Category Archives: Fall Interest

what’s in bloom in fall

Container Report Fall 2023

Phormium ‘Sundowner’ makes a great vertical feature when combined with succulents. This container had about 4-6 hours of sun, (it could have used more!) but still looks pretty fantastic. There was one casualty in the group: Echeveria ‘Afterglow’ didn’t last for long.

It is now mid October, and after a rather warm and wet September, we are being treated to a nice lingering early autumn with no frost in the forecast (fingers crossed). After so many dry summer seasons, I don’t think many gardeners here in the northeast were expecting to get so much rain this year! Foliar Fungal diseases made themselves known, but I found it interesting that our succulent combinations did so well (the key is be sure you use a succulent soil mix).

The tall cylinder urn across from the parking area gets full day sun and the succulents grew well, but the tall Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’, which added height, died sometime in early summer. The iron fiddleheads came in handy to give a little elevation.

Perhaps this rectangle terra cotta planter could have used more sun. The crassula muscosa sort of melted by September.

Echeveria ‘Lucita’ which sat in a spot receiving only morning sun, filled this Apulia bowl from Campania. This Echeveria is generous with offsets.

Bouteloua ‘Blonde Ambition’, with Lantana montevidensis (just an outstanding plant!) carried this 36″ long rectangular planter. Erigeron karvinskianus ‘Profusion’ got overwhelmed, and the annual Orlaya gave off a few white umbels and then petered out.

Think house plants for shady planters. Begonia ‘Raspberry Truffle’ is complemented by the variegated Goldfish Plant, Nematanthus ‘Golden West’ and Rhipsalis baccifera. We use mini white pumpkins to add a little fall pizazz.

The 36″ diameter Zen bowl was sited in a tough spot where it only received a couple of hours of mid afternoon sun. The Colocasia didn’t mind, nor did the Pilea microphylla (Artillery fern) and variegated Bermuda Grass, both of which overwhelmed the black leaved Geogenanthus and even the dwarf variegated Papyrus. I thought this combination of black and white variegated foliage would be more exciting….maybe it needed an urban setting and not a shady gravel area in front of an old farmhouse.

These urns are also getting more shade than sun. The yellow form of Begonia boliviensis is just not as vigorous as the more common orange form, but it still did okay. The pinky variegated Ficus is slow growing…it took all summer to grow up. Still, with Ming Fern, Oxalis spiralis aurea and Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ as supporting players, this combo passes the test.

The left shot was taken in late July, the right image is from a few days ago. Cordyline ‘Mocha Latte’ shot up a bit , and the Flowering Maple, Abutilon ‘Harvest Moon’ went through blossoming spurts all summer. Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ had better color when it received more sun earlier i the season. Oxalis spiralis ‘Aurea’ does well in so many different conditions.

Maybe it was the weather we had this year, but the Petunia ‘Mocha Latte’ was a bit of a dud by August, despite being fertilized regularly. The ensemble was relying on a constant show of white blossoms etched with chocolatey purple. One Petunia just completely died, so we tucked in a black raven statue to fill in the hole.

I realize now that the placement of these urns needs to be rethought. They are now getting much more shade than a few years ago. The combination of succulents and Elaeagnus x ebbingei would have been more impressive if it received more sun.

As I mentioned in the June report, the goal each season is to have containers that hold up throughout the season without a lot of fuss and bother. All things considered, (lots of wet and overcast weather, less time maintaining and fussing) the planters still look pretty good, and they have inspired me to do variations in 2024.

How did your containers hold up? Did you have any combos you  were especially happy with?

September Bloomers for the Shade

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’

We’ve all learned that we should focus on foliage plants for our shade gardens, and think of any flowers as welcomed surprises. May we bring to your attention a few plants that you may want to add fora fall surprise? I would say that all appreciate partial sun…perhaps about 4 hours for a good display .

Salvia koyame

First, there is the soft yellow blooming Salvia koyame native to Japan, commonly known as Yellow Woodland Sage. It grows 2’ tall and 3’ wide, with bold gray-green leaves that are generally left undisturbed by deer, but bumbles butterflies and hummingbirds are happy to discover it.  Salvia koyame likes a well drained soil with perhaps 4 hours of sun to flower well, and is hardy in zones 5-9.

Boehmeria platanifolia

Another plant we’ve enjoyed in our shade garden for years is Boehmeria platanifolia commonly called Sycamore Nettle.  It too has bold foliage, reminiscent of Sycamore Maple with incised edges, and can attain a size of 3-4’ with equal width.  The flowers are a curious pale green-white,  and fuzzy, on drooping tassels. It is enjoyed by various bees. Plants are hardy in zones 5-9.

