In the excitement of spring planting, it’s easy to get carried away and fill your nursery cart with heaps of things for summer. However, before you rush home with a ton of fuchsias, nemisias and osteospermums, remember that these cool-season annuals will only bloom for a few weeks before fading away in the heat of summer.
Instead, why not plant perennials, which offer their best in the fall. Here are five perennials that will give of their best from August onward, when cool weather returns.
The Japanese anemone and its hybrids are among the most pleasing of all fall flowers. They have dainty puff-in-saucer blooms that dangle from wiry stems, and each blossom is composed of six to eight shell-like pink or white petals surrounding a yellow powderpuff of stamens and pistils. While fragile in appearance, Japanese anemones are surprisingly tough. Once established, they’ll handle drought and a good deal of sun, although partial shade and moderately moist soil are the preferred growing conditions. They spread less in clay soils, which is nice for a small garden.
Two of the most popular white varieties are ‘Honorine Joubert’ – which grows up to four feet high, with a single row of petals – and ‘Whirlwind’ – which is slightly shorter and has semi-
double blooms. A good number of pink varieties are also available.
The begonia grandis loves shade, produces generous clear-pink blooms in autumn, and is winter hardy. There is also a white form available, along with a larger pink-bloomed variety called
Another winter-hardy species, B. evansia, is sometimes classed as a subspecies of B. grandis, but is smaller overall and perhaps less vigorous. Perennial begonias prefer moist soils, and they don’t emerge until late spring – or sometimes not until June.
The Korean and single-flowered hybrid chrysanthemums are quite different from the cushion mums, which everyone picks up at box stores, and the exhibition mums, which grow blossoms the size of footballs. The exhibition and cushion varieties are appealing for their brightness, size and availability, but they tend to perform poorly after their first season in the garden. That is not so with the Korean and single-flowered hybrids. These admirable plants have been selected for performance in the garden rather than a pot, and they’ll return year after year to grace your garden with an ever-increasing show of bloom. Many of these mums have been passed from gardener to gardener, so they bear simple names like ‘Single Apricot’ and ‘Single Peach,’ rather than the publicity directed codenames of the popular cushion varieties.
Chrysanthemums of all sorts prefer full sunlight and average garden conditions, including well-drained but not dry soil and moderate to low levels of nutrients. Height and spread differ between varieties. Moderate pinching will keep your mums in shape, but remember not to pinch them after the middle of July, or their blooms will be damaged by heavy frosts.
The genus Kirengeshoma contains two species, K. koreanum and K. palmatum. They’re quite similar and have sometimes been combined under one name. Labeling is often confused, but don’t let the confusion keep you from growing these gorgeous plants. Bold leaves, heavily notched at the edges, grow in lush clumps, topped with clouds of waxy yellow blossom-bells in autumn. You won’t see anything else with this bloom color and texture in autumn gardens. This is another plant that prefers a shady spot with moist, rich soil, although less appealing conditions will be tolerated.
Tricyrtis, better known as toad lilies, bear curious speckled flowers throughout the autumn months. They are almost orchid-like in character. Small blooms, usually in shades of purple, pink or yellow, are borne in generous quantities on plants that can range from under a foot to more than four feet in height. The leaves, which are often variegated, are appealing in their own right, being thick and somewhat shiny.
Toad lilies need partial sun, preferably somewhere between four and six hours per day. The dappled light beneath deciduous trees also suits them well. If planted in an area that is too shaded, they’ll grow lanky and fall over. A bit of sensitive staking will bring them upright again, but you won’t have the quantity of bloom you’ll get if they’re planted in a sunnier spot.