When people think of autumn color, they look to the trees. But, too often, the burden of carrying a whole season's beauty rests upon their strong branches.
Chrysanthemums, of course, share the glory. In eye-catching colors of golden yellows, sparkling purples and mellow reds, potted chrysanthemums purchased at garden centers provide the easiest and quickest way to give your front steps or flower beds the look of autumn.
Yet there is more to autumn in the garden than just colorful foliage and gorgeous chrysanthemums. There is the sasanqua camellia, whose flowers offer the delicate beauty we often associate with spring. This evergreen is also an excellent replacement for sick and troubled red-tipped photinias.
There are asters in rich shades of mauve, blue, purple and red, sedums whose beauty lingers into the winter, rugged anemones, bright and saucy heleniums and autumn bulbs such as colchicums and crocuses. Plus there are a wealth of berry-producing plants, including the superb euonymus americanus, nandina and deciduous hollies.
I hope you will keep this range of shrubs, perennials and bulbs in mind as you make selections for your garden. There is much tochoose from, but for starters, I'd suggest three essentials:
* Sasanqua camellia. The sasanqua season is October through December, butthe glossy evergreen foliage is beautiful all year. Flowers are white, pink or deep rose, and a mature plant produces hundreds of them.
Some sasanquas, such as Rosea and Appleblossom, will make dense screens. They grow fairly rapidly, but not so fast as red-tips. Many other varieties make lower, more compact plants, suitable for mixing in a shrub border.
When freezing weather threatens at the peak of bloom season, protect the flowers with a cover during the night.
* Japanese anemone. My clear pink anemone, September Charm, is a dozen years old and has survived all manner of abuse, including the feet of roofers and electricians. Yet it prospers and blooms. Japanese anemoneis an herbaceous perennial that looks best in a flower bed or shrub border. September Charm is one of the shorter varieties, growing 2 to3 feet tall. A popular white variety, which grows 3 to 4 feet tall, is Honorine Jobert.
Japanese anemones need part-shade and well-drained soil.
* Asters. Fall asters produce a whopping number of daisy flowers, but like chrysanthemums, they require dividing at least every other spring or fall to perform best. Asters come mostly in blues, pinks, reds and whites and require full sun.
I particularly likea variety of New York aster called Professor Kippenburg, which is deep blue and about 12 inches tall, short enough for a spot at the front of the flower bed. Combined with golden-yellow Zagreb coreopsis, itmakes a striking sight in September. Taller asters require staking, but it's worth the effort.