We are so eager for spring color that it is a cinch that our spring gardens have at least ten gorgeous garden delights to look forward to, but what about autumn? Autumn in my area is one of the loveliest times of year, with moderate temperatures, clear sunny skies, and a crisp scent in the air. It has its own beauty and if we feature some key plantings we can celebrate the fall season in our own gardens, the way we do in other parts of the year.
- Viburnums: berries and dusky fall color from many of the Viburnum family maintains their valuable impact on the garden landscape.
- Leadwort, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides syn. Plumbago larpentiae: A very pretty little groundcover that shines with blue to bluegreen flowers. An arresting color contrast to all the oranges and yellows of fall. It also has its own burnished red fall leaf color to add.
- Chrysanthemums: cushion mums are my favorite. There is no other flower in the garden that is as showy as these mounds covered in colorful long lasting colors of bronze, gold, yellow, mauve, pink, dusty red-pink, and white. Whew! Did I name them all? What about the varied flower forms?
- Asters, Michaelmas Daisies: My asters get huge and bend over with purple and pink clouds of flowers; they also reseed everywhere. There are many types of asters, some which do too well, and others far more well behaved, such as the famed ‘Frikartii Monch‘ or ‘Wonder of Staffa‘ which never could take hold for me. They are beautiful if you have their preferred conditions. Humus rich soils and reliable moisture for them, while the New England asters are not nearly so picky.
- Rose hips: Rosa Rugosa and Rosa Glauca both have outstanding rosehips that are persistent throughout the fall, sometimes into winter.
- Pyracantha: beautiful bright orange or clear gold berries that are persistent well into winter. Dark green shiny leaves set off the berries despite frosts of autumn. I can tell that the author of the OSU plant profile does not care for this plant, but I appreciate both its flowers, fruits, and shiny green foliage. The thorns not so much, but I use it as a protective plant for this reason. sometimes you need a plant with good thorns.
- Japanese Anemone, aka “Windflower” is a delicate looking flower blooming in pinks and white, mostly single, like ‘September Charm‘; some doubled like A. x hybrida ‘Margarete’. A. x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ is an exceptionally nice choice.
- Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, or try Sedum ‘Brilliant’, ‘Matrona’, or ‘Sunset Cloud’. They all provide a strong presence in the garden with medium sized plants, and plates of colorful, yet harmoniously subdued flowers. The flower heads persist through out winter if you don’t remove them and create winter pictures when they catch the snow. The leaves often turn a clear yellow after frosts. My very favorite is S. ‘Mediovariegatum’ with variegated leaves and pale flesh-pink flowers.
- Hostas: one thing little said about hostas is their good fall coloring. A large group of them can provide tints of yellow brushed with rusty red.
- Sweet Autumn Clematis: although the flowering not long, it is exuberant and fills the air with a sweet soapy fragrance. This clematis is also a butterfly magnet. After the flowers are over, the fluffy seedheads provide some interest; but it is that wild burst of bloom that makes it a feature for fall.
Notes on the Ten Features:
These plants sometimes begin their bloomtime as early as July. One of the tricks and tips in flowers that you want to hold off blooming, like asters or chrysanthemums is to tip them back in early summer, but no later than July 4th.
This pinching technique is especially helpful to keep New England asters from getting so leggy that they fall over (which they may lean a bit anyway. I use pruners for the asters and simply pinch the terminal buds of cushion mums with my finger.
Mums are heavy feeders, so they always benefit from good soil and fertilizer.
Pyracanthas are often trained as espaliers, so that indicates how you can prune them to the shape you need. Just remember that pruning will remove flower and berry for that year. Birds like to eat them in late winter when there isn’t much else around.
Leadwort is used as a groundcover, so it might be a bit too rambunctious for you- I have never found it anything but polite in my garden.
The same is true of the Japanese anemones, for me. They are beautiful additions to your garden- I only wish I had more. They will grow well in part shade.
Sedums are so versatile. My variegated variety is a garden stalwart giving long season beauty with little care and making a good show wherever I place it. It was a passalong plant from a friend.
I hope you find these suggestions helpful in brightening up the autumn garden at your house. Fall is one of the best times to garden, and August September is ideal for putting in new perennials and shrubs. (Water them if it gets dry, until the fall rains come).