Stoking the Fall Fire

Salvia guaranitica and Dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ with Dahlia ‘David Howard’ in the background

Autumn is an excellent time to evaluate combinations in the garden especially when one needs to consider what tender perennials and spring-planted bulbs to dig up or propagate for the following year.  With the classic blue skies, the golden autumn really highlight bright colors.  As cool nights return, dahlias are stepping their game again after their initial flush of flowers in early summer. Dark-leafed cultivars, especially the Mystic Series from the New Zealand plant breeder Keith Hammett, continue to be introduced. Few have surpassed ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, which remains a gardener’s classic, like a black cocktail dress for women. There’s something arresting about the unadulterated bright red flowers jumping fiery-eyed from its dark moody foliage. ‘David Howard’ is another dark-leafed variety that has catapulted into the classic arena of mixed borders. Its orange is soft, not glaringly brash, making it easily compatible with most plants. It is taller and larger than ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, requiring staking to prevent the stems from toppling over. Salvia guaranitica, a South American native, has been flowering steadily throughout summer, and its almost true-blue flowers add a cooling note to the fiery colors of ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and ‘David Howard’. This trio of dahlias and Salvia guaranitica can be quadrupled for a late summer to autumn bedding scheme.

The key thing is to keep the combination simple, restricting the plants to two to three for that elusive artful balance.


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