Documents: Latest From: Yvonne Cunnington:

Summer's Encore: Show-stopping perennials

and grasses for the late season garden
by Yvonne Cunnington
by Yvonne Cunnington

I am a garden writer and photographer living near Hamilton, Ont. My articles have appeared in Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Canadian Gardening and Gardening Life magazines. My book for beginner gardeners, Clueless in the Garden: A Guide for the Horticulturally Helpless (Key Porter Books) was published in 2003.

My husband and I tend a large country garden, which has been featured on TV’s Gardeners Journal and in Gardening Life magazine. We have had numerous bus tours visit our garden.

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June 30, 2002

ycandrewjoepye.jpg (68295 bytes)As August comes to the perennial garden, many gardeners seem ready to throw in the towel, and their gardens look like they've had with summer. What a shame, I think. Our growing season is short enough, why give up so soon? Why not extend the flower show into fall with lovely late-bloomers? 

I've actually designed my garden to be at its peak in the late summer because I adore late flowering plants and I'm enchanted with the contemporary autumnal look pioneered by garden designers Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden in the United States, and Piet Oudolf in Holland. 

For the most part, plants that bloom in the late season are tough, drought tolerant and many of them grow tall and dramatic. Another interesting thing about these plants is many are North American natives, which probably accounts for their toughness. 

For show-stopping daisy-like flowers in hot colors, try hybrids of the North American native, Helen's Flower (Helenium autumnale). Its other common name Sneezeweed, is misleading¾Helenium won't cause sneezing as its pollen isn't wind-borne, but carried by insects. 'Bruno', a Blooms of Bressingham selection boasts crimson-mahogany flowers; 'Red and Gold' produces brick-red and gold-yellow flowers; 'Butterpat' has deep yellow flowers and 'Moerheim Beauty' bright, reddish-orange blooms. About 3 to 4 feet tall, Heleniums complement late summer's palette of golds, crimsons and oranges. They thrive in full sun in moist humus-rich soil. Regular moisture is important, so don't let them dry out in summer. 

Another interesting late bloomer is turtlehead (Chelone obliqua). A North American relative of snapdragon, it is named for its long-blooming pink or white flowers that resemble small turtles with half-opened mouths. About 2 to 3 feet tall, this plant is lovely near a garden pond, but will do well in any moist, rich soil, in sun or part shade. 

For shadier spots in the garden, consider delicate-looking fall-flowering Japanese anemones. Growing 2-1/2 to 3 feet tall, these plants have slender, branching flower stalks and lobed leaves that form attractive mounds of foliage. Favorites are silvery-pink 'September Charm', light pink 'Queen Charlotte' and white 'Honorine Jobert'. Plant Japanese anemones in rich, moist, well-drained soil, where they'll have afternoon shade. 

Also lovely for shady woodland gardens is Kirengeshoma palmata, pronounced "ki-reng-ge-shÇ-ma pahl-mah-ta", which remains such a connoisseur plant that hasn't found a common name yet, although one perennial guide dubs it "yellow waxbells". In spring, it produces attractive serrated leaves on reddish purple stems; in fall, plump flower buds open into unusual lemon-yellow flowers resembling badminton birds. About 4 feet tall, it thrives in rich, moist soil in a sheltered, partly shaded spot. 

Golden Fleece goldenrod (Solidago sphacelata 'Golden Fleece') is one of the new generation of goldenrods that I hope will help gardeners overcome the prejudice against these plants as roadside weeds. (They are unfairly blamed for causing hay fever - ragweed, which blooms at the same time, is the main culprit.) This low-growing goldenrod cultivar (under 2 feet tall) has arching, fleecy, plume like, flower heads in late summer into fall. 'Crown of Rays', is a slightly taller cultivar that begins flowering in mid-summer. If you plant either of these, everybody will say, "I can't believe it's a goldenrod!" 

Another plant I wouldn't be without has the unfortunate common name, Joe Pye weed, but this North American native is not the least bit weedy. Its botanical name Eupatorium maculatum is much more gracious, just like the plant. Tall (in the 4 to 6 foot tall range) and stately, it's a real butterfly magnet for almost six weeks in late summer when its large heads of tiny, dusky pink flowers bloom. It makes a terrific accent plant and goes well with other late season stars, such as Echinacea, Rudbeckia 'Goldstrum' R. hirta, Sedum 'Autumn Joy', S. 'Matrona', asters and grasses.

Of course, the late summer garden isn't complete without the splendor of the grasses that we label "ornamental". The airy appeal of these grasses comes from their form and texture and their movement with the slightest breeze. Another plus is the all-season interest they provide: in summer, appealing foliage, which is followed by flowers and changing foliage color in autumn. And, don't cut them back until early spring because they'll give your garden winter interest with straw-colored foliage that moves in the wind. 

There are many perennial ornamental grass varieties available. The following are some of my favorites: they're all well-behaved clump-forming perennial types. Dramatic, upright growing feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Forester'), which blooms in June and holds its plumes well into winter, was the Perennial Plant of the Year in 2001. The white and green variegated Morning Light Miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light') is one of the very best Miscanthus cultivars, and the tall airy cultivars of purple moor grass (Molina caerula subsp. arundinacea) seem always to be in motion; look for the cultivars 'Transparent', 'Skyracer', or 'Windspiel', which is German for "wind's play." Come to think of it: that's a really terrific description of wonderful dance of the grasses on the breeze. 

I'll bet the late season lull happens in the garden because most gardeners shop the nurseries in the spring and buy what's already in bloom or what soon will be - the trouble is, by July and August, the garden's finished. To solve this problem, make a checklist by season of bloom. Don't overcomplicate things by going month-by-month - early, mid and late season bloom categories will do - and then pick your perennials so you have something flowering in each period. That way, you won't miss out on the late season, which can be one of the best times of the garden year. Really! 

The photo is of Yvonne's garden last August and was taken by Photo by Andrew Leyerle.

© Yvonne Cunnington




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