October 17th, 2012
This is the time of year when many gardeners throw in the trowel. It’s been a long hot season, and insects, monsoons and drought have visited. Most perennials are tuckered out, and to add insult to injury, this summer our old reliable impatiens gave up the ghost to downy mildew.
And yet, there’s still a lot of color to be had in the ornamental garden! From the large hydrangea paniculata, to reblooming lilac, persistent perennials, spectacular vines, half-hardy annuals, and bounteous bulbs, there’s hues and tints and tones galore.
But you have to plan for it.
So next season vow to purchase a late-blooming plant each time you grab a spring bloomer, and within a year or two your garden will be crammed with color until hard frost, (which seems to come later each year.)
In my garden the reblooming lilac ‘Bloomerang’ is once again fragrancing the front yard. This is the fifth time this year it has sent forth its lovely lavender blossoms. ‘Knockout’ roses in cherry pink and scarlet are also ablaze. The dahlias are in their prime, resplendent in jellybean shades of fuchsia, yellow, burgundy and white. Hosta ‘Thunderbolt’, with its alabaster-white-striped leaves contrasts with the vivid ruby of angel wing begonias. The centerpieces of the front beds, however, are the panicle hydrangeas ‘Pinky Winky’ and ‘Limelight’. Statuesque and multihued, they offer definition and form to the late-season garden as they bloom from August to deep freeze. Pinky’s flowers open ivory, transitioning to pink and finally to burgundy; while ‘Limelight’ (as one would expect), commences lemon-lime, segueing eventually to soft rose.
The new Virginia creeper cultivar ‘Red Wall’, tamed by the hybridizers, grows less vigorously than its wild relative, but still offers its characteristic crimson as it climbs over the arbor leading to my backyard garden.
Late bees and butterflies are still seeking nourishment at annuals including verbena bonariensis, salvia ‘Victoria Blue’ and perilla. Asters ‘Alma Potschke’ and ‘Purple Dome’ sparkle in yummy raspberry and grape. A large stand of boltonia ‘Snowbank’ sways in the breeze by the gazebo. The classic sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ lives up to its name with its vibrant flower heads, joined by sedum sieboldii aka ‘October Daphne’, a groundcover sedum with leaves of sea green and flowers of gentle mauve.
Ornamental grasses are in their glory, waving tassels of red, russet, and tan. Pennesitum ‘Karly Rose’, sea oats grass, panicum ‘Shenandoah’ rustle with the falling leaves. Japanese forest grass, ‘All Gold’ shimmers in the shade, while its cousin ‘Naomi’ tints red, gold and silver as the days shorten.
Dahlias seem at their best in the waning weeks of the season, offering blooms replete with colors of the rainbow. It’ll soon be time to lift and store these stalwarts, but for now, they gleam.
And let’s not forget the autumn-blooming bulbs: crocus, colchicum and cyclamen. Just when the gardener least expects it, up pops the lavender, white or pink flowers of these hardy bulbs. Tucked in among dwindling perennials, they are a sight for sore eyes.
To be sure, some plants look tattered in the garden by now. Ostrich fern fronds drip and droop; actea has turned brown; some daylilies are beaten to the ground by wind and rain. Peony leaves are ugly and need to be cut and discarded. But we tend to overlook these gone-by treasures; we gardeners know their day will come again. Instead, we instinctively seek the color splotches, and that’s what we should plant and plan for in these diminishing days of the season.
So, as you go about the autumn business of bulb planting, raking leaves and cleaning up, pause to enjoy the bountiful color Mother Nature provides (with a little help from you!) in the autumn garden.