August 25, 2013

Maine Gardener: Late color to make you fall for autumn


It is the late summer doldrums. Not yet fall, with the colors of foliage season, and not the burst of beautiful blossoms that begin in spring with daffodils and tulips and last through day lilies, oriental lilies and roses.

Gardens look better in spring and early summer for a couple of reasons. First, most flowers bloom in spring. But spring is also when most people think about planting gardens. When they go to the nursery to buy plants, they are drawn to the ones in bloom.

If your garden lacks color, I advise a plant-shopping trip now to your favorite local garden center. The ones you buy will have time to root, and if you water them until the first frost, should survive this winter in good health,

But first walk around your garden, without tools for weeding and deadheading. Look at the places that are bare. Look at plants you should take out because they are no longer working for you -- too big or leggy or you've just gotten sick of them.

I'm going to suggest some tried and true plants. Most will bloom this year, although some might have already bloomed at the nursery -- where bloom time is sometimes earlier than in home gardens.

A favorite is eupatorium, common name joe pye weed, although there is nothing weedy about this plant.

The common plants, mostly native, grow up to 8 feet tall, with many in the 5-foot range, although there are some popular dwarfs, such as Little Joe and Baby Joe that are less than 3 feet tall. The flat-topped blossoms range from fuchsia and purple to light pink and white. Most are Zone 4, require six hours of sunlight daily and begin blooming right about the end of August. 

There are a couple of unusual cultivars. One, called Chocolate, has bronze-purple foliage and white blossoms, and another, Mist Flower, has fluffy lavender flowers that come in July or August and last through October. These two are Zone 5.

Echinacea and rudbeckia are two natives needed for the late-summer and fall garden, and both are sometimes called coneflowers, for a large cone-shaped center surrounded by daisy-like petals.

Allan Armitage, the herbaceous plant expert who spoke to the Maine Landscape and Nursery Association last winter, said the purple and white varieties of echinacea live much longer. But echinaceas do come in a rainbow of colors including red, orange, yellow and everything in between.

Rudbeckia is commonly called black-eyed Susan, and usually grows about 2 feet tall with a black or brown cone and yellow-orange petals. The most popular variety is Goldsturm, which will stay in blossom for months, but the most dramatic is Herbstonne, which can grow to 6 feet tall, with blossoms that are up to 4 inches wide with green cones. In addition, Cherokee Sunset has double blossoms that provide a different look. Autumn Colors has some reddish-orange in the petals that looks good but is short-lived, but does self-sow.

Anemones are beautiful flowers, but somewhat confusing. Some bloom in the spring, some in the fall and one called Snow Drop will bloom in the spring and in good years rebloom in the fall.

One of the best is Honorine Jobert, which has pure white flowers with yellow centers and is taller than most anemones at 3 feet. Several others that bloom in fall are various shades of pink.

Russian sage, with the botanical name perovskia, is grown mostly for it lovely gray, aromatic foliage, but it does have some fluffy lavender blooms late in the season.

Autumn clematis is a plant that makes a statement if you have a good place for it to climb. Two of the best vines for late summer color are Sweet Autumn clematis, which has white flowers, and Rebecca, which has bright red flowers with yellow anthers.

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