Japanese Shrub Mint bloom

Leucosceptrum japonicum ‘Mountain Madness’

Leucosceptrum japonicum ‘Gold angel’, with a spring Allium peeking through the foliage. Note: a good way to disguise Allium leaves.

Japanese Mountain Mint is a shrubby member of the mint family; it does not run. The form ‘Gold Angel’ with its pale lemon leaves. is more restrained in growth (2-3’) than its gold and green variegated counterpart, ‘Mountain Madness’ which quickly grows to 4-5’. Both  ‘Mountain Madness and ‘Gold Angel’ display bottle brush cream colored flowers in late September-October) and are welcomed by various bees. Generally undisturbed by deer, plants are hardy in zones 5-8.

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’

Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ offers a bold golden foliage alternative to Hosta that the deer bypass. In September, clusters of tiny white flowers are produced that are favored by Honeybees, which are then followed by deep purplish black seeds.  Plants can reach heights of 4-5’ in height and width, although it is generally listed to 3’, ‘Sun King’ is hardy in zones 3-9.

Plectranthus effusus longituba

Yes there is a hardy Plectranthus (through zone 6, anyway). Plectranthus effusus longituba has gone through several Genus names…It used to be called Rabdosia and also Isodon. Willowy stems adorned with long tubular soft blue lavender flowers add a softness to the partial shade garden. Plants enjoy well drained soil, and grow 2′ to 3’ tall. hardiness zones 6a-9.

a showy Toad Lily…Tricyrtis hirta ‘Tojen’

Tricyrtis ‘White Towers’

Of course there are the many Toad Lilies.  we think ‘Tojen’ gives you the best floral display, but the very graceful Tricyrtis ‘White Towers’ is a charmer. Toad Lilies like an evenly moist soil and  prefers a soil that drains well in the winter. Both are hardy in zones 4-9.

Which are your favorite late season bloomers for shady gardens?




A native Aster you should be growing!

Sky Blue Aster. It’s Botanical name is quite a mouthful, Symphyotrichum oolentangiense, and yes we’re fans of  its former and much more appealing name Aster azureus. This beauty is a late summer/early fall prolific bloomer with masses of sky blue-lavender flowers on stiff 2-3’ stems that rise above ovate to oblong basal foliage.  It is found throughout much of eastern North America in dry, rocky, “edge of the woodland” habitats, but will grow in most garden soils that have good drainage.  Plants spread by rhizomatous roots, so expect it to form colonies where it is happy! Like most asters, it is a favorite of many beneficial insects, bees, butterflies and moths.

Combine this aster with Bigelowia nuttallii in the foreground (Rayless goldenrod… a great undiscovered native with clusters of tiny yellow flowers held above evergreen grassy foliage clumps,) and/or any of the taller Goldenrods, such as Solidago ‘Solar Cascade’, and native grasses like Sorghastrum nutans (Indian Grass) and Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Blue Stem).

Oh yes, it likes full sun, and Symphyotrichum oolentangiense is super hardy…it grows  in zones 3-8.

Buy online.

Vernonia’s time has come

A ;ate summer tapestry with Vernonia

Valued for its vibrant purple flower clusters as the gardening season wanes, Vernonia, commonly called Ironweed, is a must have for a pollinator friendly garden, and there are native forms hailing from the midwest and southern Appalachians. The common name may derive from the sturdy nature of its stems, or possibly the bronzy tan coloring of its seed heads that remain well into late autumn. The genus name honors the British botanist William Vernon, who catalogued plants on a visit Maryland in the late 1600’s.

Vernonia gigantea with tall Joe Pye Weed

We’ve had a tall form of Vernonia in our garden for a couple of decades. When I say tall, I’m talking  6-8’ tall depending on the soil moisture level that year. We purchased it as Vernonia altissima which is synonymous with Vernonia gigantea.  All too often folks shy away from tall plants, but I think that’s a mistake. Looking eye to eye, or even up at the blossoms and pollinator activity adds a dynamic  dimension. If you have very narrow planting beds, I can understand being hesitant to add such stature, but there’s a remedy…expand the size of your beds.

Vernonia lettermanii coloring in late day light

There are many Vernonia species (Kew lists over 300), and yes, some have a more restrained height. Take Vernonia lettermanii ‘Iron Butterfly’, which can fool the eye early in the season with its thread- leaf Amsonia-like foliage. It grows to 24-30” in height and becomes covered with purple flower clusters in September.

