As autumn matures all one’s energies turn to gathering fruit, raking leaves and putting the garden to bed. It is a time for goodbyes – the last mowing of the grass, the last swallow or the last crop of French beans. It is when the late flowers in the garden are particularly precious, not only to us but also the crowds of insects that throng them on those rare warm days when the sun shines and time seems suspended. Hoverflies, butterflies and all manner of bees – from bumble, to honey to solitary – crowd to the sweet nectar on offer. Simple flowers with open petals that do not conceal the pollen-rich stamens and nectaries are the most beneficial to insects, for instance Dahlia ‘Bishop’s Children’ which flower in the autumn from a spring sowing. It hard though not to love the luscious, multi-petalled ‘David Howard’, one of our stalwarts, with its golden flowers and deep purple foliage. Dahlias are hard work here in the wet north-west as they are beloved of slugs. Our most successful method of control has been to grow the dahlias in pots rather than the open ground and wrap each pot with a band of copper tape.

The simple-flowered Dahlia 'Bishop's Children'

Dahlia 'David Howard'

This autumn we’ve had a wonderful showing of Joe Pye Weed , Eupatorium maculatum, a cousin of the British native Hemp Agrimony. Tall sturdy stems with a purple hue are crowned by open panicles of tiny pinky-purple flowers. On sunny days there were honeybees, red admiral, tortoiseshell and painted lady butterflies, and many hoverflies crawling over and probing into the tiny florets. This is a good garden plant for us as it thrives in damp soil.

A hoverfly crawling over the massive flowerheads of hemp agrimony

Honeybees and a painted lady butterfly on hemp agrimony

In our patio clumps of the perennial Rudbeckia hold their faces to the sun and lusty stands of Michaelmas daisies flower freely, attracting butterflies. Not forgetting annuals, the humble Cosmos sown from seed in the spring never fails to delight, adding pastel touches to the brighter flowers and hovering in clouds of ornamental grass panicles. These flowering grasses provide a natural-looking setting for the autumn blooms after many of the summer perennials are laid low.

Cosmos and the hazy pinkish panicles of pheasant's tail grass

A clump of Rudbeckia with bright pink and white cosmos flowers

A crowd of red admirals on Michaelmas daisy

There are never enough flowers in the autumn and every spring it is worth thinking of the tag end of the year even as one revels in the first flush of growth, so that as the light turns at the equinox, one’s forward planning is rewarded by these precious vessels of colour, light and sweet nectar.

A late bee on a second flowering of the melancholy thistle

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