fall planting: 21 powerhouse perennials i’d order

Molly the Witch peonyI SPENT PART OF THE HOLIDAY WEEKEND ADMIRING the bush clover, Lespedeza thunbergii (the purple cloud in my previous post), and another chunk of time making a list of other plants I really appreciate, each in its own moment, like the species peony Paeonia mlokosewitschii (above). I hope your holiday weekend was a happy one, and that it included some gardening, some delicious harvest bounty—and that you still have energy left for a little garden planning…and maybe some room for just one or two more perennials? Twenty-one perennial plants I’d order if I didn’t already have them (a list you would have had yesterday if you subscribed to my weekly email newsletter, hint, hint):

LESPEDEZA THUNBERGII: A 6-by-6 fountain of late-summer into fall purple glory. Easy, too.

HAKONECHLOA ‘ALL GOLD’: The Japanese forest grass turns my shady garden areas golden tones from May into winter.

HELLEBORE HYBRIDS: Dry shade? No problem. Forgiving, beautiful, extra-early blooming perennials with evergreen foliage to boot.

SEDUM ‘MATRONA’: Maybe my favorite of the taller sedums, all blue-green and pinkish in that sedum-y way.

GERANIUM PHAEUM ‘SAMOBOR’: Perennial geraniums are a must; this one’s perhaps the mustest, showy and cooperative.

Lathyrus vernus, purple form

LATHYRUS VERNUS: A little perennial pea of early spring (above) that’s delicate and durable; one of my springtime staples.

HOSTA ‘SAGAE’ and ‘JUNE’: If I could only have two hostas (egads!), I guess these would be the ones.

ASTILBOIDES TABULARIS: “What’s that big-leaved plant?” garden visitors always say of this shade standout.

ANGELICA GIGAS: A biennial beauty of mid- to late-summer, its 5-foot-tall, wine-colored umbels really shout. I know, I said perennials, but can’t live without this.

DICENTRA ‘GOLD HEART’: I love bleeding hearts (what intricate flowers!) but this gold-leaf one is the best of all.

2 SPECIES PEONIES: ‘Molly the Witch’ (top photo) and her friend P. veitchii are spring shade-garden surprises, subtle and gorgeous.

2 COLORFUL FERNS: The Japanese painted and the Autumn fern (above) are better than any flower, fronds-down.

4 TOUGH GROUNDCOVERS: My staples for where nothing wants to grow, and I don’t want to weed. Dry shade, here they come.

EUPHORBIA PALUSTRIS: A standout among the spurges (of which I have oodles), tall and golden and impressive.

MY ONLY MUM, ‘WILL’S WONDERFUL’: Any list of perennials created in fall has to include a mum, right? This bawdy maniac is my one and only.

  1. Chef Gwen says:

    I wish my mom was still here to soak up your garden wisdom. She was fantastic gardener, but she would have loved learning new things from you. Love reading your blog. Reminds me of her. Thank you.

    1. Margaret says:

      @The Inadvertent Farmer: Are you referring to (gross) banana slugs? I frankly cannot believe the ones I have seen in the PNW, where so many good friends garden. Sci-fi style slugs, really. Ugh.

  2. Jennifer Capala says:

    It was such a treat visiting your garden this spring….what a change from when I first saw it published quite a few years ago in Martha. The small zen pond was my favorite. Above you mentioned 4 tough ground covers…what are they?

    Jen from Spencertown friend of Paige Orloff

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Jennifer (friend to Paige). They are the link in the piece above (4 TOUGH GROUNDCOVERS…) that takes you to epimedium, Geranium macrorrhizum, Trachystemon and hellebores. All the green capital letters (or any green letters on the blog of any kind, headline or body text…) are clickable. Takes a little getting used to, sorry. But I hate the underline of some linked text, too messy here for me. :)

  3. Wendy says:

    Wonderful weekend….two days out of three spent in the gardens….HEAVEN! Plus a trip to the garden center, oh joy! I adopted several Blanet Flowers–Burgundy and Frenzy, a white Phlox, and some Irish Molly violas. That makes up for having to pull all but two petunias from my flower boxes because some hoard of tiny white beasts ate them all alive :-(

  4. Karen says:

    I love ‘Samobor’ too — even as a container plant. This year I tried pairing it in a half whiskey barrel with an ivy geranium called ‘Black Magic’ and am quite happy with the results.

