By Linda Askey
Autumn is a time of revival for gardens and gardeners alike. The humidity is gone, leaving the sky blue and the light bright. Annuals either are tired and ready to be pulled out or they have renewed vigor. With a little cleanup I give the garden another season of looking good. Best of all it's a time when I enjoy being out there.
I like to plant fall greens in the voids left by dead and dying summer annuals. There are two I always rely on. 'Brazen Brass' red mustard blends with any color, and it adds height to garden beds, growing into a 24-in vase of bronze foliage. 'Simpson Elite' lettuce is a brilliant lime green that injects the garden with fresh energy. Any flowers blooming nearby have more punch in the company of this lettuce, planted in a sweep of five or more plants.
Two groups of plants that always seem to improve in the cooler days of autumn are roses and salvias. I always grow an old-fashioned rose called 'The Fairy'. Rather than producing big buds on upright stems, it grows into a nice, 3- to 4-ft mound, with nickel-size scentless pink blooms in clusters all over the plant. The reason I love this rose is it takes zero care. I don't cut off the dead blooms. If I forget to prune or fertilize, it finds a way to prosper. Also I never spray for diseases.
In summer 'The Fairy' is the palest pink, almost white, but in autumn its blooms are vivid pink, as they are in spring. Underplanting with a sun-loving groundcover of purple heart (Setcreasea pallida) gives that area of the garden a finished appearance.
The salvias are groups of annual and perennial plants that are as tough as plants can be in the hot summer. Most bloom right through the most stressful weather, but in fall their flowers are bigger, and their colors deeper. My favorites for all-season flowers are scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea), Texas sage (S. greggii) and blue anise sage (S. guaranitica).
Other salvias wait until fall to bloom. These include pineapple sage (S. elegans), Limelight Mexican sage (S. mexicana 'Limelight') and Mexican bush sage (S. leucantha). No matter how much I enjoy plants that bloom all season, I like the anticipation I feel for fall bloomers.
Combining these flowering salvias with fall greens, such as mustard and lettuce, or kale and Swiss chard gives the fall garden plenty of color to be the season's finale.