There’s an old garden saying that autumn is like a second spring, “where every leaf is a flower”. But you don’t have to rely on leaves for colour when there are so many fabulous autumn blooms to get to know. There’s a surprising array of shrubs and perennials that start to do their flowering when the days shorten and temperatures cool down.
And every garden needs a few autumn bloomers, so it straddles the seasons with colour and always has something interesting to offer. With autumn such a pleasant season (temperature-wise) for gardening, now’s a great time to visit a nursery and check out what’s looking good.
Without doubt, the queen of autumn-blooming shrubs in Australian gardens is the Camellia sasanqua. Their massed flowers put on a glorious display from March onwards and offer many shades of pink, as well as white, red and cerise hues, while their dense bushy growth and tolerance of both sun and shade make them ultra versatile. Use them as hedges, privacy screens or feature plants, or pop the more compact varieties in containers for balconies or courtyards.
Another autumn stunner is the Tibouchina, best known for its explosion of deep purple flowers, which appear each year just as February blurs into March. If you have space, plant one of the tree varieties, such as the popular Tibouchina granulosa, which puts on a truly breathtaking display of velvety purple blooms.
But if you’re seeking something a little smaller, you’re in luck – there are dwarf forms reaching only 45cm high, as well as a number of medium-sized shrubs. The varieties ‘Groovy Baby’ (deep purple), ‘Cool Baby’ (soft pink) and ‘Peace Baby’ (pure white) are all ideal for tubs, growing to only around 45cm high and wide. If you’re after a mid-sized shrub, seek out ‘Jazzie’ (purple), ‘Chameleon’ (pink and white) or ‘Foxxy Baby’ (pink flushed with white), all of which form shrubs in the 1–2m high range.
If you live in the warmer zones of the country, there’s another great contender for autumn colour: the trusty hibiscus! It’s not that they come into bloom at this time of year, it’s just that they don’t seem to notice summer has ended, so they keep putting forth more and more buds through the autumn months – a sort of last hurrah.
Down at the lower levels of the garden, there’s great autumn colour to be had, too. One of the sweetest of blooms is the Japanese anemone, or windflower, with its graceful single flowers – which flutter about like butterflies – on long stems. Growing best in filtered sun, they thrive in cool through to warm temperate climates and are available in pink or white forms.
Another one for similar climate zones is Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, which bears bright flower heads smothered in tiny blooms. These deepen in colour as they age, moving from pink to a deep coppery red. The plant is actually a flowering succulent, which dies back completely in winter, before reappearing with fresh new leaves the following spring.
If indestructible plants are your thing, get to know Liriope muscari, commonly known as lilyturf, which sends up deep purple flower spikes from mounds of dark green grassy foliage each autumn. Happy in the sun or shade, cold or heat, its clumping habit makes it a great plant for edging paths and driveways, or mass planting under trees. One of the best cultivars is ‘Evergreen Giant’, which puts on a super flower display and also makes an ultra-low-maintenance container plant.
Autumn also has its own special daisies – the Easter daisies – which are types of perennial aster. These are really cute, with their clustered stems of small yellow-centred daisies in vibrant shades of pink, red, blue, mauve, purple and white. Nurseries often sell them as potted colour at this time of year and, once you get them established in the garden, they’ll re-flower again year after year.
You can enjoy flower colour in shaded parts of the garden too. One of the best ground-cover plants for these spots is Plectranthus ciliatus (sometimes known as spurflower). Its dark-green crinkled leaves, with a purple underside, look attractive all year round, while in autumn, sprays of delicate white flowers appear, bringing a little light to dark spots.
In recent years, many of the salvias have become popular for autumn colour, because of the way they flower on and on until the first blast of winter weather arrives. One of the loveliest is the Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha), which smothers itself in velvety purple flowers above grey-green leaves. It looks fab’ grown as a sort of loose flowering ‘hedge’.
And last but not least among autumn blooms is the trusty chrysanthemum, best known as the symbolic flower of Mother’s Day. While they’re not so popular as bedding plants these days, the dwarf varieties look great in pots. Grab a few, slip them into decorative containers and add a splash of colour to patios or balconies.