Some of my favorite perennials bloom at this time of year and their end-of-the-season finale is well worth the wait.

Fall perennials

With its gold flowers and purple leaves, Desdemona ligularia pairs brilliantly with a 7-foot-tall fleece flower (Persicaria polymorpha) in the garden at Muckross castle near Ennis, Ireland.

Desdemona ligularia (Ligularia dentata ‘Desdemona’)

A pink Japanese anemone offers an alternative to traditional autumn colors.

Helen’s flower (Helenium autumnale)

Tall fleece flower (Persicaria polymorpha).

A variety of rudbeckia called Herbstsonne (Autumn Sun) stands more than 6 feet tall — a bold perennial presence.

School starts this week, the county fair’s in town, and mums are showing up in front of garden centers and grocery stores. The colors in my garden, and those of my neighbors, reflect the changing seasons. Some of my favorite perennials bloom at this time of year and their end-of-the-season finale is well worth the wait. Plus, the cooler autumn weather keeps them blooming for weeks.

I first saw the school-bus yellow flowers of cutleaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata ‘Herbstsonne’) peeping over the top of a 6-foot stockade fence on my commute to work. Wow! Butterflies hovered around the tall center cones and drooping yellow petals. A nearly perfect drive-by plant, I found a place for this native perennial in my own garden. It’s a big, bold plant that turns heads from mid August through September.

Helenium is another garden standout for late summer and throughout the fall. Most form tidy clumps about 2 to 3 feet high that bloom for months. The 2″ gold, yellow, red, rust and bicolor flowers complement fall-blooming coneflowers, goldenrod and asters.

Ligularia is quickly becoming one of my favorite perennials for damp borders. I’ve always enjoyed The Rocket for its yellow midsummer flower spikes, but some of the Ligularia dentata cultivars really make a splash later in the season. They have large, wavy, toothed leaves 10-20′ across and spikes of bright yellow or orange daisy flowers. The cultivar Britt-Marie Crawford has bronze-purple foliage and Desdemona has deep-purple leaves.

Not all fall-bloomers sport autumn colors, however. Shell-pink Japanese anemones thrive in a partly shaded spot, next to tall white David phlox (Phlox paniculata) and rose-pink Hot Lips turtlehead (Chelone). Deeply toothed and divided, purple-black foliage and pipe-cleaner flower spikes of snakeroot (Actaea ‘Brunette’) add drama. A handful of violet, fall-blooming colchicum bulbs at their feet completes the color-coordinated scene.

Ann Whitman,
Green Goods Supervisor, Gardener’s Supply