What next for your garden’s ornamental displays

If this crazy weather continues, I fear that our ornamental displays will be running out of steam earlier than usual this year. So, it's time to consider what happens next.

By Tom Pattinson
Thursday, 29th August 2019, 5:00 pm
Plants for autumn containers.
Plants for autumn containers.

Will the flower beds and containers remain empty and bare through the darkest months, or will a new regime of plants be introduced to guide us cheerfully through winter?

Scorching hot days and drought, punctuated by high winds and an occasional downpour, would test the mettle of any flowering plants. In their absence it’s normal to anticipate an Indian summer where borders, beds and containers keep flowering into September and beyond.

Imagine the disappointment then, when the petunias and lobelia in a pair of containers that had been outstanding for weeks, found the last thunder shower just too much. So, two troughs have been cleared of the debris but for the remainder, which support other plant varieties, it`s business as usual. Thank goodness we didn’t put all the eggs in one basket.

Situations such as this beg the question, what happens when summer ornamentals finally give way to autumn? Sadly, some gardens admired for their early colour will stand bare over winter for whatever reason, but not this one. When the summer plants have given their all, we’ll ease them up, pull them out and ensure there`s no waste. Spent annuals are all fed into the composting bin and some perennials will be saved for propagation.

Following tradition, I go for a change of bedding and container plants, with thoughts of winter and spring displays in mind. The first step is to recharge soil or compost that has been depleted of nutrients throughout the summer. This entails digging composted material or mature farm manure into the ground and applying a granular autumn feed. This encourages root development while the soil retains some warmth.

When the same bed used year-on-year, this is key to success. As time for the next change comes around in spring, all that`s required is a dressing of general fertiliser prior to planting summer displays. Containers benefit from the same attention.

Deciding what to plant at the beginning of October is made easier by viewing garden centre displays and offers in the media. Wallflowers, polyanthus and assorted bulbs have stood the test of time and survive hail, rain and snow before an assured spring performance. But there are so many other possibilities to explore. Polyanthus `Stella Mixed` was so impressive in vigour and colour range last year that we simply had to divide-up selected specimens and replant for future displays. These have been watered continuously throughout the dry periods, developed strongly, and are earmarked for autumn planting.

Wallflowers are easily raised from seed sown into short drills outdoors in early-June. When seedlings are large enough to handle, they can be lifted with a trowel and replanted with more space for development. As autumn approaches, they`re capable of being transferred to a final flowering position, even with bare roots.

Traditionally they were sold in bundles, the roots wrapped in newspaper, soaked to keep them fresh. The wrapping may have become more sophisticated over time, but the bundles remain. They`re undoubtedly tough cookies but by no means rough. Their sumptuous flowers and scent bring a wow factor to spring gardens.