A GROWING CONCERN: A baker’s dozen of fall finery for gardens

THE NICE WEATHER just keep rolling along, as does your yard and garden with flowers bursting forth everywhere.

But all too soon we will be heading into dark days and cooler weather.

You know, autumn.

Since we live in gardening Nirvana, let me give you a baker’s-dozen list of plants guaranteed to have your yard in brilliant display well into November.

I cannot resist starting with my native Wisconsin’s state tree.

1. Birch (betula): The contrasting white paper-bark birch juxtaposed against the black markings of the trunk make this tree a year-round interest item. It’s fluttering leaves give motion and flickering shade and sun blotches to the visual scene. But the birch’s pure gold and bright yellow fall display puts it on this list.

2. Delphinium: Here in our superb gardening conditions, they are not just spring plants. In fact, spring is just the growing season. At first bloom, a cut back and leaf stripping gives you award-winning August through October results.

When you see photos of Butchart Gardens’ roses and delphinium it is always a fall shot. Go there yourself and see — it’s a great excuse.

3. Sumac (rhus): Few shrubs can beat sumac for its intense red, yellow, orange or gold leaf color, but it’s velvet covered stems, spring flowers and wonderful stag-horn terminal tip make this compound plant a unique introduction to your garden.

4. Ornamental kale and cabbage: Let’s get it over with and start with the plea right away. Plants that are the magic of fall, even into your winter garden will be your kales and cabbages. With beautiful colors and textures, these gems give your yard the professional look. Get several (dozens even) of these as soon as you can find them. In the unrestricted flower pot or bed, they only get bigger and bigger.

They are great for fall window boxes.

5. Mums: The “old guard.” New varieties, spoon tails, new colors and the fact that they bloom in every range from early-to-late fall make these plants a must. Try the new and huge Belgian pot mums for intense November blooms.

But remember, get four or five plants.

6. Japanese maples (acer): These plants have it all — great structural shape, interesting leaf patterns, colorful summer foliage and intense fall foliage.

Available in a variety of sizes and colors and shapes, add a Japanese maple to your yard each and every year.

7. Sedums: Especially the big, tall, fall ones. With names like “Autumn Joy,” brilliant and bronzed “Wonder,” these plants again offer more than just a breathtaking flowerhead composed of hundreds of little flowers. Their texture is a succulent, jade plant-type texture and their leaves give a waxy look especially noticeable in early spring. They do not die, love to be neglected, like being in poor soil, feed all the various bee populations and bloom for a two-month show.

Make a run on them. They are also inexpensive for their size.

8. Ornamental grasses: If you haven’t tried these, why not? Low maintenance, no bugs or diseases, self-producing stock, love dry sandy conditions, sway in the breezes and are gorgeous with their flower tassels in the winter season.

So if nothing else, go hunt out Japanese blood grass for a superb red texture in the fall garden.

9. Pansies and violas: As improvements on fall and winter, these hardy pansies have been astronomical and the color range of the wonderfully prolific ” little cousin,” the viola, has been gratefully expanded to your heart’s desire. These plants, especially with the highlighters, give any spot a Victorian charm.

Another cost effective way to cover the ground.

10. The highlighters: White as an intense border or spot makes every other flower more true to it’s hue.

There is no greater ability to use the highlighting effect then with the use of Dusty Miller (bi-annuals that last as a full year plant) or new and magnificent creeping (oak-like leaf) perennial Artemisia (Silver Brocade).

11. Witchhazel (hamamelis): This medium-sized to somewhat-large shrub is perfect for the starting of one’s flowering garden each year. This shrub sports spider-like blooms on a zig-zag growth pattern as early as February and well into March. The flowers are scented and are borne close to the stems before the leaves develop, which gives this plant a very exotic look. Valued for its brilliant fall leaf color that ranges in spectrum from yellow, orange, amber, red, copper, scarlet and burgundy.

This is a must-have item.

12. Asters: The overlooked fall perennial — a small 4-inch plant this year can be a lovely 2-to-3-foot-tall mound of 1,000 flowers next fall. Great for a centerpiece in pots, planters or accent spots.

Use these plants for cut-flower value since they are very perennial.

13. Growers choice: The best for last and the most fun. Go to your local nursery, show them this list and say, “Pick me out something great not on this list.”

It is a superb way of building a relationship with your local greenhouse or nursery owner.

Please feel free to add far more plants to enhance your fall display, and please… stay well all.


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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