Go outside, look at your garden in late summer to early fall and describe what you see. Would you use the phrase “spectacularly colorless,” or perhaps “depressingly barren,” or maybe “brown and somewhat crispy?” If so, fret not dear gardener, the answer is fabulous fall blooming perennials that will add color, texture, and height to your autumnal garden. When everything else seems to be winding down for the season, these beauties (which are far more titillating than your average mum) are just getting warmed up!
1. New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae). This statuesque NC native boasts prolific flowers that range in color from dark blue-purple to light lavender-pink and provides a critical nectar source for many pollinators including the Monarch butterfly as it refuels on its long migration to Mexico. Growing up to 6 feet tall, this aster can be pinched back several times before mid-July to control height and avoid staking.
2. Bluebeard (Caryopteris clandonensis). This attractive sub-shrub is often planted in the perennial garden and provides a plethora of gorgeous violet-blue flowers that will tempt even the most stubborn butterfly. ‘Dark Knight’ has slivery-green foliage, whereas ‘Lil Miss Sunshine’ has bright chartreuse leaves—both are deer resistant and drought tolerant.
3. Upright Stonecrop (Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’). True to its name, this lovely succulent has been a garden favorite for many years and with good reason. Prolific flower clusters open pink and slowly mature to a lovely copper color. Dependable and adaptable, this beauty will bloom from late summer through the fall, providing a reliable nectar and pollen source for our insect friends.
4. Pink Muhly Grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris). I first saw this ornamental grass en masse in full bloom at Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens and it was amazing. Maintaining a fairly compact size, this narrow-leafed grass creates a stunning haze of pale pink when in full bloom—a beautiful sight to behold in the autumn garden!
5. Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa). This statuesque perennial has long been maligned as a hay fever producer…LIES, ALL LIES! (Ragweed, which blooms at the same time is actually the culprit). This North Carolina native is a wonderful addition to the back of the border where it provides bright golden color, height and structure, as well as attracting bees and butterflies. Semi-dwarf and dwarf cultivars are available if you want to fill the middle and front of the garden with golden beauty!
6. Toad Lily (Tricyrtis hirta). If you want to know from whence the name Toad Lily comes, you’ll have to come by the nursery…it’s a long story. However, this plant is anything but toad-like, bearing beautiful and mysterious orchid-like blooms in various shades and speckles of purple. This interesting plant is the perfect companion to your hostas and ferns, and deserves a special place in the woodland garden.
7. Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis paniculata). This lovely yet vigorous climber will grace your arbor or trellis with a profusion of sweetly scented creamy white blossoms from late summer into fall. Bonus: after the blooms are spent, the plant is covered with a silvery mass of fluffy seeds pods that will persist into winter.