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David Stuart
looks at good flower combinations for your autumn border...


I suppose the light changes at a constant rate, yet suddenly, at the end of August, it seems to get quickly yellower and richer, making the first-ripening of the apples look even more worth loosing Eden for. Most of the old garden flora, say anything before 1750, was finished flowering by now, and our forebears must have valued their fruit tees, squashes, and Turks's cap gourds, even more highly. We been trying to collect as many of these old flowers as we could find, and we've had much the same problem – how could the garden make use of this marvellous light.

Of course, for modern gardeners, that's changed. We've given in. Endless things are rowed out amongst the weeds, waiting to be called to some future border. At the moment, the only way to see how things might work is to pick sprays and bunches, to play a sort of floral 'Scrabble'. Silent afternoon are punctuated with groans or ' Ooohs' as new potentials or newly possible disasters are revealed.

The golden light warms up all sorts of colours that might otherwise look too sweet or too raw. It does wonders for some of the Japanese anemones. You've probably just thrown out your slightly grubby pink ones, even though it's the one found by Robert Fortune growing on the tombs of Shanghai in the mid-1840's. As he was chased by thieves and pirates on the way home, the plants only just made it back to England. Many gardeners wish it had stayed where it was.

Fortune's plants were already garden variants. It seems to have been some while before the basic species, Anemone hupehensis, got into the garden, and it's still oddly rare . It's gorgeous: two of the outer petals are about half an inch across, curved like shells and a rich shell pink, whilst the other three are twice as large, and in a greyish amethystine pink. The combination works wonderfully.

There seem to be many rather closely related Chinese species, many indistinguishable, and the numerous European variants are lumped together, non-committally, as Anemone hybridum. Under that dull heading lurk some fine things, from the stately pure white forms like 'Album' (deeply imaginative, that) and the stunning 'Honorine Jobert', to some wonderful pink-washed and shaggy flowers like the stunner called 'Lady Gilmour', or 'Queen Charlotte'.

I've been wondering if some of these (well, all of them) could be combined with some of the nicer asters; not just over-civilised things like Aster corymbosa or A. tradescantii (pretty though both species are), but some of the sharp mauve or mauve-pink ones.

I'm not sure abo ut the New-England or New-Belgium ones (all that dingy green foliage might overweight the border too much), but I am sure about the easily available A. x frikartii 'Moench'. It has large 'aster' flowers, generously petalled, even a little untidily so, in a soft blue with just a hint of pink. Plants flower a bundantly, and are at their best at the same time as the anemones.

The co lour combination needs to be 'greyed' down to blend easily, and we'e currently keen on a marvellous hybrid artemisia called 'Valerie Finnis'. This, too, is easy to find, and has quite broad leaves, often slightly jagged at the ends, the colour of wood ash. It makes good clumps quite fast (O.K., it runs), stays reasonably upright, and works better with the heavy foliage of the anemones than somet hing like 'Silver Queen'.

Other things to mesh in would be a geranium like 'Johnson's Blue', which produces a second flush of flowers just now (translucent lavender blue, pale veined), one of the rambling violas also giving their second flush (the bunch of flower's I'm looking at has the elegant 'Belmont Blue', a blue with so much cream in it that at a distance it looks as if it's been washed in green), some of the soft pink mallows, especially something like Malva alcea or the normal pink form of the native musk mallow (M. moschata, which most of your gardening friends will grow in its posher white form).

Then you'd need, as well as the snobby asters, something a bit stronger, maybe like the last flower spikes from Salvia nemorosa 'Superba', with wonderfully intense lavender blue flowers issuing from purplish bracts, or some of the deep wine-red sidalceas. Especially apt would be 'Rose Queen', though you're quite likely to get as nice things from a seed packet.

But of course the late light lights up yellow flowers too, so why not add some yellows to the posie or the borders; nothing powerful, but perhaps a few plants of the soft yel low catmint Nepeta govaniana, tall flower stems scattered with flowers looking like resting moths, or one of the smaller red-hot-pokers like the ivory 'Maid of Orleans' or Beth Chatto's 'Little Maid' in a slightly sharper tone.

It you w ere to plant that lot against a wall, what about draping the wall with the soft yellow shrubby climber Phygelius aequalis 'Yellow Trumpet', with glossy green leaves and pendant flowers in a very refined yellow. Add any of the pinkish mauve clematis late flowering varieties, or if you only want posh species, the honey yellow and sweetly perfumed C. rehderiana. And if you want some scale, and don't live on a mountain top, try a few bushes of the shell pink and reasonably hardy fuchsia F. magellanica 'Alba'. The name's not only unimaginative, but wrong; the plant is breathtakingly elegant.


Copyright david stuart 2004