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Autumn in Michael's Garden

Miscanthus and Gaura. Photo - Michael McCoy

My garden is very much a work in progress but there are a few nice semi-completed elements, and in autumn the skeleton of paths is temporarily fleshed out with perennial planting at its most voluminous.


It’s a very loud floral and foliar party that will come to a dramatic end with the first frost.


I’m planning… winter pots

I’ll squeeze as many tulips as I can fit or afford, whichever limitation kicks in first, and overplant them with frost-hardy annuals like violas or pansies. Those of us on Ross Garden Tours USA 2014 trip saw many spring display pots stuck full of sticks, and I came home addicted to the idea. It works particularly well for winter/spring display, as most of the colourful annuals flowering through the cooler months are low-growing, and can look a bit tame in big pots. Tall, bare sticks are the answer!


Photo - Michael McCoy


I’m hunting… self-sown seedlings

Some of the annuals that flower in spring and early summer are much bigger and better if they get started in autumn. The most dramatic example in my garden is Queen Anne’s lace (Ammi majus). Sown in spring, this will flower in mid to late summer at a metre or so tall. But sown in the autumn, it’ll limp its way through winter as a seedling, but then bulk up with steroidal drama in spring, and rocket up to more than two metres! So when I spot the seedlings, I move them to a place where that sort of height is appropriate. Other spring-flowering annuals that are better for autumn sowing include poppies and sweet peas.


Queen Anne's Lace. Photo - Michael McCoy


It’s time to…

Deadhead annuals like cosmos and zinnias to prolong flowering.

Rake leaves to prevent deep drifts that can bury and kill small plants with frightening rapidity.

Trim hedges for a nice crisp finish throughout winter.

Plant evergreen shrubs and trees. The longer these are in the ground before they have to face the stresses of next summer the better. Deciduous plants can wait until winter.

Order and plant spring bulbs. Tulips should be planted in late autumn in order to avoid a false start, but most other bulbs can go in any time.

Sow seeds of the cool-season herbs, such as chervil and coriander. Both tend to bolt to seed during the summer, but an autumn-sown crop can provide pickings the winter through.

Groom the garden a little, removing dead or dying foliage or seedheads, making sure that plants flowering now are not spoiled by neighbouring plants in autumn decay.

Sow new lawns, or repair damaged ones. It’s essential to keep the seed moist during germination, and this is much easier during cool weather.


I’m stacking… my firewood

Last year, my 20 cubic metres of redgum was dropped off too far from the woodshed, and I couldn’t be bothered barrowing it all under cover. I figured that it had been sitting out for years anyway, so decided to do something a bit more fun with it and stacked into these Monet-inspired ‘muffins’. I have fond memories of a Mount Macedon garden that was full of mounds like these after being largely burned out on Ash Wednesday, and of them becoming a strong design motif. I’ll never bother with the woodshed again.


Firewood stacks. Photo - Michael McCoy


I’m planting…quick-growing vegetables

Autumn is the time to sow quick turn-over vegies like carrots, beetroot and lettuce, as well as to plant seedlings of the slower winter vegetable crops like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. In my cool climate, in which the winter vegetable garden can best be described as a form of outdoor refrigeration, nothing much grows. These winter vegies will crop in winter, but they don’t like actually growing in winter. They’ve got to have done most of their growing before winter sets in. So it’s now or never for me, and even then I’ve got to coax them along to ensure a nice fat crop.


Quick growing lettuce. Photo - Michael McCoy



Miscanthus ‘Cosmopolitan’

This very new Miscanthus has strong stems carrying leaves with the cleanest variegation of white and green. The flowers are strikingly red, but it’s the leaves I’m after. 

Miscanthus. Photo - Michael McCoy



This classic annual comes in a range of colours as strident and cacophonous as you’d expect from a plant native to Mexico. Seeds must be sown in situ, and germinate easily.

Zinnia. Photo - Michael McCoy


This one is Sedum ruprechtii ‘Beth Chatto’s Form’. Flowers start cream and age to raspberry. There are many different sedums, and they’re all fabulous.

Sedum. Photo - Michael McCoy


This bulb produces its flowers before its foliage, making a sudden and dramatic appearance in early autumn. It’s particularly good underplanted with something low, like Dichondra ‘Silver Falls’.

Colchium. Photo - Michael McCoy


I love Cosmos in any colour, but the orange Cosmos sulphureus is probably my favourite. Once established it flowers for ages with very little water.

Cosmos. Photo - Michael McCoy


I know they’re common but the evening perfume that petunias emit is heavenly. The darker the colour, like this double purple, the stronger the fragrance. 

Double petunia. Photo - Michael McCoy


Text: Michael McCoy

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Author: Michael McCoy