What’s working in your autumn garden right now? If you’re shrugging and pointing to a top heavy mum that’s got more juice running through its veins than a Russian weightlifter, you’re on the wrong track. I’m asking what’s working.
Perhaps I should ask, what’s working in the gardens you visit? And more specifically, the gardens you visit within your own zone. Figuring out how to extend your bloom season into fall is about keeping your eyes open right now and carrying a notebook.
Here are a few not-so-hard-to-find late season beauties to get the creative juices flowing towards a great autumn season next year. And since space is always at a premium, I’ll showcase flowers this week, and save foliage, berries and bulbs for later columns.
Faced with tiny margins and a customer base that wants screaming spring color in a pot, big box nurseries choose not to sell some of the best fall bloomers. The good news is, the following beauties are not rare, and you can find them at many online nurseries, as well as some of your local IGCs (Independent Garden Centers) that love good plants and spend time trying to encourage customers to buy them.
Anemone x hybrida (Windflower) – This lovely perennial with luscious basal foliage and tall, wispy flowers in shades from white to pink is a terrific place to start for fall color. I grow ‘Honorine Jobert’, ‘Andrea Atkinson’, ‘Pamina’ and the new and very unusual ‘Wild Swan’ which starts blooming in mid-summer.
Tricyrtis spp. (Toad lily) – A terrible common name for a wonderful plant. My favorite remains the rampant T. formosana ‘Autumn Glow’ which spends the summer lighting up the shade garden with golden variegated leaves, then tops them off with speckled purple flowers in early autumn. I have also grown the hairy leaved, white flowered T. hirta ‘Alba,’ which spent most of its time looking shabby with some sort of rust-like disease, and the rest of its time seeding itself into every nook and cranny. I’ll stick with Autumn Glow.
Begonia grandis (Hardy begonia) – Woodland elves need color in our lives too. Hardy begonia gives us that, in either white or pink – blooming from late summer through till frost and offering large, white-spotted succulent leaves from late spring that are backed with the bloodiest of reds. When the sun lights them up the angels sing. I prefer the white, but grow both.
Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield Pink’ – Throw your juiced up mums on the compost pile and try a mum you can really be proud of. ‘Sheffield Pink’ is readily available and responds well to the old ‘Chelsea chop’ (cutting low to the ground in late spring) to promote stronger stems. It’s soft apricot-pink and lights up a sunny garden, particularly against late flowering grasses like Miscanthus ‘Morning Light.’
Persicaria spp (Bistort) – I grow ‘Painter’s Palette’ (P. virginiana) for the foliage more than the wispy flower racemes, but if you want late season color with a capital C – consider ‘Firetail’ (P.amplexicaulis) – which is hot pink and elicits the phrase “What is that?!?” from visitors more often than not.
Aster spp. – Well, actually Symphyotrichum spp. (Because taxonomists don’t care how long it takes us to learn yet another genus, or how few parties they are getting invited to these days because of it.) Whatever we call these colorful bloomers, they are quite possibly one of the great stars of the fall garden, not least because wild species crop up on roadsides and make us smile even on our worst days. The ones we grow usually fall into two groups – New England and New York. New Englands tend to be fuller and taller, New Yorks are more compact and have a longer bloom time. Both can also benefit from an early season whack.
In addition to all of these fall perennials are a huge host of annuals that continue to bloom with minimal effort from the gardener, such as zinnia, cosmos, ruellia and begonias. Add a few that add the effort of late autumn digging to late autumn chores – such as dahlias & cannas – and you’re well on your way to a three-season garden.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Frederick News Post, and is reprinted with permission.