October is a transitionary period which sees the meeting of the last summer flowering plants, with the flowers of autumn, and, in particular, the high point of the warm season grasses. You begin to see the caramelised colours of old stems merging with the reds and golds of grasses, yellows of Rudbeckia and Helianthus, and blues of Aster. It’s a beautiful lackadaisical combination which perfectly matches the languid feeling in the air as the evenings get darker and cooler. October is also a good time to plant. Even plants which look a bit faded fit right in to this scheme, and will establish much better for next year than those bought in spring. Most of all this is a time to enjoy the lovely angled light and the beginning of the slow dishabille of summer’s growth.
A selection (and just a selection) of plants looking good right now:
Inula hookeri with japanese Anemone
planting with asters and grasses
late summer planting
Salvia Black & Blue
Rudbeckia fulgida var. deami
Pennisetum macrourum with Calamagrostis Karl Foerster
Gaura lindheimeri Short Form
Thalictrum Splendide White
Helenium Moerheim Beauty
Strobilanthes are perhaps best known as purple-leaved house plants, but there are several species which are hardy in Irish gardens, don’t have purple leaves, and flower for weeks in almost any aspect. Strobilanthes atropurpurea forms a generous clump of deeply veined foliage and, from August onwards, produces an endless crop of purple tubular flowers which are great for insects. Tolerant of most soils in most positions, they deserve much wider planting. Phlox Fliedertraum, an excellent selection of this cottage garden favourite. Slightly hairy red-flecked foliage emerges in spring producing long stems topped in July, August, and September with large heads of fragrant blue-purple flowers. Easily grown in any fertile soil in full sun or a little shade.
It can be a struggle to find late-flowering plants for the shade garden, and certainly anything that looks quite this exotic. Toad lilies have glossy green leaves on dark stems, forming nice clumps, gorgeous in dappled shade. The flowers, starting in August are orchid-like and come in mottled pinks whites and purples. This selection has beautiful pink-tipped white flowers. Looks like a house plant but is hardy outside.
While the giant sunflower gets much of the spotlight, there are a wide array of perennial sunflowers which make a spectacular addition to the late summer border without the need to fuss with seed and stakes. H. ‘Oktoberlicht’ (October light) has pale yellow flowers on tall branching stems which can easily reach 2m tall. They are wonderful as visual anchor points mixed with grasses and dotted throughout sweeping island beds, if you’re lucky enough to have them, or as a crescendo to any late summer border.