Vernonia ‘Summer Swan Song’

A number of good hybrids were recently developed at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Vernonia ‘Summer Swan Song’ is hybrid of V. lettermanii and Vernonia angustifolia ‘Plum Peachy’. It grows to about 3’ tall and wide. Vernonia x ‘Summer Surrender’ is similar in appearance but grows larger, up to 4’ tall and wide. A note about ‘Plum Peachy’, we like it for its dark tinted stems but it has proven to be slightly less hardy than its hybrid forms.  Perhaps it’s best to grow it in climate zones 6 and warmer.

Vernonia angustifolia ‘Plum Peachy’

As mentioned before, there are many other species of Vernonia, but I’ll describe one more. This year we are growing Vernonia crinita (aka V. arkansana) which is also native to the Ozark’s. It blooms a bit earlier than the others, in mid-late August, and grows 5-6’ tall. The clusters of purple asters it produces provide nectar to butterflies and bees.

Vernonia crinita

Vernonia pair well with Ornamental Grasses, Solidago, Eupatorium and Helianthus. They prefer moist soil with good winter drainage, but adapt well to a range of soil types. Vernonia are somewhat deer resistant, but watch for bunny nibbling on the new shoots when they first emerge in the spring. We treat with a rabbit repellent such as Plant Skydd.

buy online

For winter: Arum italicum ‘Pamela Harper’

Look who’s popping up in one  of our shady corners, on cue, in mid October.  This Ellen Hornig selection of Spotted Arum (named for the wonderful gardener, Pamela Harper)  has stunning white marbled foliage edged in dark green throughout the winter, even when temperatures dip well below freezing.  It does send up a flower spathe in spring, which will be followed by orange  fruit that encases the seeds. The foliage is summer dormant, so you may forget that it’s in your garden until fall arrives when once again the new growth emerges.

Arum italicum ‘Pamela Harper’ is hardy in zones 5a-10. It prefers well drained soil in dappled shade.  Foliage height is 6-10″ tall. Not especially fast growing for us in a northern climate, but the bulbous roots produce little offsets which can be lifted and divided to spread about your garden.

Do note that all parts of this plant are poisonous.

Buy online.


The Late Asters that should be in your Garden

Symphyotrichum x Bill’s Big Blue’

Years ago, the only fall asters that were commonly available at nurseries were cultivars of New England Asters: ‘Purple Dome’,  ‘Alma Potschke’  and ‘Wood’s Blue’. I have to say they have regularly disappointed me…by the time they came into flower their lower leaves would turn brown and look so tarnished.  I learned that their “ugly legs” could be disguised by planting behind another plant so you only viewed the flower heads. These New England Asters bloomed in early-mid September and by this time of year (mid October) the show was over.

Over the years, I have discovered there were so many other showy asters to try,  including many other native species.  Some didn’t begin their show until mid October,  plus they did not suffer the “ugly legs” syndrome. (Light frosts were not a problem.) Let me talk up a few.

Symphyotrichum ‘Bill’s Big Blue’

Consider Symphyotrichum (Aster) Bill’s Big Blue’, a “nativar” selected by a CA nurseryman years ago.  It may take a year or two to achieve its capable height of 5′, but here it is in the latter half of October, billowing forth over a stone wall. (Blue is sometimes tricky to capture in photos, and it is actually more blue in person). The bumbles and honey bees are enjoying its late display.

Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’

I’ve written about Aster ageratoides ‘Ezo Murasaki’, a small flowered October into November bloomer, in an early post.  1″ violet blue flowers appear in profusion on 18-24″ tall plants and please the bees too! Take note that this Aster spreads, so use it where a useful, late blooming groundcover will complement some brilliant fall foliage.

Aster tartaricus ‘Jindaii’

Aster tartaricus ‘Jindai’  is another late bloomer that reaches a 3-4′ height. Distinctive large tobacco-like basal leaves give rise to tall sturdy stems bearing clusters of periwinkle blue  flowers with abundant pollen. Plants do spread where happy, so pair with sturdy partner plants.

Symphyotrichum ‘October Skies’

The native Aromatic Asters, Symphyotricum oblongifolius ‘October Skies’, and the slightly taller  ‘Raydon’s Favorite’  are becoming better known. One would easily overlook them in the nursery yard in spring as their foliage doesn’t command attention.  Come October, however, and look again…the plants are literally covered with 1 1/2″ blue flowers.  They also have good drought tolerance and are pollinator friendly.

Are you growing any late blooming Asters that should be in everyone’s garden?

Two Time Tested Groundcovers To Try

Some of you will remember that many (20+) years ago, there was a wonderful specialty nursery on the West Coast called Heronswood. Heronswood Nursery turned us on to so many great new plants! Yes the climate on Bainbridge Island was much milder than ours here in zone 6, and some of their offerings would not survive our cold winters. Still there were plant discoveries that could.  One was this evergreen ground cover commonly known as Silver Veined Wintercreeper, (Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost’).

