Summer Stalwarts to Carry Things Through to Season’s End

Fine Gardening - Issue 195
Photo: Marianne Majerus Garden Images

Dwarf panicle hydrangeas and a few masses of some dependable perennials add instant interest to this collection of summer stunners. The water feature could be replaced by a piece of garden art or even a container planting.

Illustration: Elara Tanguy

Planting plan for late summer color

  1. Sunset hyssop
  2. Rusty foxglove
  3. Durand clematis
  4. ‘Fascination’ Culver’s root
  5. Bobo® panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘ILVOBO’, Zones 3–8)
  6. Autumn moor grass (Sesleria autumnalis, Zones 5–9)
  7. Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis, Zones 3–8)
  8. Gentian sage (Salvia patens, Zones 8–10)


Rusty foxglove returns reliably for years

Name: Digitalis ferruginea

Zones: 4–8

Size: 36 to 48 inches tall and 12 to 18 inches wide

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

Native range: Europe

I love how white foxgloves lighten my shady border, but they are one-summer biennial wonders and don’t reliably reseed for me. But if I plant the 3-foot rusty foxglove, which looks far more unusual than its famous siblings, its spires of rusty orange tubular flowers last longer and return for several summers. It attracts not just the bees but hummingbirds, and it repels the rabbits and deer. Its amber color blends easily with both perennial geraniums (Geranium spp. and cvs., Zones 4–9) and tawny-leaved ferns, which all have similar conditional needs.

Photo: Robert Mabic/

‘Fascination’ Culver’s root is tall, but it won’t need staking

Name: Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Fascination’

Zones: 3–9

Size: 36 to 48 inches tall and 15 to 24 inches wide

Conditions: Full sun; well-drained soil

Native range: North America

With its height and movement, I had always assumed that ‘Fascination’ Culver’s root needed coddling and staking. Those 12-inch wands of periwinkle purple (and an eye of glittery ­coral) look like they’d easily be the high-maintenance darlings of sophisticated London landscape designers. But with its strong straight stems adorned by triangular leaves (with a reddish tint in early spring), ‘Fascination’ requires zero maintenance. Rising to 4 or even 5 feet, this plant begins flowering in early summer, and it is ideal amid shrub roses or a midsize ornamental grass.

Photo: Marianne Majerus Garden Images

Durand clematis doesn’t need ties or trellising

Name: Clematis × durandii

Zones: 5–9

Size: Vining to 4 feet in all directions

Conditions: Full sun with shaded roots; well-drained, rich soil

Native range: Hybrid

Clematis makes some gardeners recoil because of its seemingly endless requirements (e.g., trellising, pruning, perfect conditions). Durand clematis is different, so fear not. It’s a scrambler, shimmying around on sturdy but flexible stems, so it doesn’t need a trellis or tying in. It simply winds its way through a neighboring sturdy shrub, popping out with bright blue twisted petals and gold centers. Come late autumn, I give its stems a buzz cut, and they reemerge in spring. I also try to remember to give it a hit of well-balanced fertilizer in spring.


Sunset hyssop likes lean soil and being ignored

Name: Agastache rupestris

Zones: 5–9

Size: 20 to 30 inches tall and 15 to 24 inches wide

Conditions: Full sun; dry or well-drained soil

Native range: Southwestern United States

With their vigorous stems and sweet scent, the striking blue hyssops are hefty enough to be included at Disneyland (perhaps by Main Street’s candy emporium). If you’re looking for something just a bit more graceful, sunset hyssop (photo, p. 56) is the perfect treat. It may have a lithe physique and slimmer stems, but it’s just as dependable as its better-known blue cousins. With smoky orange flowers held by lavender calyxes and fine-textured foliage, these slim spires perfume your patio with root beer. Without requiring a moment’s fuss (it’s even happy in drought), this is the quintessential, quiet, late summer star. It was a mild fall this year, so I had a bouquet of sunset hyssop at the Thanksgiving table. Now that made me thankful indeed.


Julie Lane Gay gardens in Vancouver, British Columbia.

From Fine Gardening #195

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