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Flowers in the fall

By: Julie McIntyre, Summerland Gardens
August 14, 2017 Updated: August 14, 2017 at 1:48 pm
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It’s the time of year when the summer flowers are slowing down and there might not be as much color in the perennial garden as there was a few weeks ago.  Now’s the time to take stock of your garden and see if you can add some season extending color into the landscape. There’s no need to just see green, add a few of the fall divas for fall drama.

We’re all familiar with traditional flowers associated with the late summer/fall garden. Perennials like Blackeyed Susan (Rudbeckia), Coreopsis, Gaillardia, Asters and Mums all deserve a spot in the garden to bring flowers when the rest of garden is winding down. They bring gold and russet colors, as well as purples and lavenders, that combine to enrich the fall pallet of changing leaves. These are all garden work horses and will flower until, and even after, the first frost.

Other perennials to consider that bloom through fall are hummingbird mints (Agastache sp.) and red birds in a tree (Scrophularia macrantha). Both plants are hummingbird favorites and help to keep them fed until they migrate south in the fall.  They are also deer and rabbit-resistant, require well-drained soil, and will flower best when planted in full sun. Hummingbird mints flower in oranges and pinks and offer aromatic leaves that smell like root beer or licorice, depending on your nose. Red birds in a tree offers little red flowers that look like little birds sitting in a tree and can become quite a large specimen, growing up to three-to-four feet tall.

If you want to add something different, some garden gems with delicate flowers that seem to magically appear like shimmering jewels among the late season garden, try fall flowering bulbs.  We tend to associate planting bulbs in the fall with having to wait until spring for blooms, as with tulips and daffodils. But there are a few varieties that are planted in the fall and flower shortly after planting.  Bulbs in general are well worth adding to the garden, whether fall or spring blooming; they are easy to plant, are tough and durable, and provide a lot of color without a lot of expense.  Fall blooming bulbs produce their leaves in the spring, go dormant in the summer and then send their flowers up in the fall. Bulbs need to be planted right after getting them, and they’ll produce flowers four-to-six weeks later. Generally, these bulbs are offered before other spring flowering bulbs like tulips and daffodils so check with us to see if they’re available yet.

Some to consider are the autumn or saffron crocus (Crocus sativus).  Producing iridescent purple flowers with bright orange stigmas, these flowers are the source for the Mediterranean spice saffron.  Known as one of the most expensive herbs, the yellow stigmas of the flowers are hand plucked from each flower and dried.  It takes hundreds of flowers to produce a commercially viable amount, which explains its expense.  For the home gardener, a couple dozen bulbs can provide enough saffron to make a few quality dishes. Visit our website for instructions on how to harvest saffron.

Colchicums are another fall flowering bulb well worth planting anywhere there’s open ground and part sun. There are different varieties, but waterlily is a favorite, named for its large double flowers that resemble water lilies in form and size. They are purplish pink and have a silky texture to them, contrasting beautifully with the golds of fall.  They require a well-drained soil and consistent moisture through the summer while their leaves are out.

Of course, flowers aren’t the only things that add color to the fall landscape. Consider adding shrubs that offer beautiful fall color as their leaves begin to change. Dwarf burning bush (Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’), as its name implies, is grown for its intense red fall color that sets the landscape on fire in fall. Its mounded growing habit features green leaves spring through summer, corky stems that add some winter interest, and deer-resistance. Other shrubs to consider for spectacular fall color are Sumacs, Viburnums and Serviceberries.

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