We’ve had this planted for decades in a spot with only a few hours of sunlight. Here it has gracefully spread and spilled over a low retaining wall. Plants do not get much taller than 8-10″ but can cover an area as the stems might root along as they touch the earth. It is known to be hardy in zones 5-9, is adaptable to part sun or shade plus it is disliked by deer.

Sedum sichotense

Another ground cover we have enjoyed in our garden for years is Sedum sichotense. (now reclassified as Phedimus sichotense). Low growing (under 4″) but ever spreading, it is a superb choice for dry soil in full sun. The narrow serrated leaves add textural interest, but what is most exciting is the foliage turns shades of brilliant red in the fall .

Fall color starting to turn red

Sedum sichotense offers clusters of starry yellow summer flowers that are favored by bees. It ishardy in zones 4-9 (it’s native to a part of Russia we’re told).  And yes, it is deer resistant.

Buy Euonymus fortunei ‘Wolong Ghost online

Buy Sedum sichotense online

Abutilon ‘Dwarf Red’

Are you looking for something different for a fall display in your containers? Check out Abutilon ‘Dwarf Red’ celebrates autumn with multitudes of dark orange flowers, and can, if brought indoors and kept in a sun filled space, will continue to carry on the show.

We grow a number of Abutilon selections  in containers which we bring indoors once the cold sets in, but if we were asked which  form to grow,  Abutilon ‘Dwarf Red‘ tops the list. It stays bushy and compact  ( it has A. megapotamicum in its lineage) when grown in 4-6 hours of sun and blooms continuously  with the biggest show in late summer and fall.  We have been caught off guard when a frosty night  has brought temperatures below 32F, and  found that  ‘Dwarf Red’  came through unfazed.

Some things to know about Abutilon. It is  commonly known as Flowering Maple,  and is a semi-tropical shrub with lovely pendant bell-shaped flowers that are attractive to hummingbirds. The flower display can continue year round when grown in bright light and temperatures above 45F, but in our experience,  the flower display in autumn is most generous. Often listed as winter hardy in zones 9-10, we have been hearing that hardiness in zones 7b-8 is not unheard of when plants are grown in a protected spot with good drainage.

CARE: Abutilons like to be fed regularly for good flower output  We use a fish emulsion/seaweed blend (Neptune’s Harvest 2-6-4 blend) every 2 weeks. allow the soil to become somewhat dry between waterings.   Purchase online.

Other posts discussing fall containers:

Rethinking fall containers

Plectranthus ciliatus

End of the Season Container Reports

A Versatile Fall Aster

Heath Aster planted itself in the dappled shade of our oak tree.

I take no credit for planting the occasional surprise of native Symphyotrichum ericoides (heath aster) in our gardens…they just appear and often in just the right spot. Unobtrusive all summer, but a delightful accent when flowers form in mid-September, Heath Aster presents 1-2′ stems bearing hundreds of tiny white daisies with yellow centers, creating a frothy foam in both sunny and even somewhat shady areas.

Synphyotrichum ‘Bridal Veil’…a Chicago Botanic Garden Introduction. ( image courtesy of CBC)

There are selected forms out there….‘Snow Flurry’ stays quite low at  6-8″ with 2′ branches that hug the earth, making it a useful native ground cover for the edge of a border or in the rock garden. A new selection ‘Bridal Veil’, introduced by the Chicago Botanic Garden, is believed to be a naturally occurring cross of ericoides and “?”. It produces strong 2′ arching stems with copious amounts of blossoms and forms vigorous clumps.

All forms of Heath Aster prefer well-drained soil and are quite drought tolerant once established. As I mentioned we’ve had plants pop up in even shady situations, but I think you get more flower power with full sun. Deer resistant and pollinator-friendly and hardy in zones 5-8…yay!

Two Plants to add a little Fall Excitement

All summer long Plectranthus ciliatus masquerades as a khaki-colored Coleus. Come early autumn, all of a sudden floral spikes extend and open up into chunky spires of lavender-blue flowers.  It does need to be protected from frost. but we’ve solved this problem by covering plants with a blanket on those pre-Indian Summer nights when the temperatures dip. Easy peasy to grow indoors for the winter, as it can get by with indoor lighting.

Folks always admire this succulent Senecio early in the season for its display of blue-gray tufts of foliage. However, when late summer rolls around flowering stalks emerge and open up to showy 1″ red-orange buttons. Use Senecio ‘Blazing Glory in a pot by itself or mix with other succulent goodies. Yes, it is a plant that needs protection from frosts., but it is super easy indoors on a sunny window sill.