When late summer arrives, far too many landscapes look a bit tired, tatty and worn out. This is especially true when the summer has been long and hot. By adding some very special late blooming perennials, you can make an enormous difference to the whole look and feel of your late summer garden.
Perennials that bloom at this time of year are like a breath of fresh air. When so many other garden plants are on their way out, these perennials will look good while tolerating intense late summer heat and drought and occasional heavy rainfalls.
At the very top of my list of favourites are the rudbeckias. This is their time to shine and to make a huge difference in our gardens. Perhaps one of the finest of all the perennial rudbeckias is the truly hardy variety, R. ‘Goldstrum’. Growing about two feet high with deep golden petals surrounding a dark brown button, ‘Goldstrum’ just keeps pouring out the colour well into November. If you don’t have this variety yet, track it down at your favourite plant store, and you’ll still enjoy at least two months of colour. Two new more compact varieties called, R. ‘City Garden’ (18”) and R. ‘Gold Star’ (14”), will be coming out next year.
Recently, echinacea has been sold more as a herb because of its healing properties, but it also has exquisite flowers. Echinacea purpurea is the herbal variety, but pink Echinacea ‘Magnum’ and the white flowering ‘White Swan’ are classy looking plants that add a unique quality to summer gardens. This year brings with it many new shorter and more vigorous varieties like ‘Pow Wow’, ‘Wild Berry’, ‘Pink Double Delight’ and the rich orangey yellow tones of ‘Summer Sun’.
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 at this time of year. The yellow centered anemone blossoms always have a fresh look, 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 montebretia and sold as tiny bulbs, but today they are usually sold in ‘bud and bloom’ as perennials. Crocosmias need a somewhat sheltered spot, especially if we have another winter like last year, and very well drained soil, but wow, do they every 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 award winner, called ‘Solfatare’, with its bronze leaves and pure gold flowers, as well as the speckled, brilliant orange ‘Emily McKenzie’. There are a lot more choices, such as the shorter red flowering ‘Little Redhead’.
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 charming dried fall look. Check out some of the new colours in foliage and flowers, such as the variegated white and green of S. ‘Autumn Charm’, the award winning soft pink ‘Matrona’ and ‘Emperor’ with its deep purple foliage.
Heleniums have not exactly set the world on fire the past few years, but they produce magnificent fall colours, very similar to rudbeckias. Their small gold or gold/bronze petals bloom well into autumn on either compact or tall varieties. They stand up well in uncertain fall weather and provide a continuous source of cut flowers. Take a look at the Blooms’ introduction, ‘Mardi Gras’.
One of the real sleepers has been the ‘Seduction’ series of achilleas in red, hot pink and yellow that reblooms all summer. They blend beautifully with so many annuals, and they love the hot August sun.
These are some of my tried-and-true favourites that add fresh new life to tired summer gardens and make fall come alive. Don’t just set them in your gardens, but rather, combine them with colourful conifers, broadleaved plants and evergreen perennials, like heucheras and euphorbias, for some spectacular displays.