WICHE: Fall perennials anchor color in the garden

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Plant now for present and future color.

By Jeneen Wiche

There are some perennials that I can’t live without because of their fabulous late-summer and fall performance. Plant them in your garden now because you will overlook them at garden centers come spring.

My mixed-perennial beds look the best this time of the year (barring any unpleasant summer drought). The Black-Eyed Susan’s, Russian sage and various species of Aster, Salvia and Nepeta are prolific but they are only mediocre anchor plants compared to some of the other species that come on this time of the year.

One of my favorite combinations in the garden is that of Salvia Black and Blue and Solidago Fireworks. Fireworks is a cultivated variety of golden rod that reaches about 3 feet in height and has an arching spray of yellow booms reminiscent of fireworks.

The bright yellow against a backdrop of the equally tall Salvia Black and Blue spikes is the perfect primary color combination. Both are vigorous plants and will fill a large border efficiently and beautifully.

Another bold presence and underused plant in the garden is Boltonia. Plant Boltonia asteroides in a sunny moist spot, and it will prove to be quite robust. Boltonia is reminiscent of an aster, as its botanical name suggests, but much airier in appearance, the blooms appear white tinged with pink and last until frost.

The Mongolian aster (also called the Japanese aster, although not a true aster) or Kalimeris pinnatifida has a reputation for being as carefree as they come. Small, white, double-daisy-like blooms cover dainty cut foliage.

It has a reputation for being a persistent bloomer and a plant that doubles in size every year. A little early season trim will make it more compact.

Last year I moved all of our Japanese anemone to the Japanese garden, where there is plenty of morning sun and loamy soil. They have rewarded me for the move.

The Japanese anemone is one of the most refined garden plants I know, with dark green cut foliage and tall stems (up to 3 feet), topped by light pink to dark pink blooms depending on the cultivar.

Because their foliage is relatively compact and their bloom towers above, they can be nestled among other perennials that have finished blooming by late summer. They love their new location, where there is protection from the hot afternoon sun, so if you situate them well, they will be a showstopper.

One non-native aster has found a welcomed spot in our garden, the Tatarian aster. Aster tataricus is a good deal taller than the native species, up to 8 feet in height.

The foliage is lance-shaped and compact, nestled at ground level, and the erect stems rise above and are topped by loose clusters of lavender to light blue blooms.

A fabulous ground cover for late summer performance is the hardy plumbago or Cerastigma plumbaginoides. This low-growing perennial will tolerate sun or shade and can be used in the best or worst of garden locations. It has small, dark-green foliage that turns red in the fall. Plumbago blue-purple blooms cover the low growing plant beginning in mid-summer until a hard frost.

And why we do not see more Lespedeza lining the avenues is a mystery to me. In full sun, this robust fall bloomer rivals any ornamental grass in its stance. Plus Lespedeza blooms in pinks and whites and is tough as nails.

Also called bush clover, Lespedeza thunbergii is the one to look for. It will reach about 5 feet in height and be covered in arching stems bearing dozens of racemes of pea-like blooms.

Don’t give up on the mixed border at the end of the season. Stake out some of these perennials at your local garden center during its fall sales and get them planted, so they will be well established for the 2014 garden.


Check out gardening columnist Jeneen Wiche’s work at www.SwallowRailFarm.com. You can find her columns also at www.SentinelNews.com/agriculture. She answers questions once a month in SentinelNewsPlus. To submit a question, send an E-mail to jwiche@shelbybb.netand type “Sentinel-News” in the subject field.