Perennial growers often discover towards the end of summer that their gardens are looking tired and have little color. This happens partly because we do most of our plant shopping in the spring. It’s easier to get excited about a primrose in full bloom than it is to be captivated by a pot with a few green leaves that will bloom three months later.
One way to have blooming gardens all summer long is to intersperse the perennials with containers holding annuals. Perennial purists frown on this practice, but it makes sense to me, particularly when you are just starting out with a perennial garden and have plenty of space between plants. Typically perennials bloom three to six weeks. Annuals bloom all summer, although many do best with dead-heading.
Another method for a colorful all-season garden is is to buy perennials with bright foliage. The golden leaves of hosta, maroon leaves of coral bells, and silver foliage all create a sense of contrasting colors without any actual blooms.
And there’s still plenty of time to buy and plant perennials that bloom the last part of the season. ‘Lucifer’ crocosmia is an eye-catching brilliant red flower that blooms above sword-like leaves.
It is actually started from bulbs, which can be planted in the spring, or growing plants in pots can go in any time. There are numerous crocosmias available, but ‘Lucifer’ is the only one that has been hardy for me. It also has the advantage of being deer resistant.
If you are in the market for a REALLY big late blooming plant for the back of the border, loaded with yellow daisy-like flowers, the “cup plant” (silphium perfoliatum) is an answer. It’s in the aster family and can grow up to 10 feet tall. Fine Gardening Magazine calls it “…a coarse but bold perennial giant.” It’s a fast grower, needing space and sun and has been trouble-free for me.
Long before Canadian burnet (sanguisorbia canadensis) blooms, people ask me about this plant because of its pretty light green scalloped foliage. In autumn it sends up erect long white spikes of flowers, kind of like a mini-bottle brush. As someone who enjoys bouquets, I treasure this late-blooming flower which blends in well with all other colors. It is a vigorous grower, but not invasive if you thin around the edges every spring once it gets going. It is about three feet tall.
Artemesia lactiflora looks like a very tall (4-5’) delicate astilbe, covered with plumes of creamy white flowers. It is another late-blooming flower that I use in bouquets. One of the few artemisias that does well in moist soils, it is a slow, steady and dependable grower for full sun.
Black-eyed Susan (rudbeckia) is typically associated with late summer and the only one I grow is the cultivar ’Goldsturm’. This is a bushier plant than the native black-eyed-susan, with larger flowers.
The bright golden yellow blooms stand upright 2-3 feet and it blooms prodigiously. ‘Goldsturm’ was introduced in 1937 and won the “perennial plant of the year” in 1999.
All of the above plants attract butterflies. I will suggest more late-summer bloomers in my next gardening column.
Amanda Sessel Legare operates Amanda’s Greenhouses and Perennials in Cabot where she has four greenhouses. www.amandasgreenhouse.com