Many people look at this season as a time of decline and death, when the leaves tumble off the trees and frost blackens tender foliage. This might be true much later, say in November. But in September, particularly early in the month, I see a time of renewal in the garden.
I love those plants that really begin to shine in autumn; those that have been waiting patiently for their moment to move into the spotlight once those flashy annuals of summer have spent themselves and have been shuffled off to the compost bin.
Their presence in the garden can transform a tired August landscape into something new and beautiful in September. Here are a few plants that continue to delight in my garden each year when the calendar turns over from summer to autumn:
SEDUM ‘AUTUMN JOY’-New varieties come out each year promising bigger and brighter flowers and more compact growth, but I still like the reliable ‘Autumn Joy.’ It’s among the first perennials to emerge from the ground in spring, and by late September its flower heads are a lovely rose-pink, attracting the attention of the late-lingering bees. With the first frosts the blooms turn to a rich mahogany colour.
MISCANTHUS (Maiden Grass)-Although they take a while to emerge, by late summer the Maiden Grasses are hitting their stride, and when the flower heads unfurl they are truly magnificent, especially on breezy days when the whole plant becomes animated. The variety ‘Silberfeder’ in our display gardens is amazing this year, but you can’t go wrong with any of the several cultivars of Miscanthus sinensis.
CERATOSTIGMA PLUMBAGINOIDES-It may be unpronounceable in botanical Latin, but Blue Leadwort is a gorgeous plant for the fall garden, with gentian-blue blooms on wiry stems beginning in August, followed up with bright red foliage as the nights become cooler. It spreads by underground rhizomes, but it’s very polite in the way that it weaves its way amongst other plants.
ROSA RUBRIFOLIA-Sometimes called Rosa glauca, this is a rose that is not planted for its blooms, although the star-shaped single pink blossoms are attractive in their own way. I like this rose for its lovely blue-green foliage that is transformed to a bright red-orange in fall, and for the large red rose hips that are hanging in clusters off the stems right now.
CARYOPTERIS CLANDONENSIS (Blue Mist Spirea)-A great flowering shrub for autumn colour, this drought tolerant plant is now covered with small blue blooms and their attendant flock of bees. Also known as Bluebeard, this shrub is an excellent performer in a sunny mixed border where its “cloud of blue” effect is a standout long after other flowering shrubs have faded into memory, just like this summer has.