PINK IS TO autumn like coarse sea salt is to an artisanal chocolate caramel — a stroke of brilliance on an already-good thing. In a garden filled with tawny shades of olive, orange and gold, glowing pink blossoms energize these last few weeks before the dormant season gets seriously underway. Here are a few rosy autumn gems to spark the finish of your garden’s growing season.
Japanese anemones (Anemone x hybrida) have one of the longest bloom seasons of most garden perennials. Beginning in late summer and carrying well into fall, the plant generously produces tall slender stems topped with multiple buds that open over six to eight weeks. The 2- to 3-inch blooms float above beds and borders and sway in the slightest breeze, giving rise to their other common name: windflower.
Pink-flowering forms of Japanese anemone include ‘Alice’ (pale pink, semidouble blooms), ‘Margarete’ (exceptionally large semidouble deep pink blooms), ‘September Charm’ (single shell-pink blooms) and ‘Prinz Heinrich’ (semidouble to double deep pink blooms). While delicate in appearance, Japanese anemones are robust perennials. The plants, which spread by rhizomes, will happily naturalize otherwise-neglected parts of the garden but have the potential to outcompete smaller perennials. Partner with fall-blooming asters, ornamental grasses and late summer lilies.
It’s all in the name with ‘Autumn Joy’ showy stonecrop (Hylotelephium spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’, formerly known as Sedum spectabile). Take another look at this familiar garden favorite, and discover a star of the autumn garden as well as a perennial that contributes to pretty garden pictures from spring to fall.
Succulent blue-green foliage emerges in midspring, just as tulips and allium are blooming, then politely fills in any awkward gaps left as the bulbs go dormant. By midsummer, stout pale-green stems are topped with broccolilike flower buds. It’s a quiet but novel garden player that also happens to be pest-free and low-water. Starting in August, light pink blooms appear that, as autumn progresses, ripen to shades of deep rose and copper; wine-dark spent blooms stand through the winter. Other showy fall stonecrops include Sedum x ‘Mojave Jewels Ruby’, with deep purple foliage, and Sedum x ‘Thunderhead’, with tarnished bronze foliage.
The luminous goblet-shaped blossoms of Colchicum autumnale are a fresh, almost-bawdy pink — the blooms are sometimes called “naked ladies” because they show up abruptly, sans foliage, just as most plants are fading. Of course, the price for that delightful appearance is tolerating the emergence (and demise) of the plant’s fleshy, paddle-shaped leaves in spring.
The flowers look like oversized crocus, which explains their other, perhaps more demure, common name: fall crocus. However, Colchicum are in the lily family and not a crocus at all. The bulbs, technically corms, are summer-dormant and appreciate a good baking in the sun. Plant among low-growing ground covers along pathways and border edges.
The shell-pink blooms of ‘Sheffield Pink’ mums (Dendranthema ‘Sheffield Pink’) glow in the burnished, oh-so-flattering sidelight of fall. Unlike their kin, the seasonally available starchy globes of pure color, this garden mum is a cottage garden favorite that deserves a permanent spot in the garden, preferably where delicate gold and copper falling Japanese maple leaves can mingle with the 3-inch-wide single daisylike blooms. Don’t get me wrong: Mounding fall mums (and kale, and pumpkins!) are the very stuff of playful fall container displays. But ‘Sheffield Pink’ is a keeper, a long-lived perennial that thrives in full sun to partial shade with additional summer water. Wait until spring to cut back the previous season’s growth, and divide plants periodically to maintain vigor.