To sustain color and vitality during the post-Labor Day lull, every garden needs a few plants impervious to the coming equinox.
AFTER MONTHS of rollicking productivity, the garden seems to pause in early September to draw a deep breath. This brief hiatus in seasonal progression marks the end of spring and summer exuberance, and the slide toward shorter days and cooler nights.
The sun slants differently now, soil-soaking rain is scarce, September drizzle doesn’t even begin to wash the dust off the draggy leaves of everything from dahlias to maples. To sustain color and vitality during the post-Labor Day lull, every garden needs a few plants impervious to the coming equinox. Depend on these workhorse perennials, which continue to flower week after unbelievable week, well into the waning of summer. You can look to these plants, combined with ornamental grasses coming into bloom, to carry the garden until autumn color kicks in:
Aster x frikartii ‘Monch': A lavender-blue, raylike aster, ‘Monch’ flowers continually for six to seven weeks, summer into fall.
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Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale): Lanky perennials with daisylike flowers in shades from sunny yellow to deep chestnut, sneezeweed starts blooming in July and keeps going until autumn if watered and clipped regularly.
Agastache: Known as licorice mint for spicy-smelling, feathery foliage, these drought-tolerant perennials are visited regularly by bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and humans. The flowers are hazy, almost diffuse from a distance, and come in sunset shades, lavender, purple and the showy new cultivar ‘Blue Boa.’
Salvia: Tall, spiky insect magnets with pretty little flowers in brilliant colors, salvias will rebloom for months if you cut the flower wands back as they fade. Violet S. x superba ‘May Night’ and lipstick pink S. microphylla ‘Hot Lips’ are just two of the many hardy cultivars.
Hardy fuchsias: Naked sticks in winter that leaf out late, hardy fuchsias make up for their dormant period by blooming valiantly until first frost.
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ or ‘Matrona': Whichever tall, late-blooming sedum you grow, you can be sure bees and butterflies will seek out the handsome, flat flower heads.
Cimicifuga racemosa ‘Black Beauty': Lacy, brunette foliage and sweetly scented white flower spikes.
You might expect to find starry Japanese windflowers (Anemone hybrids) on the list, but they’re too aggressive to recommend, despite their charm. No day lilies because they need constant deadheading to keep blooming, and because I’ve had little luck integrating chrysanthemums in with other plantings I’ve left them off the list. The tempting new cultivars of coneflowers (Echinacea) haven’t proven to be perennial (although I hear the newest ones are more dependable).
You can keep these sturdy plants flowering abundantly with a little nurturing. Deadhead. And pick bouquets at the same time. The fragrant foliage of agastache and the bottlebrush, honey-scented flowers of cimicifuga perfume the house. Try draping fuchsia down the side of a vase for a delicacy of line that shows off the intricate flower. And while the sedum isn’t my favorite in bouquets, it never needs deadheading, either.
Don’t be tricked by autumn mists that don’t penetrate the ground; water deeply to keep the plants going. And it’s a good idea to stake the taller perennials, like asters and helenium, before they topple in the wind and rain that’s sure to come.
Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer and author of “petal & twig.” Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.
Helenium atutmnale ‘Kanaria’ aka “canary sneezeweed”