In the rosy afterglow of a long day at work it is nice to sit and relax with perhaps a glass or two of rhubarb…yes I did say rhubarb…gin and watch the sun go down. Yet there is an undoubted chill in the mornings and evenings which points towards the coming of Autumn and the headlong rush towards winter. In a few conversations I have even been asked whether we might have an ‘Indian Summer’. Whenever I get asked to predict the weather I usually squint into the sun or look knowingly at a flight of birds before turning to my interrogator and saying something like “how should I know”. We usually think of an Indian Summer as a spell of unusually mild weather in October and November but a spell in late September cannot be precluded. The actual term dates at least from eighteenth century North America though it was in common usage before then. The Native American tribes relied on a period of warm weather late in the year to complete the harvest and lay sufficient stores to last them through the long cold winter. An Indian Summer also presented a change from the oppressive humidity of high summer from June to August and was much more pleasant to work in, particularly for
Europeans who were unused to the climate of their new homeland. By the mid twentieth century the term Indian Summer had gained so much currency in the UK that it had overtaken more colloquial terms describing the same event.
The garden offers us plenty of late summer perennial interest if we care to take advantage of what is on offer. One of the finest plants for a sunny well drained spot at the front of a border are the sedums. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ has been around for a long time but it never fails to give a good show of pink flat topped flower heads above greyish fleshy leaves. The flowers
are very popular with flying insects though the stems can flop open if not given the ‘Chelsea chop’ or if they are allowed to become too congested.
There has been an explosion in recent years of Rudbeckias on the market fuelled by the popularity of the prairie garden style. Yet many can prove tricky in our generally wetter climate or perform poorly on some soils. For a reliable and adaptable plant look no further than R. fulgida and the cultivar ‘Goldsturm’ which send up shoots from substantial mounds of foliage atop which glow golden yellow ray florets surrounding a dark black eye. This is a plant which is happy in a sunny spot on most garden soils and holds itself up firmly through winter. There is a simply wonderful clematis, C. jouiniana ‘Praecox’ which flowers at its best now. It is not a natural climber more of a sprawler really which
is why I grow it as an effective ground cover even in a place which receives only partial sunshine. It is very vigorous so wherever you grow it give it space. The clusters of star shaped flowers are pale blue added to which is a pleasing scent.
Grasses have become justifiably popular in recent years and there are few gardens without them or few gardeners who have not realised the uses to which they can be put. If I had to express a preference then it would be for the fluffy flower/seed heads of Calamagrostis brachytricha which sit above the narrow foliage like pink tinged feather dusters that wave elegantly in the breeze. If you can position it so that you come upon it when the sun is shining from behind then it will stand out wonderfully well and give the border a more airy feel when placed with less mobile companions.
Now…where did I put that gin?