In the Garden:
This perennial cranesbill is best known for its near-blue blooms, but I love the late fall foliage, too.
Season of Thanks
I like my garden and landscape plants to do double duty, and I am always delighted when they pull it off. By that I mean they need to perform well during more than one season. Spring or summer flower garden bloomers need to give fall color or winter structure, flowering shrubs need to show fall color or a strong winter presence, and trees need to look good year-round, too. By late fall when things begin to go bare and the landscape might look bleak in the nearly wintry gray light, I'm always grateful for plants that can rise to the occasion.
Some perennials fulfill their role by blooming nicely in spring and repeating the performance in the late summer or fall. Re-blooming iris and re-blooming daylilies are big performers in this way. Black-eyed Susans, purple coneflowers, and the perennial salvias will often bloom over a very long period through summer and into the late fall if deadheaded. Some early bloomers, such as the perennial cranesbill (Geranium x 'Brookside') will rebloom nicely come fall if cut back hard after the first bloom flush in the spring. This particular plant adds a bonus of striking, bright red fall foliage, too.
Sedum spectabilis cultivars, such as 'Autumn Joy' and 'Neon,' bloom late in the season, turn from gold to brown in late fall, and hold their faded flower heads to maintain a strong upright presence long into the winter months. I love these planted in a drift alongside patches of rudbeckia and coneflowers, where the blooms have yielded to a sea of black-eyed seed heads and echinacea cones that provide a natural bird-feeding station.
My favorites this month, though, might be the hellebores. These late-winter or very early spring bloomers actually have the perkiest green foliage in the perennial garden right now, just as everything else is collapsing.
Shrubs With an Enduring Presence
Some of our favorite flowering shrubs present great fall interest. In this group I would include oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), now in stunning garnet foliage. I also enjoy the white-flowered Hydrangea arborescens, a native. This reliable bloomer, which holds its dried flowers late into fall, is now an elegant lacy presence in shades of ecru and tan. Also consider many of the viburnums with both fruit and foliage color, the summer-blooming Spirea japonica group now in multicolor, and some of the fancier natives, such as the Aronia arbutifolia and Itea virginica that have brilliant foliage.
Deciduous native plants with noteworthy berries include winterberry (Ilex verticillata), of course. And the berries of Callicarpa americana, now having slowly developed and matured from pale green to brilliant bright purple, are beyond compare. (Although not native, the other varieties of Callicarpa from Asia are exquisite now, too.)
I especially enjoy those trees and shrubs that continue to surprise me. Leaf drop unveils the spiked gumballs on sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) and the dangling pompon-like buttonballs on sycamores (Platanus occidentalis); the gold and red crab apples in my garden take on reflective, jewel-like qualities with a coating of frost. The defoliated shrub dogwoods sport their glossy stems in shades of gold, green, red, gray, brown, and mahogany. The exuberant golden flowers of Kerria japonica are long past, but the stridently green and whippy branches continue to brighten the garden.
The deciduous magnolia's blooms for next spring are already there now, concealed within plump, hairy buds that remind me of oversized pussy willow toes. The evergreen andromeda (Pieris japonica) is already showing its flower buds for next spring too, these draped across the branch tips like dainty strings of pearls. And evergreen holly berries ... well, their season is just around the corner!
So I am truly thankful for nature's amazing gift of seasonal change and transformation. But I'm still not ready for winter yet. Are you?
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