In the fall, we turn our attention to trees, and this cultivar of Japanese Maple demands the spotlight in our front garden. It shows off earlier in the year, as well, in mid spring, when Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ begins to leaf out in lovely apricot yellow tones. The new foliage holds that color until warm weather settles in, and gradually becomes a yellow green for much of the summer. In mid October, the leaves will begin to transform from a happy green to blazing tones of yellow, orange and red. The fiery foliage lingers through early November, after which the handsome silhouette of ‘Katsura’ provides structural form in the winter landscape.
Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’ has a dense growth habit that should be pruned to a shape that suits your garden. It reaches a height of 10′ at 10-15 years of age, and can ultimately attain 20′ uncommon or more. It loves humus rich, well drained soil, and will do well in a spot that gets morning sun, afternoon shade. It is hardy in zones 6-8, and possibly in zone 5 in a protected location
Undemanding and lovely, Narrow Leaf Bluestar begins to charm in late spring, bearing clusters of light blue star shaped flowers at the tips of it sturdy 3′ stems. The foliage which cloaks the stems of this species is delicately narrow, adding a soft texture to the mixed border all summer long. However, it is in October that we think it becomes most dramatic. Amsonia hubrictii shimmers in the garden as its foliage takes on glowing tones of amber gold.
Grow Amsonia in a sunny or partially shaded location, although fall color is most spectacular when sited in full sun. It is quite adaptable to soil types, tolerating both moist and dry conditions, and is deer resistant. Plants form herbaceous shrubs 3′ tall and 3′ wide, and are hardy in zones 5-9.
We’re being BC here (botanically correct). Formerly known as Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’ and commonly referred to as Smooth Aster, this native fall bloomer should be in everyone’s garden. It has remarkable attributes. The show begins early-mid September here in New England, when ‘Bluebird’provides a wealth of 1″ blue flowers on branched, quite sturdy 3-4′ stems. ‘Bluebird’ is not cursed with “ugly legs syndrome” that afflicts New England and New York Asters selections (mildewed and brown foliage). Flowering continues happily into October.
Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’ is hardy in zones 4-9, and is not at all fussy about soil, taking even quite dry conditions. Plant in a spot where he will receive at least a half day of sunshine, which is necessary for a colorful display. An attractive combination would match ‘Bluebird’ with tall white Boltonia , Sedum ‘Maestro’ and Ornamental Grasses. Besides being attractive to bees, ‘Bluebird‘is a draw for migrating Monarchs on their journey south for the winter. Be aware that if you don’t deadhead after flowering you may be the beneficiary of numerous seedlings around your garden.
Mention the genus Euonymus and immediately people respond with ugh! Burning Bush! It’s invasive! It’s banned from commerce! All valid responses if you’re talking about Euonymus alatus, but we want to cue you in on a different, lovely and until now, uncelebrated Euonymus, commonly known as Asian Spindle Tree.
We first discovered this plant on a September morning two decades ago, when the Arnold Arboretum held their annual plant sale at the Case Estates in nearby Weston MA. Along the path to the barn there was a planting of Euonymus sachalinensis (a.k.a. Euonymus planipes) espaliered along a fence, where the horizontal branches were dripping with the showiest seed pods. The pinkish red seed capsules had burst, displaying dangling red orange fruit. There were no specimens for sale, but we found a source for seed a few years later, and after incubating for 2-3 years in a seed pan, signs of life finally occurred.
This is what you need to know. Asian Spindle tree is native to Sakhalin Island off the northern coast of Japan. It is slow growing as a youngster, but eventually forms a small tree to 15′ with a wide crown. It can be pruned to great effect, as the espaliered version which we so admired at the Case Estates proved. It does flower, or how else would there be fruit, but the blossoms are not the real show. Fall is the season to celebrate Asian Spindle. Colorful September fruit, crimson pink fall foliage. It is amazingly adaptable to soil types, except perhaps very wet ones, and grows best in full sun or part shade. Most often it is listed as hardy through zone 6, but we’ve heard reports from growers who have had success with it in zone 5. Find a spot in your fall garden for this gem.
Fall blooming Anemones are the prima donnas of the autumn garden. This selection, commonly called Grape Leaved Anemone, begins her performance in late August. Simple and beautiful saucer shaped blossoms, consisting of 5 dusky pink petals, surround orange yellow centers on 2-3′ sturdy stems. The dance continues through September.
Some folks complain that they have trouble establishing Anemones. This is not because they are not hardy, for they can easily tough out winters through zone 5, if not 4. However, they do not want to be wet in winter, so be sure you situate them in a well drained soil. They do appreciate even moisture during the growing season, however, so irrigate as necessary, and spread mulch over their roots which will aid in keeping the soil moist. In hot summer areas, grow where some afternoon shade is available. Some people complain it spreads too much!
Another tip: Anemones prefer a neutral or slightly alkaline soil. If you’re unsure of your soil’s alkalinity, test the pH, and add ground limestone in the fall if your soil proves to be acidic. Where they are happy Anemones spread, and can be divided in spring every 3-5 years. Anemones often break dormancy late, so be sure to mark where they have been planted so you do not mistakenly unearth the sleeping roots, thinking you have a big empty hole to fill.
