GARDENING: Enjoy late-season colour from herbaceous perennials

An edible globe artichoke allowed to flower.
An edible globe artichoke allowed to flower.

If shrubs and trees provide the backbone of a garden, then herbaceous perennials are the flesh that fills it out – especially when it comes to late-season colour.

They’re the plants that ‘come back every year’, but die down and become dormant in winter.

Red hot pokers (Kniphofia) light up the border.

Red hot pokers (Kniphofia) light up the border.

After the flowers have finished, well into autumn, it’s now acceptable to leave the skeletons of the plants standing over winter to help the birds and overwintering insects, giving some structure to a bleak time of year.

Here are some of my late-flowering favourites:

The massive daisy family: Rudbeckia, Gaillardia, Echinacea, etc, are what most people will think of when you talk about herbaceous perennials. Echinaceas come in many varieties now, but it’s hard to beat the original, E. purpurea, with its deep pink flower heads and copper centres, 3ft.

Cardoon (cynara) and globe artichokes: stately and architectural plants for the back of the border – or ornamental veg patch. The massive flower heads are like giant thistles, with massive, divided silver leaves, 6-7ft.

Bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis): glossy, lobed foliage and tall white/purple flower spikes. Tasmanian Angel has almost pure cream leaves and flower spikes with a pink tinge, but is much fussier about where it grows, 3-4ft.

Kniphofia (red hot pokers): K. uvaria Nobilis is very late this year, just colouring up now, with fiery red, large flower spikes, approaching 6ft.

Sedum (ice plant): Succulent-like leaves with flat heads of flowers loved by bees – Autumn Joy (pink) and Purple Emperor are widely available, 1-2ft.

Helianthus (perennial sunflower): Lemon Queen dark green foliage and light yellow flowers 5cm wide up to 6ft.