With our temperate Ohio climate, having continual color in the garden through spring and summer is easy. It can be more of a challenge to keep the show alive in September and October. But even without the ubiquitous potted mums and kale, you can have a continual sequence of blooms right up until frost. There are many strategies for achieving a long season of color and interest, but here are methods and plants that work well for me.
By tucking well chosen annuals into the spring garden, dignified perennial borders, that might have peaked in June/July, are transformed by September into a big, bold, color splashed display. Some of these late bloomers I grow from seed, some are from the nursery, and others are self-seeders that I spare when weeding. My favorites are visible in this photo of the garden beside my driveway. There are many wonderful late bloomers, but these are the annuals (and perennials) that I find easy to grow and vigorous enough to fill the August gaps.
This is the WOW plant that towers above the others; it is now at 11’ (a record, for me) and still growing. I think it benefited from all the sunshine we had, and I water faithfully. I will collect seeds in the fall from the gorgeous red prickly balls that are the plant’s seed pods. I start the seeds indoors in May. They take a few weeks to germinate, but then grow very quickly. I plant the little seedlings around my delphiniums and by the time those are done, castor bean plants have taken off and the bed has great color and interest until frost. This plant is poisonous, but so is rhododendron, lily of the valley, narcissus, foxglove and many other plants we all grow. So I give it a pass.
Datura or moonflower
These are the big white trumpet like flowers in the foreground of the picture and another one you don’t want to ingest! I was given a specimen of this vigorous self-seeder years ago, and now I must weed them out all summer or they will take over. I usually leave 3 to 5 plants in the front of the border. These fill in the areas where the poppies, dicentra and foxglove have died back. I sometimes I remember to remove the walnut sized seed heads before they open and this saves me a lot of weeding the following year.
This is another exuberant self seeder that puts on a good late summer show. These plants, with their dangling white flowers, grow up to 5 feet tall and have very large, lime green leaves, so they contrast nicely with the dark red castor bean. This year I vow to clip the blooms before they drop their seeds; I weeded out hundreds of these this year.
I prefer the tall varieties (Zinnia elegans) and find them easy to grow from seed and they are not picky about soil. This variety grows 3 to 4 feet tall and has big, colorful dahlia-like blooms. They look terrific growing beside the castor beans. I plant them in June, among the earlier bloomers, and they are glorious by August. Lowe’s Greenhouse in Chagrin Falls always carries a good selection of these in 3” pots, and I rely on them if I don’t get the seeds started. Zinnias will keep you in cut flowers until Halloween!
I also place tubers for tall dahlias beside the earlier perennials in the spring. They are blooming by August and continue to bloom for about two months. I also have a whole bed of these in my backyard that I grow for cutting. I combine them with the zinnias and branches of the castor bean for spectacular (but easy) fall arrangements. Adding canna foliage and ornamental grass makes them even showier.
Many perennials look their best at the end of the summer. Still looking fresh in this bed are two late flowering examples: Ceratostigma
plumbaginoides (groundcover in foreground with blue flowers) and sedum.
I observed a number other plants that were still going strong in my garden (and neighbors' gardens) in late September. The magazines and catalogs all list a selection of end-of-summer bloomers, but these are plants that I know to be well established and thriving in this area.
All photographs were taken in late September.
The cycles of nature hold so many metaphors for our lives. The pleasure of the late bloomers is a lovely example and I find it reassuring to see the late summer/fall season so full of beauty, color and growth. And I imagine that the vibrant, mature ladies of the Shaker Lakes Garden Club will agree!