Andrew McIndoe gives advice on late-flowering plants for your garden

THERE is something very special about plants that choose the autumn as their time to perform.

As many plants drift into a late season slumber, vibrant blooms shine out in an array of unseasonal colours against stiff competition from the brilliant shades of autumn leaves.

Knifhofia and helianthus tow the line and match the flame, orange and gold of the season. Aster, nerine and sedum buck the trend with flowers in shades of blue, pink and purple.

Statuesque grasses produce feathery plumes that shine in the low, warm light. These iconic subjects of the autumn garden have a warm familiarity and are always welcome.

The perennial asters, Michaelmas daisies, often receive bad press due to their affinity with mildew.

They provide such valuable colour in the autumn garden they are worth persevering with despite this drawback.

Not all types are so susceptible: the ever-popular Aster frikartii Mönch has long-lasting lavender blue flowers carried on self-supporting stems growing to 70cm tall. The foliage is mid-green and disease resistant. Aster Sapphire is a truly outstanding hybrid with healthy dark green foliage and masses of bright lavender-blue, yellow-centred flowers. It also grows to 70cm and quickly develops into a broad, domed clump.

Another autumn favourite is Sedum spectabile Herbstfreude (Autumn Joy); nothing new but the bees and butterflies are always happy to see it blooming in the autumn sunshine. The deep pink flowerheads become even more beautiful as autumn progresses as they ripen to a rich shade of chestnut-maroon. As they fade, leave them to persist into mid winter when their rich brown heads will be transformed when etched with frost.

Verbena bonariensis is a perennial that just seems to just keep going from midsummer onwards.

Tall upright stems carry compact heads of tiny bright purple flowers; not exactly striking or showy on their own. However, it is a wonderful mixer and seen with other plants its true worth becomes very apparent.

We tend to think of sunflowers as tall, fast-growing annuals with large heads. Many of the perennial sunflowers have much smaller, daisy flowers carried on tall, branched stems. These are easy-to-grow, accommodating plants that inject a shot of sunshine into the autumn garden.

Helianthus Lemon Queen is one of the finest, with soft, yellow blooms carried on tall, branched stems that can reach two metres in height. It is a wonderful plant for the back of the border.

Many salvias are at their best in autumn, particularly the taller-growing varieties.

Although not completely hardy, they are increasingly popular for their often aromatic foliage and vibrant flowers. Salvia ulginosa, is a graceful, tall perennial that can reach two metres in height. In autumn, spikes of bright, blue flowers are produced over several weeks.

This is the perfect companion for the vibrant, orange autumn colour of Rhus typhina, the Sumach. this large suckering shrub or small tree was one of the most familiar garden plants 30 years ago. With its antler-like branches clad in tan-coloured down and red-brown felted seed heads it becomes more obvious in autumn as the leaves turn to flame and scarlet.

Banished from many gardens because of its tendency to sucker, it is worth reconsidering as an architectural subject.

Dahlias will go on producing their showy flowers until the first frost cuts them down to the ground. The deep scarlet, golden-eyed Dahlia Bishop of Llandaff is so widely planted and recommended it has become almost passé. However, when seen glowing against the dark backdrop of a purple berberis or cotinus, or the dark green shining leaves of laurel, the reason for its popularity is quite apparent.

On a recent visit to Hidcote Manor, in Gloucestershire, I realised how dependent the famous Red Border is upon the performance of this late summer beauty, along with some of its double relatives. Fortunately for those who shy away from red in the garden, other Bishops offer the same dark foliage but flowers in different shades.

The pampas grasses are tall, graceful thugs that can become greedy, and grasping of garden space, as they mature. Their large tenuous clumps of tough, aggressive foliage can become a problem in the smaller garden. However there is no denying their impact when their bold plumes erupt from the leaves in late summer. The dwarf variety, (still large by many gardens standards), Cortederia selloana Pumila, is perhaps the finest to grow.

It is not too invasive and can be kept in check by removing some of the side growth in spring.