Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
September, 2006
Regional Report

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Bright yellow, lantern-shaped flowers in late summer and fall and persistent fluffy seedheads give Clematis tangutica great garden appeal.

The Flowers of Autumn

At a recent meeting of gardeners, many people lamented that their garden looked so bad at this time of year. My guess is that the problem is more one of weariness on the part of the gardener than unattractiveness on the part of the gardens. The incident reminded me to concentrate on seeing the flowers and other beauties of fall and focus less on the weeds and chores waiting to be done. For indeed, there is an abundance of plants that can make the garden a spot of appealing color in this season. Of course, many annuals continue to bloom until frost, but many woody and herbaceous plants bloom from summer into fall.

Since it's not too late for fall planting and never too early to be thinking about additions to the garden for next year, I'll suggest some fall bloomers that are on my plant radar.

Bluebeard (Caryopteris cultivars) remains one of the best of blue-flowered plants, whatever the season. 'Grand Bleu', 'Petite Bleu', and 'Sunshine Blue' are newer cultivars that have proven to be very good.

The airiness, long bloom season, and attractiveness to butterflies of Brazilian verbena (Verbena bonariensis) has kept it as one of my favorites.

Staying in the blue-purple color range, 'Rozanne' hardy geranium has survived severe neglect in my yard and still blooms profusely.

Golden lace (Patrinia scabiosifolia) remains a great perennial for its long-blooming chrome-yellow flowers, as does 'Fireworks' goldenrod (Solidago). I would also recommend 'Golden Fleece', which is a lower-growing goldenrod.

Maiden grass (Miscanthus cultivars) must now be used with caution, since in Zone 7 and warmer it is becoming invasive. Fortunately, there are lots of native grasses available, with the various cultivars of switch grass (Panicum) especially offering good substitutes for miscanthus.

I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Japanese anemones as they remind me of a special place and time in my life. A six-year Chicago Botanic Garden study found that the best three cultivars were the white-flowered 'Andrea Atkinson' and the pink-flowered varieties, 'Max Vogel' and 'Serenade' (

Toad lilies (Trycyrtis species and cultivars) are shade perennials native to Asia that bear small but abundant flowers resembling an orchid or miniature passionflower. There's a wide range of flower colors, including purple, white, yellow, and speckled; plant sizes from 4 inches to 4 feet; plant forms from upright to arching; and foliage forms from shiny to hairy, plain to spotted. Provide moist, humus-rich soil in open shade.

Hardy begonia (Begonia grandis) is an old-fashioned plant that hasn't lost it's appeal. Growing 2 to 3 feet tall in open shade, the plant is often chosen for the large, red-veined, red-backed leaves as much as for the fall-blooming pink flowers. Place it in the garden where it can be backlit by the sun, which makes the leaves glow.

Turtleheads, both the white-flowered Chelone glabra and pink-flowered Chelone obliqua, are native to eastern North America, usually growing in moist to wet soils. Fortunately, they adapt to more ordinary garden soil, especially with the help of an organic mulch. Turtleheads can grow in full sun to light shade. The uniquely shaped flowers, which indeed do resemble a turtle's head, are borne above the rounded, upright, 2- to 3-foot plants. The foliage of the white turtlehead is the larval food for the Baltimore checkerspot butterfly.

For a fall-blooming native garden, Gene Bush of Munchkin Gardens recommends combining turtlehead with great blue lobelia, asters, and Joe-pye weed. I would also add the native white-flowered false aster (Boltonia asteroides var. 'Snowbank') to this group.

Hopefully, no gardener ever forgets to have some brightly colored chrysanthemums in the garden, plus some asters, including the newer, shorter-growing ones. Sedums should always be on the list, too. And, of course, there is the vining, white-flowered sweet autumn clematis, as well as the bright yellow-flowered Clematis tangutica.

As for shrubs, we can't forget the pink-flowered Elsholtzia stauntonii, with its fragrant foliage; the hybrid, non-seeding, white-flowered 'Diana' rose-of-Sharon; and Lespedeza thunbergii with its pink, pea-like flowers.

The butterfly bushes (Buddleia) just seem to bloom on and on and on. Given the worries about these becoming invasive, the best ones to consider are 'Orchid Beauty', 'Summer Rose', and 'White Ball'.

Crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) are also long-blooming, especially the new, dwarf 'Razzle Dazzle' series, which is well-adapted to our region.

And then there's .... Okay, the list may not be endless, but it is long. So let yourself become excited about gardening again, even in the fall.

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