Just as summer turns to autumn, so roses and hydrangeas give way to asters and rudbeckias. The number of rudbeckia varieties has grown considerably over the last few years. For some, these bright yellow daisy-like flowers are too brash and energetic, but for Richard Orton at Lewis Cottage Garden they bring joy to a dull autumn day and extend the sense of summer lasting just a few more weeks. Here he reports on the rudbeckia and other plants providing autumnal colour in his garden and advises on some jobs to be doing in your own garden this month.

One of the stand out rudbeckias has to be R.laciniata ‘herbstsonne’. It grows to over six feet tall from a large mound of fern-like leaves that are semi evergreen here in Devon. In late spring tall stems begin to rise from the crown with bright, sunshine flowers opening in late August that last right through to the first frosts. Even then, on a misty morning the flowerless stems connected by overnight cobwebs look fabulous, waiting for the finches to peck away at the almost black coloured seed heads.

Rudbeckias at Lewis Cottage

R.fulgida Goldsturm is another classic variety, much shorter than ‘herbstsonne’ at only two feet, but still packing a punch in the middle of a border, less stroppy than its taller sibling but holding its own without needing to be staked and it looks great in a prairie style border amongst tall grasses.

Alongside these perennials there are several annual varieties, one of which, R.rustic dwarf , I grew this year. Of course, I have thrown the empty packet away and a quick search online tells me it is both a perennial and an annual. I’ll hedge my bets and collect the seed when they’re done but will leave the plants in place in case they are indeed a perennial variety. A first frost test is all it will take to be sure.

I have to say that I’m not so keen on growing annuals; they seem a lot of work for a few weeks of glorious colour, but I have been very impressed with this one. The colours are mixed; from burnt orange through to yellow with a dark brown stripe, as if someone has stopped by with a paintbrush dipped in chocolate. Definitely one to grow again.

There are a few more annuals that we’ve grown this year that are well worth mentioning.  The annual Persicaria orientals, common name ‘Kiss me over the garden gate’, was slow to start and only a couple germinated (that could be because I ignored the instructions to sow in autumn). But they are so graceful that I’ll be collecting seed from that one and sowing immediately this time.


There’s a lovely mauve striped malvas as well, whose name I forget, which has flourished in our deep rich clay soil. Lastly, a novelty plant Amaranthus Autumn Torch – a form of Loves Lies Bleeding (a dreadfully messy plant). It has upright plumes rather than those droopy velvet tassels that remind me of that stuff you give budgies (millet).  I’m sure if I had sown the seed much earlier than I did, the plants would have grown to their full three feet.  As it stands they are a mere six inches, but there’s always next year.

Autumn colour at Lewis Cottage
Autumn colour at Lewis Cottage

Talking of which, next year is going to be a momentous year for the garden at Lewis Cottage. Call it the 30 year itch if you will, but we are going to make some big changes and to do so means that we won’t be able to open the garden for the NGS in 2024. However, in order not to disappoint everyone, we will still open ‘by arrangement’. This means that pre-booked garden clubs, art groups and the like will still be able to visit the garden and can watch the work as it happens.

If you belong to a garden group or can rustle up a group of more than 12 like-minded people head over to the Private Tours page https://lewiscottageplants.co.uk/index.php/private-tours/

on the Lewis Cottage Plants website and follow the instructions on how to book.

For those who visited the garden this year, thank you. Through your entrance fees and generous donations for seeds, greetings cards, homemade jams, chutneys and garden objets d’art you helped double the amount we raised in 2022 which is an amazing result. We look forward to welcoming you all back in 2025

Jobs to do in the garden this month

  • Clean and disinfect your greenhouse. It lets in more light and prevents pests and diseases from over-wintering.
  • Sweep up fallen leaves that harbour fungal spores and provide ideal hiding places for slugs and snails. Use them to make leaf mould.
  • Lift and divide any overcrowded herbaceous perennials whilst the soil is still warm.
  • Lift dahlia tubers to store over the winter months. Remove any dead foliage before storing them.
  • Prune climbing roses once they've finished flowering and tie in the stems before autumn winds cause damage.
  • Cut back perennial plants that have died down. Alternatively leave the dead foliage in place to shelter friendly wildlife.
  • After tidying borders, mulch with bark chips, well-rotted manure, leaf mould or spent mushroom compost to insulate plant roots for the winter and keep weed growth in check.
  • Plant hedges and move trees and shrubs.
  • Cut back the fruited canes of summer fruiting raspberries, leaving the new green canes for next year's crop.
  • Divide congested clumps of rhubarb by digging up and splitting into several pieces with a spade.Re-plant the healthiest pieces.
  • Remove the netting from fruit cages to allow birds to catch and eat any pests that are lurking there.
  • Clean out water butts and let the autumn rains refill them.

More information about the garden at Lewis Cottage can be found here where you can find out about further open garden weekends, plant sales and private group visits.

Oct 14, 2023

More from 


View All