How to … create great Autumn borders

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness..”

What evocative words John Keats wrote in his ode “To Autumn”. Sometimes regarded as a meditation on death, Autumn is seen as the end of the gardening year, as annuals die back, leaves fall and perennials withdraw underground. Flocks of birds gather on telephone cables for the arduous journey southwards. The days get shorter and summer holidays become a distant memory.


“..Quick leaves off the sycamore..” Seamus Heaney

For me, however, Autumn has always been my favourite season and I look forward to it with great anticipation.

As a garden designer now based in Dublin, I look forward to seeing more of the beautiful countryside in the months ahead.

It’s a time of reflection – what worked well during the growing season, what needs to be replaced?

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And a time of anticipation as the bulb catalogues descend through the letterbox and the planning for next year begins.

I like the stillness, after the shouty, excited days of summer.


I like the early morning mists and the soft sunsets.

I like the bounty that Nature presents us with.


And I like the reds, russets and ambers – the tawny colours of Autumn.


So here are some ideas for late flowering plants to incorporate into your garden to keep the show going.

Plants for the Autumn garden :

Autumn borders

Late summer in the herbaceous border – rudbeckia, sedum, canna, monarda, crocosmia

  •  Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ ; plant it in well-drained soil in full sun. Easy to propagate by division in spring.
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Sedum spectabile

  •  Phlomis russeliana, with its whorls of hooded pale yellow flowers throughout summer and autumn.

Phlomis russelliana

It continues to hold its shape well deep into winter when rimed with frost.


  • Prairie style planting comes into its own, swaying grasses caught in a low autumn sun creates a mellow scene.
  • Miscanthus sinensis, Calamagrostis, Stipa gigantea, Pennisetum … lots to choose from and generally not fussy about soil.

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  • Rudbeckia fulgida , cheerful colour and easy to grow in full sun.
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Rudbeckia fulgida

  • Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’, wonderful planted in drifts with grasses
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Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’

  • Echinacea purpuria ‘White Swan’ , known as the cone-flower, loved by bees.
Echinacea purpurea 'White Swan'

Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’

  • Coreopsis, bright long-lasting perennial


  • Crocosmia (montbretia), useful and reliable South African native


Crocosmia (montbretia), a garden escapee seen all along the roadside in the west of Ireland, fits in well with grasses; watch out, it can be invasive.

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Crocosmia seen in Connemara

  • Helianthus


  • Sambucus nigra, dark foliage looks good mixed with autumn colours
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Sambucus nigra

  • Heuchera ‘Marmalade’, another fine foliage plant
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Heuchera ‘Marmalade’

Shrubs, trees and climbers

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) or Boston ivy(Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is dramatic and beautiful.


There are many wonderful shrubs and trees with berries or autumnal hues –  Amalanchier, Acer palmatum, Cotinus ‘Flame’, Rhus typhina, Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’.

Acer palmatum 'Fire Glow'

Acer palmatum ‘Fire Glow’

Acer palmatum 'Garnet'

Acer palmatum ‘Garnet’

And I have hardly mentioned dahlias – a late summer border without them or Japanese anemones or asters? Impossible.


Dahlia 'Ellen Houston'

Dahlia ‘Ellen Houston’

There is such a range of dahlias that they deserve a post all of their own, coming soon! But you can check dahlia varieties out here:

So now that Autumn is almost upon us , think ahead to the plants you can incorporate next year to keep the show going.

Visit open gardens, botanic gardens, stately homes armed with a notebook and jot down what looks good.

This is also the time to start selecting the bulbs you will be planting in autumn  for a wonderful show next spring …so that you can spend the winter days in anticipation of the season to come.

Step out and enjoy the autumn sunshine , in your garden or in the countryside … the smell of wood smoke, brisk walks and hearty suppers to return to. There really is an awful lot to love about autumn.

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4 thoughts on “How to … create great Autumn borders

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