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Perennials for Late Summer Colour
by Brian Minter
by Brian Minter

email: mail@mintergardens.com

Brian is President of Minter Country Garden, an innovative destination garden center and greenhouse growing operation. He is a gardening columnist, radio host, international speaker and author.

His website is located at http://www.mintergardens.com/


August 23, 2009

By adding some very special fall blooming perennials, you can make an enormous difference to the whole look and feel of your late summer and early autumn garden. Because of the recent intense heat, many garden plants are on their way out, but these perennials will look good while tolerating late summer heat and drought, as well as the cool fall evenings and occasional heavy rainfalls.

At the very top of my list of favourites are the rudbeckias. The perennial varieties provide yeoman service at this time of year, and now it is their opportunity to shine. Perhaps one of the finest of all the rudbeckias is the truly hardy variety, R. ‘Goldsturm’. Growing about two feet high with deep golden petals surrounding a dark brown button, ‘Goldsturm’ just keeps pouring out the colour well into October. Its newest cousin, R. ‘Early Bird Gold’, blooms two to three weeks earlier and stays more compact, and it too blooms its heart out. I love the taller, smaller-bloomed variety, R. ‘Takao’, with its pure, elegant stature and the very new R. ‘Henri Eilers’, with its very fine quilled petals. For tall background colour, it’s hard to beat R. ‘Herbstonne’ - it stretches up to seven feet with stunning rich yellow colour well into fall. Remember that all rudbeckias look fabulous with fall grasses like pennisetums and miscanthus.

Echinacea has been more recently sold as a herb because of its healing properties, but it also has exquisite flowers. ‘Echinacea purpurea’ is sold as the herbal variety, but pink E. ‘Magnum’ and the white flowering ‘White Swan’ are classy looking plants that add an unique quality to summer gardens. They last well, even tolerating some frost, and the spent blossoms make interesting dried flowers. You’ll love some of the newer varieties, like the double E. ‘Pink Poodle, ‘Pink Double Delight’ and ‘Coconut Lime’. You’ll also love the new namesake colours of E. ‘Tomato Soup’ and E. ‘Mac ‘n Cheese’. ‘Tomato Soup’ is really something special!

In shady spots or in partial sun, perhaps the most elegant of all the late summer perennials are the Japanese anemones. Dwarf or tall, white, pink or dusty rose, these plants are a definite hit at this time of year. The yellow-centered anemone blossoms always have a fresh look about them, and they combine well with so many other perennials or shrubs. The white varieties especially brighten up shady areas.

For some early fall tones, add a bit of fire to your flower beds with crocosmias. For years they were called montbretia and sold as tiny bulbs, but today they are usually sold in ‘bud and bloom’ as perennials. Crocosmias love a hot spot and very well drained soil, and do they ever add spice to our gardens with their fire-orange freesia-type blossoms! Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is an exceptional scarlet red variety from Blooms in England, but don’t ignore a RHS introduction called ‘Solfatare’ with its golden orange flowers. ‘Emily McKenzie’ is one of my favourites because of its orange flowers with striking bronze throats.

Lush looking fall sedums are especially important at this time of year. The succulent foliage of ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Brilliant’ certainly looks great all summer and never stresses out in drought situations. As the rosy pink blossoms open, they provide refreshing new colour for weeks. They combine well with low-growing conifers or small flowering shrubs like potentillas. As the pink flowers turn bronze, they should be left on the plant for a rather charming dried ‘fall look’.

Old fashioned Michaelmas daisies are still great for fall colour, but dozens of new, more compact varieties have been developed in the past few years. The colour range has also been dramatically broadened to include deep reds, vibrant purples, pure whites and some interesting pastel shades. There are also a wide range of heights with many new compact varieties for smaller space gardens. Unfortunately, many varieties are susceptible to fungal leaf spot disease, thus lessening their appeal. The latest variety that looks very promising for disease resistance is the ‘Island Series’. ‘Aster Tonga’ is an attractive dark blue; ‘Samoa’ is a neat hot pink; ‘Bali’ is a sky blue; and ‘Bahama’ produces nice red blossoms. They’re well worth a second look.

One of the most interesting new fall and winter blooming perennials to reach the garden market is Schizostylis coccinea ‘Crimson Flag’. It’s very attractive with gladiola-like foliage and elegant pink or red flower spikes that resemble our summer gladiolas. They blossom well into winter, tolerate rainy fall weather and are a great source of cut flowers for our tables. Surround them with silver artemisia for a delightful touch of fall magic.

Heleniums have not exactly set the world on fire the past few years, but they produce magnificent fall colours very similar to rudbeckias. The small gold or gold-bronze petals bloom well into autumn on either compact or tall varieties. They stand up well in uncertain fall weather and provide a continuous source of cut flowers. Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’ is one of the newer up-and-coming varieties.

These are some of my ‘tried and true’ favourites that add fresh new life to late summer gardens. Combine them with colourful conifers, broadleaved plants and evergreen perennials, like heucheras and euphorbias for some spectacular displays.

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