shaped flowers in a wide range of colours. Most are native of South or Central America and are tropical, so need frost protection in winter. A few are tough enough to survive outside in a sheltered spot, just check their labels to see if they are hardy for your area.
They flower from summer to autumn and some have edible fruits, though the true passion fruit (P. edulis) is too tender to grow outside in the UK. The common blue passion flower (P. caerulea) also has edible fruits but they have little flavour.
Keep them happy
Those passion flowers that are not totally hardy can be grown in pots, up trellis or wicker cones and placed in a sunny spot in summer, then moved to a greenhouse or conservatory in winter. Or grow them in a warm conservatory or greenhouse all year. Outside, hardier types can be planted against a south or west-facing wall. Plant in poor or well-drained soil to encourage flowering for the best results.
Passion flowers bloom on new growth so trim them in spring, when you can see how much damage has been done in winter. Put a loose mulch over the roots in autumn so that shoots grow if the top growth is killed. In pots, feed every week with a high potash fertiliser.
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