Sunday, July 27, 2008

Late Summer Color in the Garden

Gardeners head for the nurseries and greenhouses in the spring and are often seduced by whatever perennials are blooming in the pots at that time. The result is a colorful spring and early-summer garden, but by late summer and fall the gardeners are wondering .... where have all the flowers gone? This entry will cover some reliable plants for late season color.

Of course you can always buy some mums for a shot of fall color and sometimes they do “come back,” but the only reliable perennial mum I have encountered is ‘Clara Curtiss,’ (above.) It has a light pink daisy-shaped flower with a yellow eye and grows around 18 inches high. This plant is a vigorous spreader and will benefit from a shearing around July 4, resulting in nice full blooms in the end of summer.

Although I think of echinacea (cone flower) as a fall plant, mine bloomed in July this year. Helenium (sneezeweed) is a late blooming perennial with small flowers in oranges and reds that look similar to cone flowers. The unfortunate common name “sneezeweed” comes from the fact that this flower was dried and used as snuff by natives and early settlers.

Eupatorium (“Joe Pye Weed”) is a native plant that grows tall with large heads of rosy pink flowers, a butterfly favorite. The newer eupatoriums have been bred to be shorter, but the cultivars I have tried are still quite tall.

Sedum is a genus of about 400 species of leaf succulents and “Autumn Joy” is the one cultivar that seems synonymous with fall gardens in Vermont. Butterflies and bees love these plants and they look nice paired with another fall blooming perennial, ‘Purple Dome’ aster.

Chelone (“turtlehead”) has dense spikes of rose-pink flowers in the early fall. The deep green foliage looks nice all season and it does well in moist soil.

Cimicifugia produces long white flowers on tall (3 or more feet) stems which grow up from a finely cut fern like foliage. I steer clear of the species and go with ramosa atropurupurea or one of the dark-leaved hybrids because they do not spread. This plant, which is also called “snake root and bug bane,” provides a nice vertical accent in the garden and does well in light shade.

My monkshood is blooming now, but the cultivar ‘Arendsii’ is a real late bloomer, in fact I have lost it to frost some years. This particular monkshood is around three to four feet of height, the shortest & stoutest of all monkshoods.

Next spring when shopping for perennials, consider some of these plants for your late summer garden. Actually perennials in pots are fine to plant anytime during the summer as long as they are well watered.

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