In the Garden:
Middle South
September, 2012
Regional Report

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The magenta fruits of beautyberry offer a thrilling display of color.

Planning for Early Autumn

I have to say I'm absolutely thrilled with the beautyberry shrubs I planted earlier this year. Though the summer blooms of Callicarpa americana were a little underwhelming, they provided a great feast for bees and other insects, and now that fall has arrived, I'm being rewarded with an breathtaking display of magenta fruits that should last long into winter.

When mature, the shrubs will stand 6 feet tall and nearly as wide. During the growing season, they'll make a lush border to conceal a pair of air conditioning units; in winter, they'll earn their keep by providing food for hungry birds.

It's clear to me, however, that the garden needs more plants for early autumn interest. With a tall canopy of hardwood trees such tulip poplars, understory beauties like dogwoods, and deciduous shrubs including oakleaf hydrangeas, the landscape will be a blaze of color in late October and early November. Just now, except for the beautyberries, there's not much to catch the eye.

When I think back to my previous garden, I realize many of my best autumn plants were sun-loving species. In this garden light is more limited, so my options are too.

I know I can be successful with white wood aster (Aster divaricatus), despite the shade. An herbaceous perennial that grows about 18-inches tall and wide, the spear-shaped leaves of this plant are perfect for filling gaps left by spring ephemerals and will make a handsome ground cover throughout the summer months. Starry white flowers, which are a boon for butterflies and other pollinating insects, will share their charms in late August or early September.

Though I haven't grown it before, I'm also looking for the bigleaf aster (Aster macrophyllus), a species that flowers about the same time but grows twice as large and offers blue blooms.

For pretty foliage as well as flowers, I'll add baby cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium). A 6-inch jewel in the autumn garden, this plant offers tiny flowers that emerge directly from the soil followed by foliage that is variegated in patterns of silver and white. Each flower has swept-back petals and a maroon-stained mouth. Depending on selection, flowers are rose or white.

Where late winter and early spring sunlight is plentiful, I want to plant autumn crocus (Crocus speciosus). Native to Greece, these bulbs feature lavender-blue flowers with dark veins and bright orange stigmas in September, followed by grass-like leaves in late winter. Timely sunlight, therefore, is critical to for flowering.

Rozanne hardy geranium (Geranium 'Gerwat'), a highlight of the secret garden tucked to one side of the house, is back in bloom. I'll add more of this sprawling, blue-flowered perennial to the front garden, where it can provide a happy welcome to visitors.

I'm also on the hunt for toad lilies (Tricyrtis spp.) and Japanese anemones (Anemone x hybrida). Though most toad lilies have relatively small blooms, those of 'Empress' and 'Togen' feature larger, showier flowers. My favorite anemone is the dependable 'Honorine Jobert,' which offers single white blooms that dance on 3-foot tall stems.

If you have sun, too, the world is your oyster. Consider late-blooming salvias such as pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) and Mexican sage (Salvia leucantha), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), and perennial sunflower (Helianthus x multiflorus), just to name a few.

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