Set your borders ablaze says Monty Don

  • To enhance the appearance of blue and purple infuse orange into your borders
  • The Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifolia is key each year says Monty
  • The dahlia ‘David Howard’ performs well each year also

Summer is fading fast and the light is getting rich and soupy. But there is an intensity in this last flare of summer energy as we slip into autumn that demands, I believe, rich strong colours like purples, burgundies, caramel and cinnamon browns and – above all – orange.

You do not need many plants to achieve the effect and light the orange fuse in your borders. After all, colours work in two ways, both as themselves and as a direct contrast to the colours around them. 

So orange is the opposite of blue and makes all shades of blue and purple more intense. However, orange and pink is a dangerous mix and while it can look exciting it can also easily just appear brash.

Monty Don advises adding orange to borders this season to intensify the appearance of rich colours such as purple and blue

Monty Don advises adding orange to borders this season to intensify the appearance of rich colours such as purple and blue

I have key orange plants that I use every year while always being open to new additions. The first on my must-have list is the Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifolia. It has rich, velvety orange flowers with bright yellow centres sitting on a long, slightly funnelled hollow stem. 

It can grow to nearly two metres, and if dead-headed regularly will go on flowering until frost destroys it. It will need support as the leaves are large and catch the wind. The ‘Torch’ variety is a little smaller – perhaps 1.2 metres – and ‘Goldfinger’ smaller yet, keeping to just under a metre.

They are easily grown from seed, sown under cover in mid-spring and pricked out into 7cm pots before planting out towards the middle of June when the nights warm up. They like full sun and a rich, well-drained soil. As long as you keep dead-heading the spent flowers at this time of year they will go on producing their intense orange flowers on velvety stems for at least another month – although one frost will kill them.

MONTY’S PLANT OF THE WEEK

DAHLIA ¿ROTHESAY REVELLER¿

DAHLIA ‘ROTHESAY REVELLER’

This is another of my favourite dahlias and is one of the most robust and floriferous of them all. Tall and upright, it’s topped with large white-and-burgundy cactus flowers from July-November, which reach a peak now. 

I’ve propagated mine by taking cuttings in April and over the past five years I’ve accumulated a couple of dozen strong plants. 

Dahlias aren’t entirely hardy, especially in wet soil, so I’ll dig up the tubers in November and store them in a shed over winter. They can then be brought out in April to grow in the light before planting out in mid-May after the last frost. 

I’ve had less success with another favourite annual, the South African Leonotis leonurus which, if it grows to plan, makes a 1.5 metre-tall stem with whorls of bright orange flowers carried in rosettes all the way up. It can be superb – but alas, in my garden at least, not this year.

But the dahlia ‘David Howard’ performs for me year after year, laden with orange flowers that fade to yellow. It has rich, chocolate-coloured leaves and stems and an orange, almost apricot-coloured multi-petalled flower. It is exceptionally sturdy, so although it will reach almost a metre tall, needs little or no staking. 

As with all dahlias, it is important to dead-head almost daily, cutting right back to the next side shoot, to encourage fresh buds to form and extend flowering into autumn. 

This combination of striking dark leaves and bright-orange flowers always adds depth and drama to the September border and nothing does this better than a pair of cannas that I always grow. 

The first is ‘Wyoming’, which has green leaves overlaid with deep burgundy stripes that flush to a full tint at the edges, and brilliant orange flowers. 

‘Durban’ has similar flowers but these are held above leaves striped apricot-pink and green. I said that the combination of pink and orange is dangerous but in this case it is simply delicious.

As tall as the cannas is the sunflower ‘Velvet Queen’, with its caramel flowers. Again, I dead-head these diligently which means sacrificing large flowers in favour of a stream of slightly smaller ones for weeks to come. 

Beneath these giants I have various heleniums. Most heleniums have some orange in them, but this year I am growing ‘El Dorado’, ‘Vivace’ and ‘Meranti’ for the first time and love their long-lasting orange shuttlecock blooms. They are perennials, so as long as they have sunshine and plenty of moisture they will linger as late-season orange stars in your garden for years. 

ASK MONTY 

Q This spring, my ‘Bonica’ rose shrivelled and died. Now my ‘Golden Showers’ rose has started to do the same. Why is this?

Pat Chuter, Surrey

A This sounds like fireblight, a disease that affects members of the rose family and is caused by the bacterium Erwinia amylovora. It causes flowers, leaves and stems to suddenly shrivel as though torched. I suggest you cut out and burn all affected wood.

Q My hydrangea hasn’t flowered this year. At the end of flowering last year the leaves were rusty and diseased so I sprayed the shrub with a pesticide. Will it recover?

Mrs Elisabeth Woolley, West Sussex

A Firstly, ‘rusty and diseased’ leaves will not be helped by a pesticide. That will kill insects that our gardens need. Secondly, the vast majority of hydrangeas are mop-heads, which flower on the previous year’s growth. If that was pruned away the buds will have been removed too. Next April, cut back your plant by no more than a quarter.

Q When I dig up my potatoes they have holes in them. Why?

Lesley Carter, Surrey

A The holes are likely to have been caused by wireworms. These are the larvae of click beetles and are particularly prevalent in ground that was recently grass. Regular cultivation will get rid of them in a year or two.



Courtesy: Daily Mail Online

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