Everyday Gardeners

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‘Tis the season for spectacular light displays in the nighttime skies from exploding fireworks. You can mimic these explosions of color in your garden by growing plants bursting with color-infused foliage and blooms. Several heat-loving annuals and perennial flowers are  named for 4th of July fireworks. One of my favorites is ‘Fireworks’ fountaingrass, a new purple pennisetum with pink striped foliage. It makes a perfect partner for the hot pink flowers of ‘Fireworks’ globe amaranth. Other color-laden plants exploding in the summer garden include ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod and ‘Carolina Fireworks’ lantana. All of these beauties put on their peak display during the sun-soaked heat of summer.

The pink-and-purple striped foliage of 'Fireworks' fountaingrass combines well with chartreuse, pink, and purple plants in the garden. Feathery seedheads add lovely texture.

'Fireworks' globe amaranth develops hot pink tufts of bloom on tall stems that waft in the breeze. Flowers retain their color when dried, too.

'Fireworks' goldenrod bears arching wands of pure yellow blooms in late summer.

'Carolina Fireworks' lantana combines sizzling orange and yellow hues on a mounding plant that thrives in the heat of summer gardens.

By the time the autumnal equinox rolls around most of my landscape looks bedraggled, awaiting the first hard freeze to put it out of its misery. But several sections are just now coming into their full glory. One that I like a lot, partly because it looks more like summer than fall to me, is the purple and gold border shown below. ‘Sunshine Daydream’ perennial sunflower (Helianthus multiflorus ‘Sunshine Daydream’) combines with ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod (Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’), Sunshine Blue bluebeard (Caryopteris incana ‘Jason’), leadplant (Amorpha canescens), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), and zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’) to create a welcoming entry to the yard. If you look closely, you may be able to see that the zebra grass and Russian sage do double duty, screening the front yard utility boxes, too.

Purple and gold corner garden

front walk border

The walkway leading from the driveway to the front door is lined with texture-rich perennials that provide plenty of interest this time of year (see photo at left). Starting at the rear of the photo, maidengrass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’), narrowleaf ironweed (Vernonia lettermannii), dwarf crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica),’Walker’s Low’ catmint (Nepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’) and bluestar amsonia (Amsonia hubrichtii) make a delightful combination. The feathery foliage of the maidengrass, the narrowleaf ironweed and the blue star amsonia create wonderful wispy repetition in the border. ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint blooms almost all summer long with fragrant blue blooms on silvery foliage. The dwarf crepe myrtles burst into color through summer’s heat. As cool fall weather arrives, their foliage transitions to glowing shades of yellow, orange, and maroon. (And, yes, they are root hardy here in Zone 5. It helps that they’re planted in a favorable microclimate, tucked between the concrete walkway and a southeast-facing brick wall. I cut them back to the ground each spring, and by late summer they’re loaded with pink and purple blooms.)

Yet another corner with an excellent early fall display is the backyard shrub border shown below. The focal point in this grouping is the seven-son flower (Heptacodium miconioides). It’s just starting to bloom now. As its white flowers fade, the sepals will turn pink, providing extended color well into fall. Tiger Eyes sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’) brings a splash of gold to the combination. As fall progresses, the yellow leaves will take on orange and scarlet tones. In front of Tiger Eyes, purple flame grass (Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’) glows with silvery seedheads. It’s just beginning to develop its fiery orange fall foliage. ‘Cranberry Crush’ hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos ‘Cranberry Crush’) is pushing out its last few blooms while taking on deeper red leaf color with the onset of cool autumn weather.

Which late-season combinations do you have in your yard? Show us or tell us about some of your favorite pairings.

fall shrub border

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