Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
August, 2010
Regional Report

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Yellow wax bells (Kirengeshoma palmata) are just coming into bloom in my shade garden.

Liven Up Your Fall Flower Garden

On some of the hot, steamy days we've been having lately, I find myself thinking longingly of the cool days of fall. While it's not time quite yet for frosty nights and crisp days, thinking about some fall flowers at least gives me a mental refresher. While I love all the traditional flowers of fall- the tall asters, cheerful mums and sturdy sedums, I like to liven these stalwarts up with some more unusual choices. Here is a sampling of some less-common fall bloomers I've used to add interest to my late season gardens.

Among my favorites are the fall-blooming anemones. Often referred to as Japanese or Chinese anemones, these Asian natives bear large, single or double, cup-shaped blossoms whose satiny petals surround a contrasting green and gold central button. The graceful simplicity of these flowers makes a nice contrast with the fluffy blooms of so many of the fall bloomers. The large dark green leaves are attractive throughout the summer.

The hardiest of this group is the grape-leaf anemone, Anemone tomentosa 'Robustissima'. The flowers are silvery pink and come into bloom in early fall, carrying on for several weeks. Growing about 3 feet tall, this anemone will spread but is not invasive. It is hardy to USDA Zone 4. Although container plants can be set out anytime, divide or move plants in the garden only in the spring.

Equally beautiful but a little less hardy is the Japanese or hybrid anemone, Anemone x hybrida, of which my favorite is the elegant, single-flowered, white variety 'Honorine Jobert'. This blooms somewhat later than the grapeleaf anemone, its flowers borne on 3-4 foot tall stems. Both of these anemones will thrive in full or part sun and fertile, moist, well-drained soil.

A relative newcomer to my fall garden is yellow wax bells (Kirengeshoma palmata). This lovely perennial brings a subtle beauty to the late-season shade garden. Its large, maple-like leaves serve as a nice backdrop to other plants in spring and summer. Then in late summer and early fall, the 3-4 foot tall plant is covered with dangling, creamy yellow, bell-shaped flowers that continue for up to six weeks. Hardy to Zone 4, wax bells does best in rich, well-drained soil that is on the acid side. It prefers partial shade, although it can take a fair amount of sun if the soil is consistently moist.

Another striking late bloomer is snakeroot (Actaea simplex). (You may also find this for sale under its old botanical name, Cimicifuga simplex.) One of my favorite varieties is 'Brunette', with deep purple foliage, above which rise tall dramatic white bottle-brush shaped blossoms on stalks reaching as high as 5 feet.It will thrive in sun or shade, but needs consistently moist soil or the foliage will begin to brown. Its only drawback is the musky scent of the flowers, so don't plant this right next to the patio.

Goldenrod has a bad reputation. Even as its plumes of golden flowers gild fields and meadows and announce the turn of the seasons, hay fever suffers badmouth it for making them sneeze and clogging their sinuses. If the plant could talk, it would cry "Unfair!" The pollen of goldenrod is too heavy to be blown about by the wind and into our noses, relying instead on insects to carry it from plant to plant. But because it blooms at the same time as ragweed, whose nondescript green flowers do send out wind-borne pollen that makes those with allergies miserable, it gets tarred, unjustly, with the same brush.

So it's time to rehabilitate goldenrod's image and consider adding some of the garden-worthy species and cultivars to our landscapes. Unlike the beautiful, but untamed-looking Canada goldenrod of the roadsides, these more civilized choices are less likely to "run wild" in the garden. All of them add their lovely golden color and interesting texture to to the multitude of daisy-like blossoms that are in such abundance as summer turns into fall.

The rough-leaf goldenrod Solidago rugosa is a native wildflower found over most of the eastern half of the U.S. Its cultivar 'Fireworks' has had its rough edges polished to make it an excellent addition to the late season garden. Growing about 3 to 3 1/2 feet high, with attractive purple-tinged foliage, in late summer into fall it is covered with arching sprays of golden-yellow, lacy spikes of flowers, held in horizontal layers for a look that is quite different from that of most other goldenrods. It does indeed look like an explosion of fireworks. Easily cultivated with self-supporting stems, it makes a nice contrast in my garden to the nearby daisy-like blossoms of a red variety of sneezeweed (Helenium 'Red Jewel').

I've yet to meet an allium or ornamental onion I didn't like and I have various ones in bloom in my garden from spring onwards. The last to bloom for me is the delightful Allium thunbergii 'Ozawa', whose one-inch, rosy pink, globe-shaped flowers top foot-tall stems beginning in September. They make a lovely contrast with the lavender daisies of Aster frikartii 'Wonder of Staffa' that is still in bloom nearby.

So enjoy the last of summer's warmth now, but plan ahead for some unusual additions to liven up the garden as the seasons change.

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