by Lorraine Flanigan
Until a cooling thunderstorm moved through southern Ontario yesterday, autumn has been more like an extended summer than the herald of winter. Now, as I walk through the garden on this crisp, sunny day, I marvel at all the colour in the flower borders. It's not the intensely bright colour of summer lilies, irises, poppies and daylilies, but the deeper gem tones of ruby-rose sedums, amethyst ajuga and opalescent anenomes. These jewels of the autumn border are set amongst a background of ever-changing foliage--the bronzing leaves of peonies, the antiqued pink and cream kiwi vines, and the pomegranate-toned branches of euonymous alata.
Come along with me as I walk through the garden, and I'll show you some of my favourite gems of the fall border...
See that blue aster with the topaz eye? It's been blooming since the second week in August--that's over a month of wonderful colour. Aster x Frickartii "Monch" is his name. He waves in the autumn breezes, and as long as I deadhead the spent blossoms, he'll keep on blooming. At about two years old, his three-foot girth spills out onto the flagstone path, causing visitors to pause on the way to the arbour. Otherwise, he's fairly well-behaved, with not a smudge of mildew on his leaves.
Nestled into the sunny border, Sedum purpureum "Autumn Joy" has been quietly growing all summer long. Its silvery-blue leaves and spring green flower buds cooled down the bright pink, apricot and yellow lilies and daylilies that bloomed during June and July. Upright and stolid for most of the season, the weight of Sedum's maturing flower heads inevitably leads to "middle-aged spread". This year I think I put in the stakes and twine just in time--no floppy stems yet! One of my gardening books says that sedums are difficult to place in the flower border because of the changing colour of their blooms. I don't seem to have that problem. Throughout the summer,the soft green leaves and flowerheads were the perfect foil for summer flowers. Right now, "Autumn Joy" is queen of the border. As her flower heads change from rose to copper and garnet, she'll be surrounded by the green, silver and plum foliage of spent summer perennials. And, once winter arrives, the stalky seed heads peek through the drifts of snow. Sedum is truly a multi-season plant.
Over in the woodland garden, the Japanese anenomes are waving at us to come over and visit. Their cheerful porcelain-white blossoms dance and dart in the autumn breezes, towering over the heucheras, tiarellas, and ferns at their feet. Although "Honorine Jobert" is four feet tall, she's as gracefully lithe as a ballerina. Her companion, "September Charm" is a rosy-cheeked beauty that I couldn't resist placing with "Honorine" in the "white" border. (Alright, red mixed with white = pink, so it belongs!) With their low-to-the-ground flounce of leaves and long, slender stems. Anenome japonicas like these easily fit into shady or partially shady gardens. And of course, they flower right now, when it's almost impossible to find a woodland plant in bloom.
Another tall perennial for the fall garden is the majestic Perovskia. Mine starts to bloom in August and is still blooming now. I grow it like a shrub at the back of the border, but I think it really wants to be up front where it can demand my attention. This year, I cut it back to the ground in early spring, and it responded by towering above my summer phlox, even challenging the clematis Henryii growing on a neighboring trellis. Although I love this plant, I find it a difficult one to place in the garden. If any of you have had success placing Perovskia in the flower border, please let me know. Meanwhile, I'll continue to grow it as a background shrub and cut its aromatic mauve branches for flower arrangements.
Weaving throughout the border are some of my favourite foliage plants. These are plants that tie the garden together, creating a background for the tapestry of ever-changing seasonal flowers. During the autumn, the foliage of tricolour sage and ajuga becomes burnished with bronze, plum, and garnet.
Not only do the plummy leaves of Salvia officinalis purpurea deepen when there's a chill in the air, but they sparkle at the touch of frost on a late fall morning. A great groundcover plant, Purpurea never oversteps its bounds, slowly growing into a mound of pungent leaves that call out to be touched and savoured. During the summer, I grow it next to Dark Opal Basil. In autumn, it compliments sedum "Autumn Joy." A fairly tender perennial, before winter sets in, I try to mulch it well. It makes it through most winters, but is very late to leaf out, so don't give up on it too soon.
Along the flagstone path, there's a clump of ajuga spread out under the lavender. And, down the pathway a little further, another clump grows between the cracks of the flagstone. And, over there, under the branches of the junipers, is another crop of ajuga. O.K., so the books do warn that ajuga is a tad invasive. But, I don't mind a bit if it takes over the pathway. I love the deep bronze-amethyst of my common, garden variety Ajuga reptans. It softens the stone of the pathway and in the flower bed, acts as a living mulch--no more weeds to pull! If you are concerned about its rampant growth, some of the culivars are better behaved. And, what a choice we seem to have in the nurseries. There's "Lilliput," and "Crispa," "Burgundy Glow" and "Bronze Beauty" to name a few. Have fun choosing.
Well, that's the end of the tour of my fall gardenl. Please share some of your own favourites with our readers by selecting the "Start a discussion" button at the bottom of this article. Happy fall gardening!
About the Author Lorraine Flanigan lives and gardens in Toronto, Canada.
About her love for gardening she writes:
"I am an obsessive gardener. To me, Groundhog Day is the most important day of the gardening year. I monitor the skies for days before February 2, estimating the odds of three sunny days in a row and praying that those gloomy January mornings will spill over into February."
Visit Lorraine at Suite 101