Photos Courtesy: Lisa Roper, Chanticleer Garden
Structure and texture add interest to your garden.
Autumn brings a welcomed sleepiness to the air. Shades of green turn a tawny hue as plants enter their dormancy for the winter ahead. There’s a beauty in this senescence. As gardeners we can find inspiration in the texture, structure and color that’s left behind after the exuberant colors of summer fade.
A successful garden should maintain its splendor through all seasons, and incorporating fall bloomers with perennials and grasses that remain graceful long after they’ve past is an excellent strategy to add sophistication to your garden. Here are some ideas for a stunning fall garden.
Herbaceous Plants for Structure
Using herbaceous plants for structure may seem an odd concept to some home gardeners. Many herbaceous plants look haggard once they’ve past their prime and are chopped back, often leaving holes in the garden. But some plants have cell structures rigid enough to endure after the frosts have come, leaving their form and architecture in our gardens.
Perennials like the pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida ‘Hula Dancer’) and rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium) boast an awesome flower show earlier in the summer, yet their branching architecture and spent flower heads look exquisite in autumn.
Both plants serve an aesthetic and ecological function as their seeds provide a much-needed resource for birds in our area—it’s not uncommon to find goldfinches fluttering about them late in the year. Though more adapted to poor and dry soils, these plants will grow happily in the home garden, creating interest throughout the season.
For the more adventurous gardener, we suggest Korean angelica (Angelica gigas). Also known as the purple parsnip, this stately biennial sports regal purple stems and flower umbels (think umbrella ribs) to create a dramatic presence. Best planted as very young transplants in full sun to light shade in medium to dry soils. Not for the faint of heart, this plant may require some work for the home gardener, but the effort is worth it for a sculptural display like few others.
Grasses for Texture and Warmth
An iconic image for this season is the American prairie, in all its autumnal glory. While most of us don’t have the expansive space to create our own meadows, we can draw inspiration from their textures and color by including a few garden-worthy grasses in our own gardens.
Pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is a warm-season perennial grass known for the pink, cloud-like appearance of its flowers come autumn. This dreamy look is due to thinly branched inflorescences that mature from the bottom up. Muhly grass boasts handsome foliage that’s bright green in summer, exhibiting hues of bronze later in the season.
Hardy, drought tolerant and able to thrive in versatile conditions, this low maintenance grass is perfect for a variety of garden situations. Best in full sun, use Muhly grass as either an accent, en masse or pair it with perennials such as coneflower or rattlesnake master for an ethereal effect that lasts through the winter.
The annual ruby grass (Melinus nerviglumis) is a useful plant for gardeners who want the beauty and effect of a perennial grass without the investment. Compact in stature, ruby grass features gorgeous, feathery pink plumage atop blue-green foliage that turns red in the fall. This grass appreciates good drainage, making it perfect for containers or well-tended bedding schemes. Pairs perfectly with asters, mums and other fall bloomers. Currently underused but growing in popularity, ruby grass should be at the top of your garden shopping list.
Due to their growing popularity, ornamental grasses have become widely available. Many, like switchgrass (Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’) and little bluestem (Schizachyrum scoparium ‘Standing Ovation’), provide spectacular fall interest and come in a wide selection of cultivars to match any garden’s needs. Consult your local garden professional for recommendations based on your taste and your garden’s growing conditions.
With new cultivars arriving every season, you are bound to find the right one for your garden.
Fall Bloomers for Added Color
Readers may want to refer to County Lines’ October 2013 article “Gardening for Fall Color and Beyond” as an excellent and enduring resource for fall color in the garden. We’d be remiss, though, if we didn’t add a few recommendations of our own.
Recently awarded 2016’s Plant of the Year by the Garden Club of America, the aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydon’s Favorite’) is among the most elegant and durable of asters for our area. With a graceful mounding habit, Raydon’s lavender blue flowers lend a cooler tone than the warm purples found in other asters, while providing important nectar for late season pollinators.
The prostrate blue violet (Viola walteri ‘Silver Gem’) is a recent Mt. Cuba introduction suitable for those cooler, shadier spots in your garden. Not to be confused with the Johnny jump-ups of the past, this Appalachian native selection boasts attractive, mounding silver foliage and a display of lavender flowers in Spring which return again in autumn as the temperature cools.
Adam Edward Dooling, currently an intern at Chanticleer, is a past recipient of Longwood Gardens’ TRIAD Fellowship and trained in gardens throughout England, Japan and America.
Chanticleer has been called the most romantic, imaginative and exciting public garden in America. It’s a garden of pleasure and learning, relaxing yet filled with ideas to take home. The garden will close Oct. 29th and reopen again next Spring. Visit at 786 Church Rd., Wayne. ChanticleerGarden.org.