It’s only been summer officially for a couple of weeks and we just finished celebrating the 4th of July, but it’s not too soon to start thinking about your fall flower garden. Fall is the most overlooked season in the garden. That may be because we’re tired out by then or maybe because the fall leaves steal the show. I think part of the blame has to go to garden centers who empty our wallets in the spring with plants that are already or almost in bloom.
Fall bloomers don’t look like much, for most of the season. They just hang out in the back of the garden growing tall and killing time. But there are some wonderful plants for late summer into fall, and if you like to eek as much beauty out of your garden as you can, consider making space for some of the late season stunners. You may even be able to find them on sale, at this time of year.
We all know about hardy mums. They come in delectable fall colors, but most stay in their pots and don’t make it through the winter. There are several other varieties of mums, even some you can grow from seed, that are much hardier. What ever type you choose. The earlier you can get it in the ground, the better the chance it will become established and stick around.
I’ve always preferred asters to mums. The New England and New York asters can be a bit rambunctious and spread throughout your garden by runners. They’re easy enough to rip out, but if you don’t want the hassle, consider some of the newer hybrids, like Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’, which forms a tidy 2 ft. tall mound of lavender flowers that doesn’t flop over.
Turtlehead (Chelone spp.) has flattened tubular flowers that give the appearance of snapping beaks. They come in white, pink, and red. Chelone is a native American wildflower that prefers damp areas, like stream side, but can be made at home in any partially shaded site.
Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) is often taken for granted in this area, because it can grow like a weed along the sides of road. It is a native plant and you’ve probably seen it’s mauve mop-like flower heads while you were whizzing by, but there are several well-behaved cultivars that are ideal for any size garden. The species is a towering plant, growing 6 ft. or more, but there are shorter versions, like ‘Gateway’ that tops out at 5 ft., or ‘Little Joe’, a dwarf variety at 3 – 4 ft. tall.
One final late summer / fall favorite I’ll mention is Helenium (Helenium autumnale), or sneezeweed. Helenium has daisy-like flowers in autumn tones. They can be a little difficult to get established, but worth the effort. Like clematis, they do best with some shade on their roots, but their heads in the sun. My favorite is still Helenium autumnale ‘Moerheim Beauty’. It’s rich, rusty tones can compete with any maple tree.
There are dozens more fall flowers to drool over. We’ll save them for another day.