Later-ish summer perennials that go on flowering and flowering are a bonus for the gardener and for the wildlife feeding and foraging in our green spaces. The light begins to change a we head towards Autumn and the golden hues are embellished by the shift in light quality. Richer, a bit more saturated, a touch glowier. Sometime these plants are left standing for winter interest. Sometimes the foul wet and wind just flattens them black and soggy and all thoughts of frosty morning highlights are gone as they are hauled to the compost for another year. It’s hard to chose only 7 plants, let’s not even think about cultivars, and then of course there are the grasses which I’ve completely ignored in this post…
Hellenium or in common parlance Sneezeweed, what a terrible name but likely quite apt. given it’s leaves used to be the main component in snuff. The 39 or so species originating in various places throughout North and South America and Canada. Favorite cultivars for the UK include H.Sahin’s Early, H.Moerheim Beauty and H.Ruby Tuesday. They like moist feet and a sunny top. Cutting back flowers in June creates a second flush in September/October.
Rudbeckia with it’s striking daisy like flowers smothering sturdy deep green foliage. Usually a rich yellow and opening late summer. It dies well and often lasts a winter in vertical position. Popular with birds supplementing diets in winter.
Perovskia or Russian Sage hass strongly scented foliage and stems. Pale evergrey, feathery foliage mounds erupt into well branched spires of tiny blue flowers. Though potentially evergrey I cut it back in British winters to stop it flopping the following year. Shorter cultivars are sturdier, P. ‘Little Spire’ for example. I grow P.Blue Spire which on my windswept plot grows more compact (to about 700mm in flower) and rarely needs staking. Great as a cut flower bringing scent into the house and lasts well.
Clouds of deep pink Eupatorium maculatum Atropurpureum or Joe Pye Weed are a delight. Oddly fussy about position. I had expected them as prairie type plants to be a bit more robust but it turns out they need time to settle and bulk up in challenging conditions. They need good water supply and don’ thrive if starved of it. That said once it gets going its huge (terminal) cluster of tiny tubular flowers are very popular with the wildlife. It provides a great backdrop for shorter perennials and divides well too. Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ is another wonderful but completely different family member, shorter, smaller flowers and of course deep rich chocaltey maroon foliage!
Fennel, Foeniculum vulagre , not the edible root kind though the foliage can be used as a herb. Tall branching, feathery leaved spikes weave their way up to about 2m producing wide flat umbel heads of pale yellow flowers. LOVED by hoverflies and other nectar lovers. Another excellent cut flower for the house bringing a delicious aniseedy scent with it. I grow most of my bronze Fennel from seed but a friend pulled out a few self seeded plants from her garden, literally, and they have taken root and thrived in no time. Leave some flower heads to produce and ripen seed for culinary use. Note it’s a shameless self seeder, which is all to the good in my book.
Echinacea purpurea or Purple Cone Flower used to come in one or two colours, Pink and White basically. Now it comes in all imaginable hues from white through yellow and orange to deepest pinky reds. E White Swan and E. Magus are personal favorites and robust as anything. I’ve grown quite a few other named cultivars but most have behaved like annuals and snuffed it after the first winter. Another one that takes it’s time to get going and needs a good supply of water to thrive in it’s early day. LOATHES standing in the wet through winter though. Beautiful flowers from budding through to death. Looks great with short mingled spires – here with Digitalis ferruginea.
Veronicastrum virginicum. It took me a while to warm to this one so many fasciate at flowering and look mutilated but after growing V.Album and V.Fascination I am converted. Sturdy multi branching foliage, from the base, Tall spires of tiny flowers open from the base. Much loved by wildlife. It flowers long and dies well. I leave mine up until early spring if I can, cutting back to the base before new growth begins in Late spring.