dahlias and agastache

Extend the season

It’s not difficult to keep the season of interest in your garden going a little bit longer; you simply need to choose a few plants with later flowers, attractive seed heads and some winter structure to keep things going.

When the summer plants start to fade, it’s time to utilise some clever planting and versatile plants and it doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune either. If you have a small garden it might just mean planting a container with some grasses and late flowering perennials to create some instant impact in the garden.

Autumn stalwarts

Echinacea not only looks good in late summer/autumn, but bees love it too. Image: Martin Mulchinock

There are many plants that flower right into autumn and up until the first frosts of winter. Many of the daisy family such as asters, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Helenium and Michaelmas daisies have lots of open flowers that not only look wonderful but are also great for pollinators too. But they also have interesting seed heads and generate lots of seed that is vital natural food for many seed-eating birds.

For a longer display mix them with grasses for a trendy prairie style effect. You don’t need a large garden; you can create a small display in a planter.

Dahlias are another great late-flowering plant and have such huge and fantastic variety you are sure to find something you like. For pollinators choose open, single varieties where the pollen is accessible. Again these can be grown in pots and paired with grasses to great effect.

Sedum. Image: Fotolia

Sedums are another good autumn performer. The flat flower heads are a bee and butterfly magnet and a vital source of nectar as the temperature drops. The common pink ice plant, as it is known, is a good garden plant, but for something a little more dramatic choose the rich purple red ‘Purple Emperor’ or ‘Matrona’ with softer purple succulent leaves. As winter approaches the drying flower heads look amazing crusted with frost and linger into the winter creating interest in the border and helping to protect the emerging shoots in spring.


You can keep some garden plants flowering for longer by cutting off the dead flower heads. Most annuals spend the summer making flowers so that the plants will produce seed. If you can cut that link in the process by removing the dead flowers before the plants set seed you can trick them into making more flowers. This works well with annuals such as cosmos, calendula, trailing verbenas, petunias, sweet peas and many container plants too.

Seed heads

seed head
Leave seed heads in the garden – they provide winter interest and shelter for insects. Image: Martin Mulchinock

See the beauty in all forms of your garden plants. Seed heads in particular can add a soft, skeletal interest to the border and can look beautiful crusted in winter frost. Seedpods can add a dramatic essence to the garden and some plants such as Physalis (Chinese lanterns) have extremely vibrant jackets that protect their seeds and berries. Sunflowers are another plant with fabulous seed heads. As the flowers mature and the seeds form they become in situ feeders for the birds. Other plants with great seed heads include cardoons, teasels, alliums, and angelica. Leave the seed heads where possible to provide food for wildlife. Their structure and form provides useful winter interest and you may even benefit from a few self-seeders in the border next year.

Winter interest

Look out for plants that keep their leaves for the winter. These include some interesting choices such as Sempervivum, Ajuga, Fatsia japonica, some ferns, many grasses, Choisya and Mahonia. Take a trip to your local plant nursery to see what is looking lovely now and ask for help and advice on planting. Even if a plant is not evergreen it can still put on a fantastic display in autumn and into winter and may have an additional season of interest in spring or summer. Plants are a fantastic investment. For the price of a coffee and cake, they can bring you years of enjoyment and they make wonderful, thoughtful gifts too.

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