Everyone enjoys spring gardens, with the fresh foliage and colorful flowers that lift our spirits after a long, dull winter. And summer gardens are glorious, of course, with an abundance of bold blooms and rich colors that perfectly suit outdoor summer activities. By August, though, heat and dry spells take their toll on spring and summer perennials; gardens can look tired and tattered.
Time to retreat indoors? No way. Below are four plants that keep the interest going in August and into autumn.
1. ‘The Giant’ Autumn Crocus
Name: Colchicum ‘The Giant’
Size: Flowers 8 to 10 inches tall, foliage 12 to 15 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; well-drained soil
Native Range: Northeastern Turkey and the Caucasus Mountains
Autumn crocuses are a wonderful fall surprise, with ‘The Giant’ being one of the best. The flowers start as large white spikes emerging from the ground, then quickly develop into glowing lavender-pink goblets that open to reveal a bright white center. This robust selection also has the distinction of being an heirloom cultivar with particularly large flowers. In late winter shiny, strappy, bright green leaves emerge and mix well with early spring bloomers. It is drought tolerant once established.
2. Fernleaf Full Moon Maple
Name: Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’
Size: 8 to 10 feet tall in 10 years, 18 to 20 feet tall at maturity
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moderately moist, fertile, well-drained soil
Native Range: Southern Korea and Japan
With flaming crimson red fall color and undertones of orange and gold, this lovely small tree is as close to perfect as any tree gets. The first blush of red starts in late August, then slowly brightens to peak in mid-October. This is a tree for all seasons, with shapely branches forming a sculptural rounded crown. In early spring, tiny red flowers hang delicately from the branch tips for the observant to find. Being a slow grower, it also performs well in a container.
3. Fall-Blooming Hardy Cyclamen
Name: Cyclamen hederifolium
Size: 4 to 6 inches tall and 8 to 12 inches wide
Conditions: Partial shade; well-drained soil
Native Range: Mediterranean region
The first flowers of this hardy cyclamen are a delight in the late season garden. The flower buds emerge on thin stems; when they open, the reflexed petals look like small butterflies. Deep green ivylike leaves beautifully patterned in shades of pale green, pewter, and silver form a tight, rounded patch as the flowers finish. Ants are attracted to the seeds and will scatter them around the garden, leading to future years of enjoyment. Drought tolerant once established, this hardy cyclamen has underground corms (bulbs) that can reach more than 6 inches across with age.
4. ‘Setsugekka’ Fall Flowering Camellia
Name: Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’
Size: 6 to 8 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet wide in 10 years
Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; consistently moist, well-drained soil
Native Range: Japan
This elegant, evergreen shrub opens its first flowers in early autumn. The 4-inch blooms have pure white petals that are crimped and wavy and that surround a central boss of yellow stamens with a distinctive floral and earthy fragrance. The lax habit of the branching gives a relaxed, informal feel to the shrub and a gracefulness to the flowers that is not apparent on most spring-blooming camellias. The dark green foliage allows the white blooms to shine during the short autumn days.
Richie Steffen is executive director of the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden in Seattle.
Photos: Joshua McCullough (1); Bill Johnson (2); Marianne Majerus/Marianne Majerus Garden Images (3); millettephotomedia.com (4); courtesy of Richie Steffen)