Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
August, 2003
Regional Report

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This Japanese anemone is queen of my garden from August through October.

Almost Completely Immersed in Summer

Now that summer is in full swing and I'm reaping the rewards of my early spring labors, it's tempting to rest on my laurels. But my garden is a constantly changing palette of color, and I've got to plan the next major event.

We've harvested new potatoes and baskets of summer squashes, and I've cut enough fresh flowers for dozens of indoor arrangements. The apples and grapes are swelling with pride, so it looks like we'll have a bumper crop this fall. Which reminds me ? autumn is just around the corner, and while I'm thoroughly enjoying the moment, it really is time to start planning and planting the next phase of the gardening season.

Masses of Appeal
In my garden, I try to give spring-, summer-, and fall-blooming plants each about one-third of the total space, which provides me with colorful beds from spring until our first hard frost. For maximum visual impact, I plant in drifts. A flowing mass of yarrow, for example, provides a wash of eye-catching yellow, while a single plant or two can look lost or weedy. I think scattered drifts can make a garden look spotty so I try to place three or four perennials that flower at the same time in neighboring drifts to create small garden vignettes and guide the eye to the next drift of color.

Favorite Autumn Flowers
I have several favorite fall-blooming perennials. Most are tried-and-true, but I also grow some weird but wonderful plants that have earned a place in my garden for the beauty of their late-season display. In my opinion, a fall garden is incomplete without anemones. These wonderful, 2- to 3-foot-tall plants seem to explode into bloom in the fall with single or double flowers in shades of rose, pink, salmon, or white. Held aloft on fragile-looking stems, the flowers and shiny buds add a certain gracefulness at this time of year. Anemones grow best in rich, organic soil in part afternoon shade. 'Honorine Jobert' is the best white anemone, and 'September Charm', with its silvery pink flowers, is a late-season knockout.

Fall-blooming asters are such popular perennials that new cultivars are constantly being introduced. It's easy to see why. Asters produce huge numbers of 2-inch-wide daisies in colors from pink to purple to white on plants that range in size from low-growing edging plants to towering beauties for the back of the border. Asters thrive in average garden soil in full sun.

I like the lower-growing asters best. They don't require pinching or staking the way most of the tall asters do. My all-time favorite is A. novae-angliae 'Purple Dome'. It grows 18 inches tall and wide, with dramatic, deep violet-purple flowers. It makes a perfect companion to yarrow and dwarf fountain grass (Penniseum alopecuroides 'Hameln' for a beautiful late-fall picture.

Toad-lilies (Tricyrtis hirta) fall into the "interesting and unusual" category. Toad-lilies have arching, 2- to 3-foot stems and are just ordinary-looking, non-descript plants until, in September, rows of orchid-like white flowers open where the pointed leaves are attached to the stems. If you look closely, you'll see that the blooms are speckled with dark purple. Toad-lilies thrive in part shade and moist soil.

Colorful Foliage Fools the Eye
Fall-flowering perennials are just part of the secret to having attractive beds and borders. You can fool the eye into seeing a colorful garden even when little is in bloom if you include plants with colorful foliage. Among my favorites are Heuchera 'Palace Purple', which has red-purple, maple-like leaves; variegated Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum', with leaves that turn a marvelous shade of gold with creamy white edges; silver-leaved plants, such as Artemisia 'Powis Castle', and Bergenia cordifolia, with bronze-purple autumn foliage.

Shop and plant now if you want your perennial beds to look spectacular this fall. If you wait until the end of the summer when the beds look bedraggled, you'll probably end up dashing out to the nursery in a desperate search for color. Most nurseries stock very little variety at the end of the season, and you may find only main-stay chrysanthemums. How ordinary!

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