Popular Buttercup Relatives

When the temperature begins to drop and the leaves start falling, it’s a great time to look back and consider what plants have worked well in the gardens this year. Autumn is the perfect time to pause and reflect whilst the season is still fresh in our minds. We can easily recall the bulbs that impressed us in spring, the bedding displays that put on the best shows in summer, and the special shrubs and perennials that were particularly pleasing to the eye.

Autumn is a great time to get planning and buying for next year – plants, bulbs and everything in between. Traditionally, it’s the perfect time for purchasing bare root plants whilst we still have to wait a little longer for trees and potted plants which are normally sold in flower.

My problem is the list I put together when planning next year’s plants is always about 50 pages long, so ruthless discipline is needed when whittling down the list. Thankfully, there are some plants which always make the cut each year making the task slightly easier. Aconitum, Actaea and Cimicifuga are examples. Aconitum are known for their blue monkshood flowers whilst Actaea and Cimicifuga usually have white spiked flowers. They’re all related to buttercup, although you might not believe it.

They’re woodland or shade plants, although most will take full sun with the exception of hard-baked south-facing conditions. Overall, they’re pretty good plants for most south/west-Walian gardens. The RHS ran a trial on these plants, and I was pleasantly surprised to see they grew far better in most Welsh gardens than they did in the trial. At Aberglasney, we have about 15 different types of these plants and all are thriving in various positions. In fact, the Aconitum in the Upper Walled Garden have fast become garden stars!


Aconitum carmichaelii with Vitis coignitae in the background


Actaea are often grown for their ornamental brown/purple foliage that is showcased perfectly amongst late season long lasting flowers. It can be used in many situations from typical herbaceous borders and woodland gardens to bedding displays. We’ve used it in a bedding display outside the mansion where it’s been very popular against the backdrop of a white wall. An addition to Aberglasney next year will be Actaea alba, which is quite understated until it produces the striking white berries which earn it the name ‘Dolls Eyes’. There are many different types available, but my two favourites are Brunette and Compton’s variety – although the range is getting bigger and better all the time.

There are also hundreds of variations of Aconitum available in every shade from blue to white and yellow. The Red Wine variety in particular do very well at Aberglasney. Their flowering time is long, and usually late, and they look great on spring flowering shrubs. We’ve a white spring flowering dogwood that has the added interest of the climbing Aconitum in late summer and produces a strawberry-like fruit later in autumn. Aconitum carmichaelii is probably the best for most gardens as it’s wonderfully late flowering.


Aconitum carmichaelii and Anemone hupehensis


Most of the plants I’ve mentioned in this blog are relatively pest free, very hardy and can grow in most gardens in our local area. Most are also poisonous so please wear gloves whilst handling the plant material, especially seeds. Buying them can be tricky, however, most specialist nurseries should be able to advise you and help you to select the right plant for your needs. If you get stuck, you could always  search them in the RHS plant finder: https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/search-Form

Tips for the Week:

  1. When lifting spent annuals, use the chance to give the soil a good digging over and a mulch
  2. As you cut back the finished perennials, a good compost of 50mm deep will provide adequate winter protection
  3. This is probably the last week lawn maintenance can be done safely, especially seeding
  4. Don’t lift Dahlia until the frost arrives – they’ll keep performing until then
  5. Prepare the ground for winter bedding. A good digging over now will make it easier work when the planting starts
  6. We’ll be adding lots of compost and mulch to our borders in preparation for another cold winter