MOTHER Nature's clock is unavoidably counting down towards the dreaded first frost. There's no escaping it, autumn is here.

As the last of the bizzy lizzies bravely flower their little hearts out we head into October, and many I have seen look good on it too, but it won't be long before they hold up their hands in defeat.

It's time therefore to make swift plans for this next season of colour, and the choice of plant material around at the moment is abundant.

While some gardeners will have already been tempted to hang up the trowel for the next few months, I urge you to take a look at what the garden centres have to offer and you'll discover even more reason to keep your garden blooming into the days of darkness.

Think of a traditional autumn flower and chrysanthemums will spring to many minds, and there's no better way to celebrate the shorter days than giving a home to at least one of the 'Garden Mums'.

Short, compact and completely hardy, Garden Mums are both an attractive and practical proposition for those who want some stunning bedding that won't require lifting and transplanting each year.

Just cover them with a layer of compost (after a trim) when they've finished flowering and they'll greet you again year after year with their abundant blooms.

Winter flowering pansies will of course provide the most reliable of performances for the coming months, and they will never be shy to show their colours in the autumn.

The only problem with growing these is deciding which colours to have - there's just so many options these days.

At least it shouldn't be difficult creating some exciting colour schemes when you combine them with other colourful flowers or foliage.

Few plants can rival the ornamental cabbages for foliage that can dazzle as much as any flower.

For some though, the 'aroma' of rotting foliage can get a bit too much after several weeks, so perhaps they're best considered as a fairly short term visitor to enjoy at least till the turn of the new year.

While the pansy rules the roost for our winter pots more and more gardeners have opted for their more delicate cousins the violas over the last couple of years.

Although not so floriferous during the colder spells their dainty charm and their exquisite colours can't be resisted.

There's certainly no beating their blooms in quantity in the autumn, and at least they don't need deadheading like the pansy. I just like the names - 'Blackcurrant Sundae' and 'Blueberry Sorbet' get my mouth watering every time!

To really bring your containers to life add in more foliage plants to keep the season of interest going and complete some really exciting colour schemes.

The blue tufts of the grass 'Festuca glauca' look truly intense alongside the viola 'Magnifico' with some pure white pansies added for good measure.

If you want something warmer try the Leucothoe 'Red Lips' (the red tinged foliage intensifies as the days get colder) with orange or red shades of pansy.