Planting gardens to fall for


Fall gardening has its own pleasures. You can divide perennials, plant spring bulbs, weed and mulch your shrubs and flower beds -- all of which makes it feel like tidy up and batten down time.

But while the bloom may be off some of the roses, many perennials, shrubs, trees and grasses have their best day in autumn.

You may still have some annuals left over from summer, but, as Robert A. Schultz, owner of the Robert A. Schultz Co., Nature Sanctuary and Nursery on Blue Mount Road in Monkton, points out, now the garden has a different look. "In the fall, the garden tends to relax a bit. Everything's not so crisp. The late blooming perennials that were a few inches high in June are full grown and likely to be falling over a bit. Remember they've been through a lot over the summer -- heat, thunderstorms, insects, drought."

The perennials that bloom in autumn can be much more than the chrysanthemum (of which there are more than 150 species) and aster, although both are staples. Martha Simon Pindale, at Bluemont (wholesale) Nursery in Monkton, suggests two chrysanthemums, nipponicum, and the low-growing C. W. "White Bomb," which are white and daisy-like and bloom in October. She says the most dependable chrysanthemum is the koreanum, which comes in pink and apricot, and the most dependable aster the 2-foot tall blue fritikartii Monch; it blooms all summer through October.

Another good one is "Purple Dome," ranging from dwarf to 6 feet tall. Kathy Betz, at Kurt Bluemel Inc. in Baldwin, suggests the unusual and low chrysanthemum pacificum, which has silvery leaves and blooms with yellow flowers in the fall. Mr. Schultz reminds us not to overlook the goldenrod, "especially the Oriental cultivars, which range from dwarf to 6 feet." (They don't make you sneeze; that's ragweed.) He also suggests two native sunflowers, willow leaf and swamp sunflower, both of which bloom through October, and the brilliant blue salvia azurea grandiflora.

Landscape experts suggest plant material that repeats the reds and golds of the eastern hardwoods that put on such a show, or some of the pinks, lavenders and whites which contrast well with the foliage. Ms. Pindale suggests heuchera vilosa, a white autumn coral bell. She and others also like Japanese anemones, which can be tall or short and come in pink, rose or white. Boltonia, which grows up to 3 feet, is also gaining popularity. A cousin of asters, it comes in pink or white and blooms into October.

Landscape designer Nan Paternotte says autumn pastel flowers often have yellow centers and thus reflect some of the yellowing foliage, such as the poplars and fruit trees. In a small garden, she likes the crocus-like colchicum and succulent sedums, especially the long lasting "Autumn Joy," which is a deep, rusty rose. It's excellent in dried bouquets.

The ornamental grasses range from dwarf to over 6 feet tall, can be native, European or Oriental and won't break down until after a few snows. You should cut the tall ones back in February. Ms. Betz suggests miscanthus purperascens, which is 4 to 5 feet and turns red as fall comes, or silver spike grass (spodiopogon), also tall, which becomes red-tipped. The miscanthus grasses, originally from Japan, develop plumes this time of year. A new small miscanthus is Abagio, about 3 feet and mounded; it has silver plumes while the fountain grasses have black ones.

Interesting trees include the fast-growing ginkgo, whose pretty fan-shaped leaf turns yellow; black gum, whose fall foliage is scarlet; and sourwood, which blooms in the summer and then has maroon fall leaves. Perhaps the ultimate fall tree is the Franklinia, which blooms with white flowers and has berries, all in October.

And don't forget autumn shrubs, such as Caryopteris, which has blue flowers, winged euonymous, whose foliage turns scarlet, or beautyberry, which has jillions of lavender berries that hang on until December. And there is gaultheria, also called creeping wintergreen, and aronia (red chokeberry); both have red berries now.

So don't settle indoors just yet. As Mr. Schultz says, "Gardening is a lot of phases; this is the perfect chance to blend some horticultural plants with what nature has given us."

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