Winter is approaching - we've had the first frosts which have blackened the Dahlia foliage and killed off the half-hardy Zinnias. My Cosmos seem to have escaped this fate owing to their height (over 6 ft this year!) and are still in full flower.

Comos 'Dazzler' in late October
Comos 'Dazzler' in late October with double rainbow

Once dahlias have been blackened by frost, it's time to cut them down and either dig them up for storage inside over the winter or to apply a thick mulch to protect them. Annuals which have given up the ghost should be removed and composted and empty beds given a covering of organic matter - compost or manure. It can be left on the soil surface for the worms to drag down and enrich the soil over the winter. Where I have planted out biennials, I just mulch around them.

November flowers
Cosmos, '10 Week' Stocks, Chrysanthemums, Rosemary & Sedum in a jam-jar arrangement made by a student attending a workshop in November.

As an avid watcher of predicted overnight temperatures, I dug up my frost-tender Chrysanthemums before any danger of frost. Late-flowering Chrysanthemums like the elegant 'Avignon Pink' don't start flowering until the end of October and will flower up until Christmas. You can either grow them in pots which can be brought in under cover or plant out over the summer and then carefully dig them up with an intact root ball and place them in large pots in a greenhouse/conservatory or potting shed. I find them really useful additions to fresh Christmas wreaths as they are very long-lasting flowers once cut.

Chrysanthemums
Chrysanthemums snug and warm in my tiny potting shed.

I sowed some hardy '10 week' Stocks and Chinese Forget-me-nots late in June and these are still full of flower, so along with some Borage and Feverfew still in flower, a suprisingly summery jug of flowers can be picked even in November.

Chrysanthemums in November
Chrysanthemums 'Avignon Pink', 'Tarantula Red' and 'Pandion Bronze' with Rosemary and Viburnum tinus.

Viburnum tinus is a shrub that is overlooked for a lot of the year but come October/November it is flooded in fragrant white flowers. These are invaluable just when the herbs that I use for foliage/filler material in a vase (like Borage, Mint and Feverfew) are coming to an end. The baton is handed to this evergreen shrub for most of my winter flower displays and trimmings look good in a fresh Christmas wreath.

Fresh Christmas Wreath
Fresh Christmas Wreath with Chrysanthemums
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Autumn is my favourite season and although some flowers in the garden are going over (I have just dug up my exhausted Larkspur and Calendula) the half-hardy annuals like Cosmos, Zinnias and Helichrysum are producing buckets of flowers.

Dahlia
Dahlia 'Pink Silk' with Sweetpeas, Feverfew and Zinnias.

I must admit that I was heartened to hear that Monty Don's dahlias hadn't fared well this summer with very few flowers being produced. With the exception of my vigourous yellow waterlily dahlia called 'Glorie Van Heemstede' which has been in constant flower, my other dahlias have either been slow to get going or have looked on the verge of giving up. My previously reliably flowering 'Sam Hopkins' has this year so far produced a grand total of 3 flowers (and one of those was ravaged by earwigs!) The other dahlias do all look like they might be taking off now so perhaps I will be rewarded with some late flowers, providing they survive the current high winds battering the garden.

Zinnias
Zinnias

Although it is sad when an annual comes to an end, the space that is created once you have dug them up and composted them, is an opportunity to plant biennials which will establish their roots and then overwinter ready to flower early next year. I don't like to have bare ground in my cutting beds, so the early flowering annuals are replaced either by binenials such as foxgloves, wallfowers, sweet williams or sweet rocket or with some late-sown annuals which will flower from now until the first frost.

Foxglove 'Sutton's Apricot'
Biennial Foxglove 'Sutton's Apricot'

Back in June, I sowed a few pots of Chinese Forget-me-nots (Cynoglossum) and '10 week' Stocks and they are now both about to come into flower so I have some more annuals to take over the baton from the Larkspur and Calendula and to create a fresh look as we travel through Autumn into Winter.

Also just starting to bloom are a variety of Chrysanthemums  - more in the next blog post...

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The nights are drawing in and I've started a new crochet project so it must be autumn! Autumn is a lovely season in the cutting garden and really is the last hurrah before winter sets in. The arrival of the first frost will spell the end for a lot of cut flowers (although there is always something to cut - think Hellebores, winter-flowering shrubs and early-flowering bulbs like Snowdrops and Crocus.)

Chrysanthemums and Panicum Grass.
Chrysanthemums and Panicum Grass.

All the more reason to celebrate the wonderful, richly-coloured autumn flowers while they are here. In fact, it is vital to keep picking and dead-heading dahlias and annual flowers if you want them to keep producing flowers all the way through the autumn. Dahlias really are a must-have at this time of year as they flower all summer and autumn long. With their wide-range of flower type and colourways, there is a Dahlia to suit everyone.

Feverfew, Salvia, Stocks and Poppies
Feverfew, Salvia, Stocks and Poppies

Successional sowing

Back in early summer, just as my first hardy annuls were coming into flower, I sowed some quick-growing Icelandic poppies and '10 week' Stocks and have been rewarded by a fresh crop of very summery-looking flowers, as seen in my lovely little pottery jug above.  Successional sowing will make the most of your cutting garden as just as your first crop of annuals is waning, a new crop can take over.

Autumn Flowers

Asters and Sedums are classic autumn flowers which I grow in the garden borders. They are joined by Guaras, Salvias and Verbena bonariensis which all have a long flowering period. If you have limited space in borders, as we do,  it's a good idea to choose plants that have a long season of interest.

Dahlia Merckii with its tiny lilac flowers
Dahlia Merckii with its tiny lilac flowers

In the dedicated cutting beds, the Dahlias are looking stunning and annual Cosmos, Zinnias, Scabious, Helichrysum and Statice are all still producing flowers after a good 3 months of constant flowering. Chrysanthemums are very useful for late flowers and come in some lovely autumnal colours. Some late-flowering varieties will flower into December if you bring them into a greenhouse, potting shed or conservatory before the cold weather sets in. Autumn-flowering cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium) provide welcome colour in pots or at the front of borders.

Cosmos & Zinnias in the cutting garden
Cosmos & Zinnias in the cutting garden

Preserving flowers for the winter

Pressing flowers, drying everlasting flowers (such as those in my autumn wreath) and harvesting seed-heads are all brilliant ways of enjoying the beauty of flowers during the winter. Next month, I'll focus on my latest obsession with pressing and preserving cut flowers to make pressed flower pictures, cards and dried flower wreaths available in my Etsy shop.

Autumn wreath
Autumn wreath using dried Helichrysum flowers

 

Pressed flower pictures
Pressed flower pictures

 

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