In 2018 we have been blessed with many sunny autumn days here in the West Country - an area not renowned for its clear blue skies at this time of year. But on days like today, the glory of the autumn sunshine is reflected back in the colour of plants that are performing at their best.
English gardens often suffer from that rather sad state of affairs where all the summer colour has faded and we are left with some soggy looking borders and a somewhat straggly lawn. Fear not! There are a few top performers that can lift a dull autumn scene out of the ordinary. I am looking out now from the kitchen window and a few stars are shining, even in November after a couple of sharp frosts.
Top of the list for sheer audacity is sugar pink Nerine bowdenii. Don't listen to the websites that tell you it's not hardy. This morning the frost did not lift until almost noon. My Nerines were holding their heads down and looked like goners, but no! Out came the sun and up they smiled with their cute little curly trumpets. Mine are in pots - a good way to get them established away from the slugs. Once they are well under way, the slugs seem not to bother with them. I have just counted 22 vertical stems in one pot. Position your pots in your sunniest spot to get the best results, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, water sparingly even in dry weather. Follow planting instructions carefully.
Next up, for a big space, is Abelia x grandiflora, a small-leaved evergreen of arching free-flowering habit. I have a love-hate relationship with my Abelia - it is a top choice for a large empty gap in medium to large gardens. Here, in a confined space, it is a power struggle between the shrub and my secateurs. It was planted by my predecessor and is in the wrong place. It needs territory because the best way to grow this shrub is to leave it completely unpruned. Pruning makes it look awkward and gangly. Having said that, it still flowers extremely well, and is in full bloom from September right the way through til Christmas and beyond. I love it in big foliage arrangements where it holds its leaves and pretty pink calyxes for weeks. An easy plant, and maintenance-free in the right place (you have been warned!).
Finally, the other big hitter for November is Miscanthus sinensis, a tall, wide arching grass of the same genus as the agricultural crop Elephant grass, but this member of the clan is oh-so more refined and graceful. The flower heads are displayed at the end of the stems like beautiful shiny silver pony tails. Again it needs a big space - pruning is not an option. Plant it where the low autumn sun hits it from behind to get the best shimmery effect. Visitors to the garden sometimes mistake it for pampas grass. Really?? - that's a bit like mistaking a refuse lorry with Lady Penelope's Rolls Royce. There are lots of cultivars to choose from. Select one that suits the space you have available. The other bonus of this plant is that you get pretty instant results - plant in spring and with luck you will have a display in autumn of the same year. Good in groups and with other grasses.