Make a splash with late summer and autumn favourites

PASTEL or primary, day-glo or funky, there’s nothing quite like flower colour to brighten the scene. Late summer and autumn is a time of rich and vibrant hues that can stand up to strong sunlight and glow through late afternoon and evening.

Think of China asters, bedding dahlias, marigolds, cosmos, zinnias.

There’s just time (this week) to sow seeds of these favourite annuals or head to the garden centre for a tray or two of seedlings. And there are also new high- performance hybrids and selections of indigenous favourites to plant now that will keep your garden scene colourful nearly all year round.

You can plant in a big splash, in modern blocks or bands, or scatter these sprinklings and sparks of bright colour among grasses and finer textures.

Experiment with pop combinations like lime green and cerise, magenta, lilac and yellow or orange and pink. Sounds radical, but in the garden light and green these colour cues can work magic.

The size and form of the flower, the texture of the petals the angle on the stem all combine to create endless variations and planting possibilities.

But you can also make it sweet and simple. These late-summer annuals are all excellent picking flowers, not for grand arrangements but for cheerful bunches and posies, in jugs and mugs.

A good plan is to add a bright row or two to your kitchen garden, where it’s easy to make sure that both seeds and plants get the regular watering they need to grow and thrive at this hot time of year.

FIVE OLD-FASHIONED FAVOURITESASTER (Callistephus chinensis): masses of silky petals and sumptuous colours including rose, pink, violet, mauve and white make these daisies well worth rediscovering. And they are superb for picking.

The doubles have opulent tousled heads, but the singles with their yellow centres are equally charming.

Look out for seeds or plants of Aster “Rainbow” or the taller doubles. Plant in full or morning sun.

COSMOS (Bidens formosa): an all-time favourite to broadcast everywhere you can in the garden. There are varieties of different heights from 50 to 100cm (choice will depend on your permanent plantings but, on the whole, the taller the better). Kirchhoff’s has “Sonata” at 60cm and “Sensation” at 100cm and also “Bright Lights”, which is Cosmos sulphureus in fiery shadings of red yellow and orange.

DAHLIA: it’s too late to plant dahlia bulbs, but the bedding varieties have a charm all of their own and there’s still time to sow seed or plant seedlings which will be available at nurseries now.

“Early Bird” and “Unwin’s” both have semi-double flowers in an amazing range of colours. And “Redskin” has dark plum leaves, which make a brilliant foil. These are all about 50cm tall, but there are also compact varieties such as “Hello”, bred especially for containers.

MARIGOLD: bold and brilliant (some say brassy) but actually 24-carat as the flower of Hindu garlands and a sovereign remedy against nematodes and other garden ills.

The larger African marigold (Tagetes erecta) varieties such as “Inca” add a wonderful glow to mixed plantings (see our picture) and the smaller French marigolds (Tagetes patula) are essential in the vegetable garden for colour, companion planting and soil health.

ZINNIAS: these have a way with colour all of their own, thanks to their matte chalky petals. They also come in an amazing range of forms, from tall cactus-flowered types and pompons to low growers like Mayford’s charming single- flowered “Profusion”.

Give them full sun and rich soil and plant enough for picking – there are few floral pleasures to equal a bunch of these papery beauties. Try a thick hedge of them in your vegetable garden. For more, visit www.ballstraathof.co.za

HOT NEW INDIGENOUS HYBRIDSAsk any nursery person: it’s colour that sells plants, which is one reason why plant breeders are continually striving to make SA plants even brighter, easier to grow and more appealing to a wider audience.

Priorities are usually larger flowers, stronger colours, more compact growth habit and a longer flowering season. Some of the most dazzling of recent hybrids include the daisy family, with gazanias almost as big as sunflowers, and clump-forming rather than rambling arctotis and osteospermums that stay politely within bounds instead of climbing all over themselves and everyone else.

These are excellent plants for small spaces, structured gardens and containers. They will probably not suit the wild indigenous gardener, or their garden. Most will still do best in full sun. Look out for these – if your nursery has them, they are sure to catch your eye.

Arctotis “On Fire” is a clump-forming hybrid from New Plant Nursery with huge dazzling blooms.

Arctotis “Sunset Radiance” will produce its day-glo flowers virtually all year

Gazania “Giant Red” is another spectacular hybrid from New Plant Nursery.

Osteospermum “Flower Power” is a neat, clump- forming series with single, double and spider-form flowers in a range of pale and vibrant colours. For more, visit www.newplant.co.za © Home Weekly

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