By adding some very special late summer blooming perennials, you can make an enormous difference to the whole look and feel of your garden. When many other garden plants have finished blooming, these perennials will look good even while tolerating the intense heat and drought of late summer, as well as the cool evenings and occasional heavy rains of early fall.
At the very top of my list of favourites are the rudbeckias. Perhaps one of the finest of all the rudbeckias is the truly hardy variety R. ‘Goldsturm’. Growing about two feet high with deep golden petals surrounding a dark brown button, ‘Goldsturm’ just keeps pouring out the colour well into October. ‘Early Bird Gold’ is a newer version of ‘Goldsturm’ that blooms two weeks earlier and still keeps going until late fall. Both these varieties will give you many weeks of great colour.
Echinacea has been more recently sold as a herb because of its healing properties, but it also has exquisite flowers. ‘Echinacea purpurea’ is sold as the herbal variety, but pink E. ‘Magnum’ and the white flowering ‘White Swan’ are classy looking plants that add an unique quality to summer gardens. They last well, even tolerating some frost, and the spent blossoms make interesting dried flowers.
In shady spots or in full sun, perhaps the most elegant of all the late summer perennials are the Japanese anemones. Dwarf or tall, white, pink or dusty rose, these plants are a definite hit, blooming as early as August. The yellow-centered anemone blossoms always have a fresh look about them, and they combine well with so many other perennials or shrubs. The white varieties especially brighten up shady areas.
For some early fall tones, add a bit of fire to your flower beds with crocosmias. For years they were called montbretia and sold as tiny bulbs, but today they are usually sold in ‘bud and bloom’ as perennials. Crocosmias need a somewhat sheltered spot and very well drained soil, but wow, do they ever add spice to our gardens with their fire-orange freesia-type blossoms! Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ is an exceptional scarlet red variety from Blooms in England, but don’t ignore a RHS introduction called ‘Solfatare’ with its golden orange flowers. ‘Emily McKenzie’ is one of my favourites because of its orange flowers with striking bronze throats.
Lush looking fall sedums are especially important at this time of year. The succulent foliage of ‘Autumn Joy’ and ‘Brilliant’ certainly looks great all summer and never stresses out in drought situations. As the rosy pink blossoms open, they provide refreshing new colour for weeks. They combine well with low-growing conifers or small flowering shrubs like potentillas. As the pink flowers turn bronze, they should be left on the plant for a rather charming dried ‘fall look’.
Old fashioned Michaelmas daisies are still great for fall colour, but dozens of new, more compact varieties have been developed in the past few years. The colour range has also been dramatically broadened to include deep reds, vibrant purples, pure whites and some interesting pastel shades. There are also a wide range of heights with many new compact varieties for smaller space gardens. Unfortunately, many varieties are susceptible to fungal leaf spot disease, thus lessening their appeal. The latest varieties that look very promising for disease resistance are the ‘Woods’ series in white, pink and blue.
Heleniums have not exactly set the world on fire the past few years, but they produce magnificent fall colours very similar to rudbeckias. The small gold or gold-bronze petals bloom well into autumn on either compact or tall varieties. They stand up well in the uncertain fall weather and provide a continuous source of cut flowers as well.
Coreopsis have exploded recently with new colours, sizes and forms, but the old reliable C. ‘Zagreb’, C. ‘Moonlight’ and C. grandiflora are the workhorses and bloom consistently now till frost.
These are some of my ‘tried and true’ favourites that add fresh new life to late summer gardens. Combine them with colourful conifers, broadleaved plants and evergreen perennials, like heucheras and euphorbias for some spectacular displays.