Musings of a Garden Designer

The Garden In September

Joe Perkins Official Blog, thoughts on seasonal, resilient & sustainable Landscape & Planting Design September 2023

August has been very different this year, usually it’s the month where the garden sort of takes a bit of a rest – all the manic spring growth has levelled off, the optimism of Spring and early Summer flowers, including most of the roses, has past. Thanks to our awful weather this summer my garden has thrived – it seems like a lot of the mid and even early summer flowers have extended their season. It will be interesting to see if and how this impacts September and October, hopefully the Indian summer will continue with warmer temperatures to make up for our dreadful July and August! Now the days have started to get shorter we’re getting some beautiful late summer evening light and the grasses and autumn colours are coming into their own.
September is one of my favourite months in the garden, it’s still full of colour but now the grasses are starting to dominate. Greens start to turn golden and when teemed with perennials the borders really start to sing. The many wonderful American prairie-types really begin to get going (Echinacea, Rudbeckia etc) in September, and they generally look most effective where there is enough space – deep borders which can accommodate large swathes and still house earlier flowerers in addition. As the month goes on the borders look better and better and then peak around mid October.
If you have a shady garden then the sun-loving grasses and perennials won’t be for you. However you can plan your planting to have plenty of textural interest – greenery can really come to the forefront, especially if there is a range of shades of green rather than an amorphous or dull backdrop. Many of the more shade-tolerant grasses such as Hakonechloa and Melica uniflora can still offer a lot in terms of leaf-shape and texture, especially when paired with larger-leaved groundcoverers like Epimedium. Autumn-flowering bulbs and corms also offer colour in the shadier areas – the ivy-leaved Cyclamen hederifolium or autumn Crocus (Colchicum ‘Water Lily’ for example). For perennials with a bit more height there’s the ever-popular Japanese anemones (A x hybrida) and the bottlebrush-like Actaea simplex ‘Brunette’, or Bugbane, with purple foliage.
For me, one of the most exciting things about September is the opportunity to plan for the following year. It’s a chance to review where changes might be made. For example, I’ve decided this year that my Geranium ‘Rozanne’, as lovely and long-flowering as it is, really can’t stay next to the much slower and less exhuberant Pennisetum ‘Hameln’. In my garden at least the Pennisetum just loses too much light and space to the Geranium. Creating balanced, sustainable plant communities is one of the most satisfying and interesting aspects of planting design. It needs observation and patience, but the more we understand the habits and limitations of individual plants the better and more resilient our gardens become. Oh, and also – September is when we can get out our bulb catalogues and explore all the wonderful bulbs we can plants for the next year!