Last week I encouraged folks to add more fragrance to their late summer gardens. This week I want to feature a few ‘odd’ plants that will really punch up the novelty level of your garden and improve your colour from now until the frost arrives.
I’ll never forget the stunning display of blue caryopteris I saw edging a long pergola at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. The sunshine that day intensified the blue of these remarkable, seldom-seen, long-blooming plants. Most varieties grow about a metre tall, are hardy to zone 5, are very drought tolerant and attract pollinators. ‘Beyond Midnight’ has small, glossy, green foliage, and the award-winning ‘Lil’ Miss Sunshine’ has striking yellow foliage that contrasts beautifully with its blue flowers.
Few people have ever heard of the chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) let alone enjoyed its attractive appearance in a summer and fall garden. Vitex ‘Blue Diddley’, with its long blue flower spikes that resemble annual salvia, looks more like a perennial than a shrub. Growing one to 1.5 metres tall and wide, it has long leaves that resemble an aralia or fatsia, is hardy to zone 5b and 6 and is pollinator friendly. Surrounding vitex with white PeeGee hydrangeas or yellow rudbeckias would make a beautiful contribution to autumn.
I have a good friend in Portland who is crazy about crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica). He raves about these magnificent bloomers with their bright, vibrant, continuous colour from August into fall. In Portland, temperatures are a bit warmer than in the Lower Mainland. Our challenge has been finding a location hot enough to bring on crape myrtle’s flowers earlier so we can enjoy them in our summer gardens. In the past, a few garden stores brought in California varieties to be used for a summer show, but they needed indoor protection in winter. Today, however, a couple of varieties offer great promise for areas rated zone 6 or higher. Growing one to 1.5 metres tall and wide, the ‘Rikki Tikki’ series of reds and pinks bud up earlier and are in flower now.
Dr. Mike Uchneat, the ‘inventor’ of Wave petunias and ‘Dragon Wing’ begonias, may have hit another home run with the ‘Infinitini’ series of crape myrtle. It is a more compact series that grows half a metre to 1.2 metres tall and wide, is hardy to zone 6 and was bred for both earlier blooming and container growing. Most local growers have been reluctant to play with them because they have experienced too much winter dieback with container-grown crape myrtle, even with some winter protection. These newer varieties, however, offer real potential as heat and drought tolerant plants for summer patios. Watch for them to become available in your local garden stores.
Along B.C.’s South Coast, Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, the Chinese fringe flower (Loropetalum), rated zone 7b, is a ‘must have’. For the rest of us who enjoy warm summers, it’s a fantastic tender perennial that flowers with spidery, witch hazel-like blooms. Growing 1.5 to two metres tall and wide, most varieties have rich purple or burgundy foliage and hot pink or red flowers that smother the plant. Although they’ve been around for many years, a new series, called L. ‘Jazz Hands’ offers the most continuously flowering varieties to date. They perform well in containers and make beautiful patio pots on hot, sunny decks. Stay tuned for future developments of this unique family of heat and drought tolerant power bloomers.
The fast-growing Himalayan honeysuckle (Leycesteria formosa) is one of my all-time favourite late summer bloomers. Rated zone 6 and growing two metres, it sports small white flowers on distinctive purple bracts which hang about 15 centimetres from the tips of each branch. These unique bracts form berries that are much appreciated by birds. The berries start out green, turn red, then transition to purplish-black, creating quite a striking display. The newer varieties are much more compact, growing to a metre, and have other interesting features, like L.f. ‘Jealousy’ with its attractive yellow foliage. During cold winters, leycesterias can often freeze to the ground, but they will reappear in early May. These unique perennials turn heads.
If you are looking for extended colour for a fall garden, I think we’ve found it. Along with late fall blooming asters and Japanese anemones, the 60-centimetre tall, vibrant yellow helianthus ‘Autumn Gold’ fits beautifully in the very late colour range. A few years ago, Darwin Plants in Holland introduced this late bloomer into the Canadian market, and it’s a real treat to enjoy the fresh colour it contributes to a November landscape. A zone 5 plant, it truly pushes into winter. I also like the fact that its spiky green foliage always looks fresh and clean — that alone is a nice feature.
Whether you truly have a passion for gardening or just want to add fresh interest at a time of year when our gardens are losing a lot of colour, these unique plants will fill in nicely. You may have to do some searching, but they are all very worthwhile.