Admittedly, there is no month in the garden that I do not look forward to. Each has its special flavour, part of the routine passage of time marked with reassuring beauty each year, a reminder that life is truly beautiful.
In my area, August greets us with cooler nights that are a welcome relief from July’s intensity. The first hints of fall (inevitably long and gorgeous) unfold in one or two eager, brilliant leaves on the burning bush outside the sunroom where we sit for meals. The relaxed, floppy, full-blown heads of various hydrangeas nod their reliable approval over the frothy tops of Sedum, “Autumn Joy” which is soon to add its sultry pinky-browns to the mix, entertaining until frost. Rain falls more regularly so that it’s easier to keep things beautiful. Ahhhh . . . !
Friends begin to get in touch as the annual school routine is imminent. Books must be purchased, supplies are in stores, the luscious September issues are on newsstands and plant sales are on! It’s the perfect time to tweak the garden to make it even more lovely.
If you are considering a tweak or two to add seasonal flavour at this time, or are creating a garden to enjoy through all the seasons, here is a list of my favourite August garden superstars, plants which just “make” the garden at this time of year and have the most to offer:
1. Dwarf Burning bush Lets start with the “bones” of the garden. Warmth and colour are the name of the game in an Ontario fall. This utter sweetheart turns one or two almost fuschia coloured red leaves in August to mark the waning of the sun’s summer strength. It is a part of the whole, spectacular coloured leaf show that eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S. are famous for, and I cannot imagine a garden in this area that does not play up this special local character.
2. Hydrangea Paniculata cultivars Traditional shrubs with a cottage garden flair, but equally appropriate in a modern or nature-inspired setting, these fill the roles that lilacs played in the spring garden. Massed along a wall or along the front of a Muskoka cottage, underplanted with Hosta Albo-Marginata, or brightening the edge of a tree-line, they are at their most classic.
“Pee Gee” Hydrangea comes out white in late July and gradually turns a soft pink, then smokey brownish-pink as summer ends, somehow knowing just which shade to wear any given week to best complement what else is in bloom at that time. It’s beautiful near Sedum, “Autumn Joy”, Heuchera, “Palace Purple” or “Chocolate Ruffles”, and Japanese Anemone, just because of the compatible colours.
I also recommend Annabelle (huge, white flower heads), Hydrangea Paniculata “Pink Diamond” with a similar colour progression to Pee Gee, and “Limelight”, with chartreuse-toned flowers that will accent virtually anything. Unlike other Hydrangea cultivars, Paniculata varieties are entirely hardy and easy care. This is of particular importance to Zone 5 gardeners (north of Toronto and elsewhere).
Three bonus features of Hydrangeas: Stunning cut flowers; easy to dry for year-round bouquets; and last but not least you can leave the spent flowers on the shrubs for pretty winter interest and enjoy their rustling sound for months. The perfect plant? Perhaps.
3. Echinacea, Coneflower Having begun blooming in July, August is,
nonetheless, the month when this dramatic perennial takes centre stage. Keep deadheading and it will delight you until a hard frost hits. The traditional form, Echinacea Purpurea, Purple Coneflower, is a staple of August-September gardens alongside Rudbeckia Goldsturm, Black-Eyed Susan, and the various tall grasses, and imparts a “meadow garden” flavour. However, there are many new varieties covering a range of colour schemes. Of these, my favourite is Echinacea “Sundown”, Big Sky Sundown Coneflower, a unique bricky-peach that stays clear of orange. Can’t wait to see it blooming alongside Russian Sage.
A special bonus with this plant is that it is one of the few things that thrive under a Black Walnut tree, so if you have one of these to contend with, this is the plant to get your fall flowers with.
4. Peroviskia Atriplicifolia, Russian Sage
Russian Sage is another long-flowering late summer
bloomer that will get you through until frost puts an end to its show. Even after frost, its mauvey-blue spikes will dry out and provide shape. I cut mine back in spring due to my preference for all possible winter interest.
5. Sedum, “Autumn Joy” In a duel with Hydrangea for the title of “perfect plant”, this one has year-round appeal. With exquisite, fleshy foliage and texture that flatters any plant it’s near, it grows slowly throughout the spring and summer. By July it has frothy, light green flower buds and at some stage of August it begins to bloom a smoky, pinky-burgundy. The unique flat shape of the flower heads and their texture added to that of the leaves are delightful, and blend perfectly with the reds and dusty pinks so typical of late summer. You can put them in bouquets right into October (how many other garden flowers can you do that with?) and then leave the entire perennial for its strong shape as a winter landscape feature. Cut back when growth begins in spring.
6. Japanese Anemone This late bloomer has just begun flowering on tall stems with pale, pinky, delicate buttercup-shaped flowers. You can plant them toward the front or back in your garden. Near the front, the foliage will make a nice edge for the flower border; near the back you can just enjoy the pretty flowers waving above the contrasting shapes of sedums and other mid-height plants.
It’s another smokey-pink plant that will complement the particular drama of the other fall colours right through until a hard frost.
Great features of this plant also include its ability to thrive in dry shade (hear that, Blue Spruce that stunts everything else by robbing moisture from the soil?) and provide a lush, leafy ground cover until its bloom season.
7. Buddleia, Butterfly Bush This special plant also has a unique form, and lovely indigo flower spikes (depending on the variety). Plant it where you can see it well, because not only does it attract butterflies, but it’s a favourite of hummingbirds as well. The entertainment is constant and blossoms will continue to grow provided you diligently clip off faded flower spikes to the two small buds on either side of their base. This plant appreciates regular fertilizer more than most!
Add seasonal drama to your garden with these spectacular, easy care favourites and you will enhance your pleasure in late summer through fall for years to come.