Going Gracefully Into Winter

These inspiring designs prove that transitional plants are the key to making garden magic in fall

Fine Gardening – Issue 178

I’ll admit it: Sometimes I’m so worn out by the end of summer, with all the watering and weeding, that I really just give up on my garden. But by the time the sugar maples (Acer saccharum, Zones 3–8) start bursting into full color in the woods at the edge of the garden, I start feeling guilty that my landscape is dreary and dull in comparison. These designs show that with the incorporation of a few key autumnal stars, your garden can become a worthy partner to its seasonal surroundings.


All you need is one star—and maybe a couple of extras

There’s no denying that the Rocky Mountain maple is the star of this front border. But the masses of fine-textured grasses interspersed with pops of color from the asters and the goldenrod are the perfect backup singers. Together they make this four-season garden really shine in autumn.

Key plants

1. Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum, Zones 5–8)

2. Purple fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum* ‘Rubrum’, Zones 8–10)

3. ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass (Calamagrostis × acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’, Zones 4–9)

4. ‘Purple Dome’ aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Purple Dome’, Zones 3–8)

5. Goldenrod (Solidago cv., Zones 4–9)


Fiery foliage amps up a simple container

This design would hold up all year, thanks to the airy grass foliage and the red and green leaves of the stalwart heucheras. But when fall hits and the grasses start pluming and their blades start turning color, the wash bucket comes alive.

Key plants

1. ‘Adagio’ miscanthus (Miscanthus sinensis* ‘Adagio’, Zones 5–9)

2. Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica* ‘Rubra’, Zones 5–9)

3. Heuchera (Heuchera cv., Zones 4–9)

4. Heuchera (Heuchera cv., Zones 4–9)


If you want impact, think yellow

No color is more eye-catching in fall than bright yellow. The sun seems to make everything in that hue just glow. Here that is exemplified by the intensity of the dogwood foliage, which is contrasted brilliantly by the dark purple and shocking pink asters.

Key plants

1. Zebra grass (Miscanthus sinensis* ‘Zebrinus’, Zones 5–9)

2. ‘Morning Light’ maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis* ‘Morning Light’, Zones 5–9)

3. ‘Midwinter Fire’ bloodtwig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, Zones 4–7)

4. ‘Violet Queen’ Italian aster (Aster amellus ‘Violet Queen’, Zones 5–8)

5. ‘September Ruby’ New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘September Ruby’, Zones 4–8)


Stars That Add Major Fall Impact

Even if you don’t have room for a lot of plants that save their best for autumn, by adding just one of the plants below you’ll increase the showiness of your landscape.

‘Firedance’ persicaria American cranberry bush ‘Red Head’ fountain grass

1. ‘Firedance’ persicaria

(Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Firedance’)

Zones: 5–8

Size: 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

2. American cranberry bush

(Viburnum opulus var. americanum ‘Hahs’)

Zones: 2–7

Size: 6–8 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

3. ‘Red Head’ fountain grass

(Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Red Head’)

Zones: 5–9

Size: 3 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

‘Königin Charlotte’ Japanese anemone ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel ‘Jindai’ Tatarian aster

4. ‘Königin Charlotte’ Japanese anemone

(Anemone × hybrida ‘Königin Charlotte’)

Zones: 5–8

Size: 2–3 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

5. ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel

(Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’)

Zones: 5–8

Size: 12–15 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil

6. ‘Jindai’ Tatarian aster

(Aster tataricus ‘Jindai’)

Zones: 4–8

Size: 3–4 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

‘Fireworks’ goldenrod ‘Venus’ chrysanthemum Pink Diamond panicle hydrangea

7. ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod

(Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’)

Zones: 4–8

Size: 36–48 inches tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

8. ‘Venus’ chrysanthemum

(Chrysanthemum ‘Venus’)

Zones: 4–9

Size: 18–36 inches tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

9. Pink Diamond panicle hydrangea

(Hydrangea paniculata ‘Interhydia’)

Zones: 4–8

Size: 8–15 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil


Photos: Richard Bloom/; Greg Ryan/Alamy Stock Photo; Friedrich Strauss/; Mark Bolton/; Virginia Small; Brandi Spade; Jennifer Benner; Nancy J. Ondra

View Comments


Log in or create an account to post a comment.

Related Articles

The Latest