“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” – John Keats, 1819
Autumn is a time of change. At the beginning of autumn some of the warm days of summer linger on. Then comes the mid-season wind and rain and finally the first frosts heralding the arrival of winter. It is a time of abundance with many fruits reaching maturity, yet at the same time a period of decline as many flowers fade and the leaves fall from the trees. It sees a changing of the guard in the bird world, with swallows, martins, flycatchers, etc. heading south for warmer climes, whilst thousands of swans, geese and fieldfare arrive from Scandinavia. Squirrels and Jays bury their winter stores, whilst hedgehogs fatten themselves up ready for hibernation.
In the garden it is a time to be as busy as the buzzing bees. Harvesting the fruit crops, such as apples, plums and pears. Removing the spent runner bean stalks and perhaps sowing a green manure to help protect and restore the soil. Now is the time to plant bulbs ready for a burst of colour in the spring. It is also the time to be bringing in any plants that are not hardy to a greenhouse or conservatory. For any plants which need protection, but can’t be moved, it may be necessary to wrap them carefully in fleece.
Whilst the lazy days of summer are flower filled, much of the colour in autumn is provided by the rich red, orange and yellow tones of the fading foliage. Selecting trees and shrubs, such as Acer/Maples, Cherry, Amelanchier, Dogwood, etc. when designing the garden will provide this autumn interest. There are also many perennials that flower from late summer well into autumn, such as Asters, Japanese Anemone, Penstemon, Rudbeckia, Sedum, etc. It is a good idea to plant some of these if you want to extend the flowering period in the garden, rather than have an all out crescendo in the summer. This has the added advantage of supporting our much threatened pollinators for a longer period of the year.
Traditionally, autumn was a time to cut-back and remove faded perennials. Nowadays, with increasing concerns over protecting wildlife it is perhaps better to leave seed heads to provide over-wintering homes for invertebrates, as well as some skeletal architectural structure to the winter border. Therefore, only removing plants that have completely collapsed, or turned to mush, in the wind and rain, is the order of the day.