After the summer's heat a change in the weather refreshes gardens and gardeners alike. Summer annuals, which soldier on through the challenges of August, look bright and fresh again in fall. I'm first in line at the garden shop for pansies and mums — and I'm always looking out for cheerful dianthus and other cool-season annuals, But I'm in no hurry to rip out the flowers that stuck with me all summer long. Here are some fall combinations I love:
Marigolds and caryopteris. Marigolds are prolific fall bloomers. One of my favorite combinations is orange marigolds with caryopteris, above, which comes into bloom in September. Caryopteris (sometimes called bluebeard) is a small deciduous shrub grown for its showy blue flowers in fall. It grows to about 3 ft tall and is in perfect scale with marigolds. To encourage marigolds to keep blooming until frost, pinch off spent flowers.
Zinnias and verbena. Showy zinnias number among the most reliable annual flowers, especially if you cut the blooms as they fade. Even better: Snip them for bouquets. By late summer zinnias should be tall enough to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Verbena bonariensis, a perennial grown as an annual in Midwest gardens. Purple verbena flowers — bright tufts on slender stems — drop their seeds and come back next year. You never know where they'll turn up, but they're always welcome in my garden.
Goldenrod and asters. Many native Midwest wildflowers are at their best in fall. The generous blooms of goldenrod (Solidago) look terrific with pink or purple asters, pictured. Both attract butterflies, and goldenrod seeds bring many birds to the garden through the winter. Don't cut back goldenrod until spring.
Cardoons and blue bottles. A lush late-summer garden can teem with interesting combinations. At Powell Gardens in suburban Kansas City I spotted fabulous cardoons, with their long, serrated silver leaves, growing against a handsome stone wall. Cardoons are similar to artichokes but much taller, and Midwest gardeners grow them as annuals for their dramatic foliage. The Powell gardeners placed blue bottles artfully among the cardoon foliage, as though the bottles had sprouted from within the plant clusters. It stopped me in my tracks.
What fall combinations do you recommend? Bookmark this page so we can exchange ideas through the seasons.