sumac

Denny Schrock

flirting with fall color

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