Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
August, 2008
Regional Report

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This autumn portrait celebrates bold orange canna flowers and marigolds surrounding soft, fluffy purple fountain grass and dusty rose coleus.

Landscaping with Perennials, Grasses, Tropicals

Perennials ... you gotta love 'em. Plant them once and they bloom year after year, albeit for two to four weeks compared to summer-long annuals. There's something reassuring, though, about late-blooming, blue-flowering plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) that quickly covers a sunny, dry corner and spills over a rock wall. One of the first perennials to announce spring is lovely columbine (Aquilegia) with delicate spurred flowers, fondly called Granny's bonnet. Though short-lived at two to three years, columbine self-seeds prolifically so progeny will continue ad infinitum.

Elegant, scarlet crocosmia 'Lucifer' (a perennial and a bulb) is a hardy, late-season gem. In tall, arching clusters, crocosmia brightly accents any neighbor, be it orange dahlia, pink or red rose, yellow perennial sunflower, golden black-eyed Susan, or evergreen shrub.

A Longer Fall Means More Gardening Time
At the 26th Perennial Plant Symposium in Philadelphia in July, perennial diva, author, and educator Stephanie Cohen called today's autumn gardening "fallscaping" -- integrating perennials, trees, shrubs, tropicals, ornamental grasses, even vegetables for an extended landscape of fall color, form, and texture. With global warming, fall extends through September, October, November, and in some areas even into December. That means even more gardening season to enjoy!

Mixing It Up
Long-lasting tropicals like cannas, bananas, and elephant ears bring exotic flowers and foliage to the traditional perennial bed. Tall annual and perennial grasses, such as purple fountain grass, Northwind switch grass, and Andropogon, have four-season interest. Fluffy, airy, spiky, or feathery seedheads wave above tufts of grass blades from autumn into winter. From spring into summer, mounds of green, blue, tan, or purple grasses spread, rise, and produce flowers.

"Look at the major picture -- the whole landscape," Cohen urged. When choosing perennials, select those whose fall flowers or foliage pick up the autumn colors of your trees and shrubs. "Take these colors and pull them down to the herbaceous layer." Amsonia, a golden cloud in the fall, plays well with Caryopteris 'Sunshine Blue'. Euphorbias, Bergenia 'Cabernet', new cultivars of Heuchera villosa, and Geranium biokova are perennials whose fall coppery, purple, blue, or rose foliage can complement red maples, Callicarpa, Cotinus 'Golden Spirit', Hypericum 'Brigadoon'.

Among late-season bloomers, Japanese anemone is "queen of the fall garden," Cohen proclaimed. She's partial to Anemone hupehensis 'Crispa' with parsley-like, crinkled leaves, and Anemone 'Party Dress' with double flowers twice as big as 'September Charm'. She recommended coppery-purple Actaea 'Hillside Black Beauty' and 'Black Negligee' (formerly known as Cimicifuga) with tall, fragrant, white, bottle-brush flowers. Four to five-foot daylily 'Autumn Minaret' with yellow-orange flowers is another favorite.

"Match flowers to your wine," she added, noting the hardy hibiscus 'Carafe Bordeaux' of the Carafe series.

While we're at it, make a meal. "Vegetables are in," Cohen said. Vegetable plant and seed sales are up 25 percent. They belong in containers and in the perennial garden. The nice thing about vegetables is if you don't like them, you can eat them and then not grow them again."

Bon appetit!

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