Extend the color in your garden
Although frost, cold temperatures and the growing season's end have already caused most of the flowers in my garden to fade, there are a few cold-tolerant perennials still blooming. I'm always amazed that this small handful of stalwart plants continues to flower in my garden, sometimes as late as Thanksgiving. There's no reason you can't have a colorful garden well into the fall.
I've written about asters, boltonia, goldenrod and other late-blooming perennials in previous columns, but I'd like to introduce you to a few super late-bloomers that will fill your Western Pennsylvania garden with color longer than any other plants out there.
• Monkshood (Aconitum species) bears glossy, green leaves and tall, upright stems. Flowers are born in groups on the ends of the stems, with some cultivars flowering later in the season than others. All parts of this plant are poisonous, so don't plant it if curious pets or toddlers frequent your garden. Flowers can be blue, purple, white, yellow or cream, depending on the cultivar. Many selections grow so tall that staking might be necessary as the plant grows. Mine are just beginning to flower in late October. Monkshood looks beautiful when combined with fall-blooming anemones like ‘September Charm' and ‘Honorine Jobert.' Monkshood grows in full to partial shade.
• Toad lilies (Tricyrtis species) are stunning and unusual flowers. With cultivars that range in height from 1 to 4 feet, toad lilies bear inch-wide blooms in pink, white and purple with various splotches and markings on the petals. My toad lilies (T. hirta) were given to me by a gardener in Arkansas, and they begin to bloom in mid-October. They are 3 feet in height and have lavender flowers with dark-purple markings. One interesting cultivar, called ‘Lightning Strike,' has gold leaves edged in dark green and bears lavender flowers at each leaf node. Toad lilies prefer full to partial sun.
• Montauk daisies (Nipponanthemum nipponicum) have been in full bloom in my garden as late as Christmas. The flowers of the Montauk daisy have white petals with bright-yellow centers and look much like the blooms of the summer-flowering Shasta daisy. The foliage of Montauk daisies, however, is a bit more succulent and leathery and can reach a good 3 feet in height. The flowers are frost-tolerant and can withstand extremely cold temperatures. The only real maintenance this plant needs is a heavy pinching in early summer to keep its growth compact and delay the flowering (much like a chrysanthemum). In early June, simply use a pair of sharp pruners or your fingers to remove the top third to half of each stem. Plant Montauk daisies in full sun where they'll thrive even in drought conditions.
• Yellow bleeding heart (Corydalis lutea) has fern-like, bluish-green foliage with clusters of small, yellow flowers that rise up out of the foliage. This perennial self sows nicely and quickly forms a small colony. Its foliage remains green through many hard frosts and doesn't die back fully until winter has completely set in. It thrives in shade gardens and bears near-continual blooms from early April straight through Thanksgiving in my garden.
Enjoy a long season of bloom in your perennial garden by adding some of these beauties to your beds and borders. All are available at most local, independent garden centers.
Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.