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Top ten flowers for an autumn border

Annie Gatti / 30 September 2014

When June Blake moved into the steward's house of a former estate 12 years ago there was no garden to speak of. Today, the magnificent garden draws visitors from all over Europe. Here she shares her top ten plants and flowers for a colourful autumn border.

June Blake's garden
June Blake's September border, as photographed by Richard Johnston.

June Blake's stunning garden in County Wicklow draws visitors from all over Europe, and one of the main attractions are the stunning autumn borders.

Perhaps what’s most remarkable during September is the fullness of the huge beds – the two ‘hot’ beds, aglow with vibrant colours, are 5m wide and 12m and 24m long – and the stature of plants such as thalictrum and species dahlias that show no signs of flopping even after a day of non-stop rain.

June explains that she keeps an eagle eye on each bed, and as soon as sprawling plants such as Knautia macedonica have gone over, she cuts them down to give other plants, especially dahlias, more light and air.

In the gaps where spring-flowering species have died back she uses what she calls ‘sacrificial plants’ – pots of Verbena bonariensis and melianthus, grown specially for this purpose and sunk into the soil to keep them moist. She also deadheads daily to prolong colour, and allows only a few selected seedheads to set at this stage.

To stop the beds looking bitty she threads through one or two common plants – such as Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’ and Althaea cannabina – and edges part or all of the bed with a single species such as Geranium Rozanne and ‘Anne Thomson’, Sedum purpureum, and pulmonarias, including the elegant silver-leaved P. ‘Blake’s Silver’.

See our image gallery and find out more about June Blake's magnificent garden.

June Blake's top ten plants for the September border

Actaea simplex 'Brunette'

Actaea simplex has got it all: scented flowers, which bees love; seedheads that stay standing in snow and are loved by birds.

Paulownia tomentosa

Paulownia tomentosa is cut back in spring to 30cm (1ft). It then grows to at least 3m (10ft), with huge leaves that can shade lower plants, so be ruthless and cut off leaves where necessary.

Althaea cannabina

A wonderful, tall, see-through plant with small pink flowers until frost.

Helenium 'Sahin's Early Flowerer'

If you deadhead this, it will keep producing rich orange flowers throughout autumn.

Thalictrum 'Splendide'

Thalictrums have that lovely translucent quality. This one, with strong mauve flowers, is tall and airy.

Rudbeckia fulgida var sullivantii 'Goldsturm'

The large, golden-yellow flowers keep blooming until the first frost. 

Selinum wallichianum

A lovely late umbellifer with a dark stem. Bees adore it. 

Dahlia australis

This has great stature and simple lilac flowers, plus bumblebees love it. Easy to grow from seed sown in spring.

Rodgersia pinnata 'Perthshire Bronze'

The ruby-red seedheads on Rodgersia pinnata are as good as the pink flower. Pictured right.

Cosmos atrosanguineus

This flowers right through autumn until the first frosts. I lift it with soil, pot it up and keep it under cover in winter.

All photographs by Richard Johnston.

Words by Annie Gatti.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.