During autumn we find ourselves immersed in a symphony of rich colour with deliciously warm leaf tones, bedazzling berries and regal autumn crocus. After the show is over, it can feel somewhat like the morning after the night before, with fallen leaves, bare branches and barren earth.
The creeping cold nights and the starkness of winter, however, make the perfect backdrop for the seed heads of many garden flowers – if you can resist the urge to remove them. There are few more magical sights on a bright winter’s morning than these - memories of summer gilded in frost.
Many wildflowers in the umbellifer, or carrot family, form beautiful, delicate flowerheads that look great in the frost.
Ornamental onion (Allium spp.)
Alliums come in a range of sizes and are now a staple for early summer flowering, growing from bulbs planted at this time of year. A. cristophii, A. ‘Gladiator’ and A. schubertii will provide you with a frosted firework display throughout winter, while the closely-related honey garlic will give you shuttlecocks.
Honesty (Lunaria annua)
A cottage garden favourite, honesty is better known for its translucent, ghostly seedpods than for its purple summer flowers. It grows easily from seed and will self-seed once established, meaning you’ll always have a supply of little paper moons.
The Latin name 'lunaria' means moon-shaped, in reference to the appearance of the seedpods.
Poppies (Papaver spp.)
Poppy seedpods are perhaps the most frequently used for indoor arrangements, but look equally good outside and will slowly disappear to reveal a net-like ‘cage’ by wintertime. Although you can grow many different varieties, the opium poppy (P. somniferum) and its hybrids have the bigger pods.
Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum)
The striking seedpods of teasel are not only much beloved by gardeners, but can usually be seen attended by a procession of goldfinches – an even better reason to grow them! They come for the seeds and when they’re finished, you’ll still have the seedheads for dramatic effect.
There is something of a cruel beauty in the spiny, frosted heads of teasel.
Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena)
The feathery foliage and delicate flowers of this cottage garden annual give way to round seed pods in the autumn. As with many of these plants, they’re also great for indoor arrangements and are prolific self-seeders.
Not only do grasses look beautiful, their old seed heads can also make the most soothing sounds. You have the choice of either perennial species, such as Chinese silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis), Korean feather reed grass (Calamagrostis brachytrica spp.), sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) and dwarf pampas grass (Cortaderia pumila):
Or annual grasses, like quaking grass (Briza maxima/B. minima) and foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum).
These Chinese silvergrass seedheads may be all that's left from the summer, but a dusting of snow gives them new life.
Ice plant (Hylotelephium spectabile)
Although known for their summer and autumn flowers and their appeal to bees, the sedums also look good well into the winter months. Leaving the old stems also protects the new buds at the base of the plant, so a double win.
Sea holly (Eryngium spp.)
A majestic member of the umbellifer family (main image), there are many species and varieties of eryngo to choose from. E. panadanifolium and E. varifolium are several of the best for winter interest, as is the biennial E. gigantem.
This E. alpinum is frozen in time.