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Fall Is for Flowers

Move beyond the earth tones of autumn by adding bright blooms to your design

Fine Gardening - Issue 190
Light is fading, but color doesn’t have to. Anyone who leaves autumn interest to whatever hues the leaves happen to take on is missing out on all the excitement late-season bloomers can bring to their garden.

When you think of spring, you think of flowers. Summer is also for flowers. Fall? Everyone is all about the foliage. Colorful leaves are a highlight of the season, along with cool nights, apple cider donuts, and comfy sweatshirts. But why can’t flowers be a part of that mix? And we aren’t talking about mums, those ubiquitous mounds of supermarket color whose value brings out more seasonal opinions than pumpkin spice flavorings or the New England Patriots. Adding some blooms for autumn is sure to bring a new vibrancy to your garden and will only make the fabulous foliage that much better.

yellow fall flowers

1. Yellow is the theme

The frothy mass of flowers atop ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod (Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, Zones 5–9) creates an impact emphasized by the stronger gold of the black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii, Zones 4–9). The bright color is a welcome addition to a season known for somber tones.

2. Keep it light

Tall, dense plantings can seem imposing, so to keep an area from feeling overwhelming, be sure to incorporate lighter colors and open habits, like those of ‘Andrea Atkinson’ anemone (Anemone ‘Andrea Atkinson’, Zones 5–8), whose white blooms dance in the breeze, adding playful movement to the design.

3. Color can lead the eye

The way the pinkish-red hues run through the bed pull attention into the planting, adding depth and interest.

landscape with fall flowers

1. Use small trees

Small trees—or trees that haven’t gotten large yet—play an important part in a design by filling in the middle layer without adding the bulk that a similarly tall shrub would.

‘Monch’ Aster ‘Monch’ Aster

Aster × frikartii ‘monch’ (also above)

Zones: 4–9

'Alma Potschke’ Aster ‘Alma Potschke’ Aster

Symphiotrichum novae-angliae ‘Alma Potschke’

Zones: 4–9

2. Give it up for the real stars

Forget mums. Asters are the real queens of autumn (no matter how many different genera they have been separated into). Floriferous to the point of floppiness, these must-have fall stars benefit from pinching early in the season for a sturdier, bushier habit.

3. Art works

By virtue of being man-made, sculpture and other works of art always draw the eye when set among a plethora of plants. The main thing to remember is not to use too much art in an area, which can make the space feel tacky or overcrowded.

fall garden

1. Formal meets relaxed

When something formal, like a yew hedge, meets something informal, like this planting, something else is needed to help connect the two moods. The style of the gate and arbor is geometric but incorporates rustic materials, creating the perfect connection so that both styles can work together.

2. Add a layer of wispy

With all the things making a strong statement here—the yew hedge, the wooden gateway, the swaths of asters—this nice layer of diverse wild and wispy plants is needed to lighten things up.

3. Make it a mass

Dozens of frilly flowers, as on these asters, can create so much interest that the scene comes across as busy. Using those blooms in masses offsets all that action and makes the scene easier on the eyes.

Surround your grasses. Grasses like ‘Fairy Tails’ fountain grass (Pennisetum ‘Fairy Tails’, Zones 7–9) always stand out late in the season as their inflorescenses strut their stuff. If you want to make them truly shine, surround them with an entourage of fall flowers.

Top Late-Season Bloomers

Summer unofficially ends around Labor Day, but these plants will make sure your garden is still working on into Halloween.

‘Crossfield Ebony’ Dahlia
Photo: Melissa Lucas

Globe Amaranth
Photo: Stephanie Fagan

‘Henry Eilers’ Sweet Coneflower
Photo: Nicola Stocken/gapphotos.com
‘Crossfield Ebony’ Dahlia

Dahlia ‘Crossfield Ebony’

Zones: 9–11

Globe Amaranth

Gomphrena cv.

Zones: annual

 ‘Henry Eilers’ Sweet Coneflower

Rudbeckia subtomentosa ‘Henry Eilers’

Zones: 4–8

‘Lemon Queen’ Helianthus
Photo: Steve Aitken

Autumn Joy Sedum
Photo: Nicola Stocken/gapphotos.com

Photo: Michelle Gervais
‘Lemon Queen’ Helianthus

Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’

Zones: 4–9

Autumn Joy Sedum

Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’

Zones: 3–9


Actaea cordifolia

Zones: 4–9

‘Honorine Jobert’ Anemone
Photo: Jennifer Benner

'Fireworks’ Goldenrod
Photo: Michelle Gervais

Autumn Crocus
Photo: Stephanie Fagan
‘Honorine Jobert’ Anemone

Anemone × hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’

Zones: 4–8

 ‘Fireworks’ Goldenrod

Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’

Zones: 5–9

Autumn Crocus

Colchicum autumnale

Zones: 4–8


Garden Art Is Always in Season

A touch of sculpture is a welcome addition to any garden, and you don’t have to wait for it to bloom or remember to water it.

garden art

garden art

1. Blooms look better

Flowers look great on their own, but when they are matched with a piece of sculpture, the whole planting becomes a work of art.

2. It doesn’t have to be art to be artistic

A touch of Marie Kondo–style organization turns this collection of castoffs, trimmings, and random stuff into an inviting habitat for bees and other insects, while adding a nice dose of rustic charm.

3. Make a moment

This pair of pears leaning sweetly on each other will delight anyone who sees them, making this a must-see stop in the garden. Moments like this pull you through a garden, which becomes a journey and an event rather than a collection of plants.

Photos, except where noted: Nicola Stocken/gapphotos.com

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