The Fabulous Colors of Autumn

Post by Marian Keith, Landscape Supervisor

Making sure our gardens remain colorful and showy throughout the autumn season takes lots of thought and careful planning which for me, starts as much as a year in advance.  I always like to give the landscape a fresh, seasonal appearance by using lots of the vibrant, nursery-grown chrysanthemums that are so traditional at this time of year.

Colorful chrysanthemums light up the autumn landscape

These are displayed in large, colorful sweeps, and are also useful for filling in gaps where tired or spent annuals have been removed.  Most of these mums are treated as seasonal annuals, but I’ve found that many are reliably hardy in our zone, so plan to relocate some to strategic spots around the landscape for bloom the following year.

Hardy chrysanthemum ‘Rhumba’ is a warm presence in the garden

There are also several excellent varieties of perennial chrysanthemum in our gardens that are quite different from the potted specimens available now.  Most are drought-tolerant and tough as nails, with lush, green foliage that looks great throughout the heat of summer.  I especially love the fantastic ‘Emperor of China’, with large, double, cool pink flowers held atop extra tall stems that are perfect for cutting.  My favorite, ‘Sheffield Pink’, forms large, billowing mounds of single, warm pink daisies that start opening in mid-October and often last well into November, long after most other plants have called it quits.  On warmer, sunny days, myriads of small bees and other pollinating insects hum busily among the blossoms, taking advantage of some of the last nectar of the year.  This is always a happy sight at a time when color and life seem to be diminishing.

Aster laevis ‘Kurt’ mingles beautifully with ‘Tiger Eyes’ staghorn sumac

Asters are another indispensible component of a vibrant autumn garden, and we have numerous varieties planted here that bloom at various times from late summer to late fall.  One of the best, ‘Coombe Fishacre’, adds a cool softness to the garden with clouds of small, lavender, burgundy-centered daisies that open in late September.  The flowers are complemented by small, deep green foliage that covers the stems and remains unblemished all summer.  Aster oblongifolius ‘October Skies’ is another great performer, and one of the very latest to bloom for us.  It forms large hemispheres topped with brilliant blue daisies starting in mid- to late October, and is both sturdy and drought-tolerant.  New for us this year is Aster ericoides ‘Snow Flurry’, an extremely low-growing form of heath aster.  It forms prostrate mats of tiny green leaves, and is blanketed with thousands of tiny, pure white daisies throughout much of October.  I plan to use it next year as an eye-catching groundcover in the tough spots between some of our evergreen shrubs.

Solidago ‘Golden Fleece’, pineapple lily ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ and Coreopsis ‘Red Shift’ make a pleasing late-season combination

A richly layered fall planting scheme doesn’t stop with asters and mums, however.  There are many other wonderful plants that I rely upon heavily to give the garden late season pizzazz.  These include ornamental grasses, evergreens, shrubs and perennials with colorful fall foliage, and late-flowering perennials such as Lespedeza ‘Pink Fountain’, Agastache ‘Ava’ and Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eillers’, to name just a few.  Tender plants such as dahlias, pineapple sage and geraniums continue to bloom gorgeously until finally nipped back by hard frost, and some will even withstand numerous frosts before finally fading.

New England aster ‘Alma Potschke’ fountain grass ‘Hameln’ and a Cinderella pumpkin are colorful companions

There’s still time to enjoy the splendor of autumn at Oliver Winery.  Spread a blanket beneath the trees and enjoy a relaxing picnic amid the swirling autumn leaves, or sip a glass of delicious Oliver wine on our comfortable heated patio or porch.  Remember, it won’t be long before winter sets in.  We look forward to seeing you soon!

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