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Perennials for Late Summer Colour
by Brian Minter
by Brian Minter


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

July 6, 2008

By adding some very key summer blooming perennials, you can make an enormous difference to the whole look and feel of your garden. Because so many garden plants suffer in summer heat, these perennials look good while tolerating intense heat and drought, as well as cool fall evenings and occasional heavy rainfalls.

At the very top of my list of favourites are the rudbeckias. The tender perennial varieties provide yeoman service at this time of year, especially the compact R. ‘Becky’; the fabulous new variety ‘Prairie Summer’; the unusual ‘Rustic Mix’ with its autumn blend of colours; and the small flowered, low growing variety, ‘Toto’, named after Dorothy’s dog in the Wizard of Oz. This is their time 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. If you don’t have this variety yet, track it down at your favourite plant store, and you’ll enjoy a few good weeks of great colour. I have found a new earlier blooming strain of R. ‘Goldsturm’, called ‘Early Gold’, that’s just about ready to bloom. It looks very promising.

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. There are so many new varieties of echinacea that it’s hard to keep up, but the very strong, deep rich purple ‘After Midnight’ and the new doubles, E. ‘Coconut Lime’ and E. ‘Pink Beauty‘, are fabulous.

In shady spots or in full 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, and they will also tolerate hot sun.

For some early fall tones, add a bit of fire to your flowerbeds 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 need a somewhat sheltered spot and very well drained soil, but wow, 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’. Take a look at all the new colourful foliage varieties out there, like ‘Postman’s Pride’, ‘Xenox’ and ‘Bon Bon’.

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 is 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 ‘Wood Series’. At this point, they come in white, pink and blue. Through all the wet spring weather, they have looked fabulous and are about ready to bloom.

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. With small gold or gold-bronze petals, they 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. The new varieties out of Europe, like the yellow ‘Double Trouble’, red ‘Ruby Tuesday’ and the bicolour ‘Sahin’, are all magnificent.

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

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