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Landscape Articles and Poems

Glorious Days of Autumn

Posted on August 21, 2010 at 12:55 AM

Most people think of autumn as a season when the garden begins to shut down but this does not happen in a “Four Season” garden. With the right plant choices, your garden will continue to offer something of interest right into winter. Perennials that bloom in late summer and fall include colors of purple, red, orange, and gold that echo the fall color on deciduous trees and shrubs. These flower colors look great against the evergreen foliage of junipers, false cypress, pines and spruce trees. Variegated foliage continues to brighten up the shaded areas of the garden and plants with burgundy, gold, blue, and gray foliage continue to add emphasis to the garden.

The autumn garden in all its glory! - photo by Cheryl Pedemonti

The true “stars” of the fall garden are the ornamental grasses with their glorious plumes that create movement in the garden with the slightest breeze! If you have not experimented with one of the ornamental grasses yet, then your garden is missing something BIG right now. Grasses are such a huge category that they deserve a topic of their own and I will post something separate about these versatile plants soon.


Here is a sampling of shrubs and perennial flowers for fall and winter interest that I could not live without in my four-season garden:

Colorful Autumn Foliage

For exciting fall color on smaller trees or shrubs, I would recommend the following:

Acer palmatum dissectum (Cutleaf Japanese Maple) has brilliant fall colors of red and orange. Its interesting branch pattern can be enhanced by installing a landscape spotlight underneath the tree so itsbranches will be “uplighted” for a dramatic evening look. Enkianthuscampanulatus (Redvein Enkianthus) foliage is a blue-green color until the cool temps change it into a glorious mix of orange, red and gold. This really brightens up the shady garden!

Persistent Berries Add Color, Too

If you are looking for colorful fruit that adds color to thegarden, you might want to look for Callicarpa dichotomas (Purple Beautyberry).This delicate shrub becomes a conversation piece due to the clusters ofshocking purple berries lining the stems! My three favorite shrubs with persistent red fruit include the following:

Ilex verticillata (Winterberry) is a tall shrub  that takes a back seat in the garden display until September when the branches will be lined with deep red berries.

Viburnum opulus ‘Compactum’ (Dwarf European Cranberrybush) and Viburnum wrightii (Wright Viburnum) both have abundant red fruit from fall andinto winter. This fruit will be green on the shrub all summer until it ripens to a brilliant red color in late summer and autumn.

Cotoneaster apiculatus (CranberryCotoneaster) has bright red fruit along its low spreading branches that createa woody groundcover.  The berries last from August to late winter.

Japanese Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotomas) - photo by Cheryl Pedemonti

Evergreen Shrubs Provide The Backdrop

All of this colorful autumn display will be nicely shown off with a fence or a few evergreen shrubs for a backdrop.  I like the colorful evergreens as they create a nice contrast to the bright autumn colors.

Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘NanaGracillis’ (Dwarf Hinoki False Cypress) is one of my favorite dwarf evergreens.The frond-like foliage is dark green with white markings underneath and offers a “rippled” texture. It blends effortlessly with anything in the garden. 

Its distant cousin, Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea’ (Gold Threadleaf False Cypress), offers gold color to break upthe rest of your green plants. Prune this shrub tightly for best results.

Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’ (Dwarf Blue Spruce) has excellent silvery blue foliage andcan mature at 6’ tall and 6’ wide after many years.

An interesting evergreen subshrub with late summer blooms would be Calluna vulgaris (Scotch Heather).  It has small delicate foliage that is greenor gold in the summer and will change to silver, red, or dark green in thecolor months.  Bloom time depending oncultivar is from July to September.

Perennials for Late Summer and Autumn

Anemone japonica ‘September Charm’ (Japanese Anemone) isjust one of many cultivars available in the anemone family. Pearl-like buds sitatop long, wiry, purple stems and open into pink flowers. This perennial can bea bit agressive in the garden and spreads by underground roots.  Control its root system by planting it in abottomless container sunk into the soil or plant it a large area to spread outand naturalize.

Cimicifuga racemosa 'Brunette' (Bugbane) has burgundycolored, lacy foliage and wiry spikes of honey scented white flowers.  This foliage would look great in the gardeneven if it never bloomed!  This perennialdoes best in part shade and moist soil.

Liriope muscari ‘Variegata’ (Lilyturf) has grass-like greenleaves with gold margins and purple spiky flowers produced inSeptember-October. It makes a great groundcover in sun or shade.

Liriope muscari 'Variegata' in bloom - photo by Cheryl Pedemonti

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage) is a strong,semi-woody perennial with grayish green scented foliage and hazy purple flowerspikes on tall silver stems that add color from late summer into fall. I liketo pair it with the next two flowers. Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldstrum’ (Black EyedSusan) cannot be beat for late season color in the garden. It is low maintenanceand a sturdy reliable perennial from year to year.  The brown coneflowers will persist into thewinter months.

Sedum x ‘Autumn Joy’ (Stonecrop) also offers a long seasonof bloom during which the flower color changes from green to pale pink to deeprusset red. Don’t cut the flowers back until spring as it will carry the gardenthrough winter.  I love how this allpurpose perennial complements anything you plant it with.  Here it looks terrific with 'Moudry' FountainGrass (Pennisetum alopecuroides).

If you are looking for something unusual, look no furtherthan Trycirtus hirta (Toad Lily) as it will certainly get a mention in yourgarden. Small orchid-like flowers bloom in late summer to early fall in shadesof white, purple and mauve. Many have spots on the flowers and some havevariegated foliage. 

Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua) is a native flower well suitedfor moist, shaded gardens.  It has palepink flower cluster that resembles a turtle's head.  It grows 2-3' tall and blooms from August toSeptember.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' and 'Moudry' Fountain Grass in October - photo by Cheryl Pedemonti

Interesting Seedheads Create Interest, Too

This is just a sampling of the diverse group of shrubs and perennials that will spark your autumn garden with color and interest.  Many of the summer blooming perennials will add interest to the late season with their interesting seedheads so think of this before you start to deadhead the spent flowers.  Some examples include the seed pods on Siberian Iris and Daylilies.  Coneflowers are a major source of seeds for the Goldfinch birds.  I keep the spent flowers on Astilbe as their seed heads will last right through winter until you cut them back in early spring.  Don't be afraid to experiment in your garden.  If you decide you don't like something, you can cut it back, but at least give it a try and see what your garden offers for interest.

by Cheryl Pedemonti, Landscape Designer




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