We were walking through the nursery with a couple of friends, observing which plants displayed the most exciting autumn color, when this Hydrangea stopped us in our tracks. The fall foliage on the panicle Hydrangea, ‘Quickfire’, was spectacular! Its chunky lacecap type blossoms were fading to a lovely shade of mauve rose, but it was the warm red to amber coloring of the leaves that stopped us in our tracks. Interestingly, blocks of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’were grouped nearby, and their foliage was just an ordinary shade of green. We checked online, but the literature on ‘Quickfire’ didn’t glorify its fall color. Hmm…was this due to the weather this season, or perhaps our magic touch? Upon further investigation we learned that indeed this selection was an autumn star.
‘Quickfire’blooms on new wood, so there is little danger that you will be without blossoms after a severe winter. The large panicles (to 12′) of white sterile and fertile flowers form early in the season, and will develop rosy red tones as they age. The stems have a dark red tint, which further accentuates the blossoms. Plants grow 6-8′ tall and 8-10′ wide. Pruning can be done in late winter or early spring. ‘Quickfire’ prefers full sun or partial shade and is not fussy about soil or moisture, although plants will be happier if irrigated during dry spells. Hardy in zones 3-9.
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
Here’s an easy ensemble that gets its color from foliage and fruit. These five plant selections will fill a 12″ tall tom pot easily. The ingredients are Pennisetum s. ‘Rubrum’ for height and movement, Heuchera villosa ‘Caramel’for body, and Hedera ‘Amber Waves’, a golden leaved ivy that trails beautifully and will take temperatures into the low 20’s. What makes this collection “caliente”are the adorable ornamental peppers. We tried two new varieties this season, ‘Sangria’ and ‘Prairie Fire’, which have been producing an endless supply of round and pointy peppers in shades of creamy yellow, orange, red and purple. Oh yes, they are edible, but very very hot.
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.
Sometimes your garden needs something tall, something blue. The abundant display of summer perennials laden with yellow daisy-like flowers begs for plant selections which offer dark contrast.
A “temperennial” here in zone 6, Tall Mexican Petunia won’t winter over outdoors for us, but it certainly will in zones 8-10. Still, we always make room for it in our gardens and also use it in container combinations where the tall 3-4′ purple stalks are clothed with narrow dark green purple tinted foliage. The continuous display of violet blue funnel shaped flowers extend on short stems from the leaf axils, and attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
Ruellia ‘Purple Showers’ does enjoy evenly moist soil, and will even grow well along a pond?s edge or in low standing water, a situation that can be challenging. This does not mean it won?t grow in average soil conditions, for it will, but it does not want to fry. Southern nursery catalogs list Ruellia as an evergreen shrub. We suspect Ruellia may become territorial in warm climates, and should be planted where its vigor is an asset.