Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

October 2010

We had our first freeze (28 degrees F) this morning in Des Moines, but that doesn’t mean an end to brilliant color in the landscape. Here are shots taken this week of several shrubs in my landscape that provide plenty of fall color.

IteaLittleHenry One of my favorite shrubs is Virginia sweetspire (Itea ‘Little Henry’), shown here with its brilliant red fall color. This shrub forms a spreading clump just under 3 feet tall. It also earns its keep earlier in the summer with drooping wands of white flowers displayed on a background of medium green foliage.

For a splash of fall gold, I can rely on Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus), also called sweetshrub or sweet Betsy, for the fragrance of its springtime blooms. The maroon flowers are subdued in visual impact, but their spicy scents waft through the late spring garden. Often it develops interesting seed pods in addition to its clear yellow fall color.

CalycanthusBeautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) lights up the fall landscape with its irridescent purple berries borne on arching stems covered with chartreuse leaves. The combination is electric!



Seven son flower (Heptacodium miconioides) is a late-season bloomer with panicles of white flowers. By late October its blooms have faded, but the show continues with deep pink bracts that hang through the end of fall.

Seven son flower

Seven son flower

But probably should know about.

This little gem is called GoldDust Mecardonia. Proven Winners markets it. They sent me a sample this summer to try out and although I was less than impressed when the little plants first showed up, they made a believer out of me in short order.

It’s a mat-forming plant, tough as nails, and it’s covered in these little yellow flowers. It NEVER stopped blooming after I planted it. Heavy, thick blooms that never slowed down. This is a tender perennial, listed as hardy to 25 degrees, so that makes it even better because you can grow it in cool season pots. But it doesn’t seem to mind heat either. During wet spells, it just kept going. When I forgot to water and it went into full wilt, it snapped back as soon as I watered it. It’s really just amazing. Take a look at the container below (where it’s combined with another Proven Winners plant, Blue Mohawk Juncus). Imagine that in your pots all summer, with no letup in flowering all season. Give it a whirl next spring. You’ll like it.

Bergenia, AzaleaLots of gardens start to look a little dull by the time autumn rolls around, but happily, that doesn’t have to be the case with yours.

There are, of course, great fall-flowering perennials such as anemone, aster, and goldenrod. And then there are the trees and shrubs that offer such fantastic fall color, such as maples, birches, and ginkgo.

But there’s another group of plants, too — perennials that have great fall foliage. One of my all-time favorites is bloody geranium, so-called because of the brilliant shade of red its leaves turn each autumn. Many other perennial geraniums also offer fine fall color.

There are also peonies, many of which turn a delightful shade of gold as the days grow short, and hostas, and many grasses (including the stunning ‘Shenandoah’ switchgrass).

And this year I’ve noticed my bowman’s root (Gillenia trifoliata) is also putting on quite a show with its dark green leaves turning a rich shade of amber.

Shown here is another good one — bergenia (also called pigsqueak), which combines brilliantly with an azalea and ‘Queen Charlotte’ pink anemone.

Aster 'Alma Potschke'Autumn doesn’t have to mean the end of your garden. Pick the right plants, such as ‘Alma Potschke’ aster (shown here), and you can keep the floral display going until the snow flies. Happily, you’re not just limited to mums and asters; many roses continue going until they’re nipped back by hard frost. I also have ‘Rozanne’ geranium blooming up a storm at home, along with ‘Summer Snowflake’ viburnum, Profusion zinnias, Wave petunias, Supercal calibrachoas, and more.

Plus there are plants with colorful fall leaves and berries, too!

Just for fun, here’s one of my favorite pieces of prose. It’s John Muir, reflecting on trees, in Our National Parks.

“…to learn how they live and behave in pure wildness, to see them in their varying aspects through the seasons and weather, rejoicing in the great storms, in the spiritual mountain light, putting forth their new leaves and flowers when all the streams are in flood and the birds are singing, and sending away their seeds in the thoughtful Indian summer when all the landscape is glowing in deep calm enthusiasm—for this you must love them and live with them, as free from schemes and cares and time as the trees themselves.”

The man knew how to write.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of working with the folks at the American Landscape and Nursery Association (ANLA) at their annual conference in January. They asked me to help judge their new plants program. It was a lot of fun and I got to learn about a number of really cool new plants.

ANLA is a professional organization and it was interesting picking the hottest new plant for the year. But the folks at ANLA and I thought it would be really supercool if my readers — you all — had a chance to vote, too. So we put the contest up on BHG.com here for you! Vote here!

There’s a wonderful range of plants from which to choose — annuals, perennials (like the ‘Milkshake’ coneflower shown here), and even flowering shrubs!

Have experience with any of this year’s new varieties? Share them by commenting below!

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