Little has been written about this lovely late summer/fall blooming Asian Aster. It came into our possession last November, via US Mail, swaddled in newspaper and still covered with blossoms. The return address cited Margie Mott as the sender, an old friend and plant huntress who scours every nursery and garden center on the eastern seaboard. She had lost the plant’s name tag but thought she had acquired it from Asiatica Nursery, which, you may have heard, sadly closed their doors this season.
Well, we made some divisions and took lots of cuttings, which quickly formed husky plants, and by late July this handsome Aster was already blooming away. It is exhibiting a very long season of bloom and we hope it will continue to be colorful into November. The ¾” composite flowers have violet petals surrounding golden disks and are displayed on branched 2′ stems. We’e noticed this Aster develops runners, much like Asteromoea and Kalimeris, and expect it will form a thick stand in upcoming years. Use ‘Ezo’ as a handsome skirt in front of fruit laden Viburnum or as a companion plant to fall blooming Sedums and ornamental grasses. Like most asters, it will perform best in lots of sunshine and we expect it to be hardy in zone 4.
UPDATE 2015: This Aster has not been reclassified as Kalimeris
Pennisetum with Heuchera ‘Caramel’, Cuphea and Calibrachoa
One of the pleasures of container gardening is that you can create fresh arrangements to complement each season?s landscape. The colors of Fall Chrysanthemums have been selected for just this effect, but isn?t it dull to limit yourself to just a single plant? Consider the wide selection of cool season “annuals” that are at their prime in September and October, offering at least 6-8 weeks of color. There are ornamental peppers, salvias, grasses, million bells, abutilons and cigar plants, just to name a few. Don’t forget the perennials with outstanding foliage, like Heuchera ‘Caramel’ and Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) which add contrast and can later be transplanted into the garden for next year?s display. And then there are shrubs with fall interest, such as Hydrangea paniculata ‘Little Lime’ (aging blossoms), Cornus ‘Arctic Sun’ , and Ilex verticillata (Winterberry), which will add height and weight to bigger pots. Here are two more tips for pulling it all together.
First, remember to select a variety of bold and fine textures. The bold punch of a large leaved Heuchera, or Ornamental Cabbage adds much needed weight and contrast. This is the season of ripening fruit, so take advantage of the ever widening selection of Ornamental Peppers or consider shrubs with a nice berry set, such as Viburnum or Winterberry. Grasses add height and movement, and you can always use hardy grasses besides the more showy annual Pennisetum.
Second point: The growing season is slowing down here in the northeast, so start with larger plants and/or use more plants to fill up the container right away. There is not a lot of time now for plants to put on added growth. Think of assembling your container as you would a flower arrangement, except that this composition will last for weeks as opposed to just a few days.
Just the common name, Toad Lily, sparks curiosity and invites close inspection. The delicate blossoms of this attractive cultivar of Tricyrtis formosana resemble small orchids and have distinctive spotting on the blue-violet petals. Flowering interest begins in early August, but the golden yellow foliage adds color early in the season. Plants are stoloniferous, forming small clumps 12″ high, making it suitable for the front of a border. Small Hosta such as ‘Wogon Gold’ and Japanese Forest Grass Hakonachloa macra make excellent companions.
Grow Toad Lilies in a soil that stays uniformly moist, yet well drained. The foliage tips will brown if the soil becomes too dry, and although not lethal, will make the plants less attractive. Tricyrtis ‘Gates of Heaven’are unappetizing to deer, and are hardy through zone 5-9.
Not all Persicaria deserve persecution. Persicaria amplexicalis ‘Golden Arrow’ is not only one of the “good” members of the Polygonum (Knotweed) family, it is an extremely handsome and versatile perennial. The first thing you should note is the golden green lance shaped foliage, which is attractive all season. Big plus. In mid summer ‘Golden Arrow’ begins to display an array of ruby colored spiky tassels, which account for its common names: Firetail and Red Bistort. The flower show continues into September, and both flowers and foliage combine beautifully with the many late summer yellow composites, as well as pink or blue/violet asters, and of course all the Salvia.
Leaf color is brightest yellow when grown in full sun, but ‘Golden Arrow’ will require a little extra moisture if the area is on the dry side. Otherwise, grow it in a well drained soil in half day sun, where the golden yellow will tint slightly more green. Foliage height reaches 18-24″, with flowers adding another 6″ or so to the plant’s stature. The spread of each plant depends on age and culture, but expect Persicaria ‘Golden Arrow’ to eventually take up 2 sq. ft. It grows well in a wide range of hardiness zones from relatively mild zone 9 through a quite chilly zone 5.
Japanese Clethra is waiting to be discovered. It is a plant for all seasons, boasting fragrant mid summer blossoms, yellow-orange to red fall foliage, and exfoliating bark in winter. If left unpruned it will grow as a multistemmed shrub or small tree, but we prefer to see it trained to a single leader, with lower limbs removed, so that the showy bark can be better appreciated.
We were smitten when our young plant came into bloom in July. Trios of sweetly scented white, 4-6″, twisting racemes will drip from the branches into August. The ovate serrated foliage, in a shade of dark green, really sets off the white blossoms. Fall color is also striking, ranging form yellow orange to deep red. Although Clethra barbinervis is fast growing, it seems to reach an ultimate height of 15-20′. It prefers a well drained, neutral or slightly acidic soil with adequate moisture. Clethra barbinervis grows well in partial shade, although it will tolerate and bloom abundantly in full sun, if watering needs are met. It can be cultivated in zones 5-8.