  5. Nancy says:

    I enjoyed your list and will definitely check out some of the plants–this week I saw a great one, but I have not been able to find it anywhere. It was large (maybe 30 x 24) and had very dark/black burgundy foliage with large, bright yellow, dark-centered blooms–single, I think, with roundish petals–about 3 to 4 inches across. The stems of the flowers stuck up/out from the foliage, so some of them were viewed against the leaves and some against the building. It was in a barrel with a bunch of other plants, but it was clearly the dominant, focal character.
    Any idea what that was? This is zone 4 or 5 (coastal, eastern Maine). Thanks…

  6. I love reading this, it is a great reminder that we have so much to look forward to next summer. I was up in Litchfield this weekend and loved looking at the beautiful gardens. No planting in nyc of course, but lots of fun observation.

  7. Deirdre says:

    Hey, don’t dis the banana slugs! They’re native, and they only eat decaying vegetation, not live plants. It’s the invasive, alien slugs you’ve got to kill on sight.

    1. Margaret says:

      @Deirdre: Fascinating. If anything looks like it’s a nonnative (as in FROM MARS) it’s a banana slug. Don’t you love nature? Thanks for the education. :)

    1. Margaret says:

      @Deirdre: Trust me, I didn’t pay $100 or anything near to that. Seneca Hill had it for FAR less, and will again in 2011. They have some other real beauties; young, affordable plants (but not too young). I grew all mine from such babies, and some from seed from a friend.

  8. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    After gardening OH TOO many years, I have come to the conclusion that the only plants to have in the garden are the ones that don’t produce to many seeds, and GET FAT and STAY in place, NO runners any more, for me. (unless they are quarantined to special places). My list includes all the asiatic, oriental, and day lilies, large sedum, like autumn joy, lady’s mantle, peonys, the Knock- Out roses (no dusting, or spraying, just constant blooming), goat’s beard, japanese iris, astilbe, queen of the praire, heuchera, cimicifuga racemosa, chocolate euphorbia, rudbeckias that grow 18″ to 2 feet tall, thalictrums, hostas (ones with white on their leaves can grow in full sun), achillea, and for bushes… endless summer hydrangea, golden string, or thread cypress, and wegelia wine and roses. (There are more, but this is all I can think of right now). You pick the colors, NONE of what I have just listed is to exotic, but are all GOOD stand-bys. Let’s face it, it is NOT how exotic, or special a plant is, it is how it is presented in the garden. One word of caution, if a plant has a square shaped stem, it could be a relative of the MINT plant. They have a tendancy to be runners, bee balm “monarda” is part of that family.

  9. Frances says:

    Oh Fred, Could I have 5 of all the plants you mentioned?
    I have Goat’s beard but I also have a plant almost exactly like it…. but even nicer!!!!! bought it in Zema’s in Stephentown……must call them for the name.
    And with the plants a 1/2 acre would be nice….

  10. CB says:

    Margaret, thank you for all of your informative and wonderful emails. I followed you with Martha and always loved your projects that you did for her. So Congratulations on your success in your endeavor. You have nailed it. I will continue to follow you and your talents. So keep those emails coming.

    I just want to add a ditty : I think fall is the most beautiful season of the year. Pictures like yours I could look at for hours….there are so many different colors depending on which part of the pics you are looking at ! KUDOS !

    PS Just an FYI : I have Roach’s on my maternal side of my family. My great grandmother was a Roach and she and her sister were twins. They lived long healthy lives. That would be my wish for you, too ! Happy Fall to ALL !
    Toodles !

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, CB, with such a lovely message, thank you. Glad to have you here with us, and funny about the “Roach connection.” I don’t know any relatives beyond my sister, but I always wonder…must be some somewhere. :)

  11. Terryk says:

    Margaret, I’m not sure you know but Seneca Hills has closed up the mail order business and may only be doing some bulk shipments. Her husband’s health needs her attention and she writes a letter to all on her home page (all that is up now).

    I’m heart broken, as although I did not personally know her, I feel for her and her husband.

    If you should come accross a Molly the Witch that does not cost $100. can you post? I had always meant to order it, now, I don’t know if I will be able to.

    1. Margaret says:

      @Terryk: I am appreciative for your passing along the news, though very sad, and I just wrote her a note. I will keep an eye out for the peony. The trouble is it’s very slow from seed (sometimes doesn’t germinate until a second year, I believe, and mustn’t dry out all the while) so not exactly an easy, cheap thing to produce in numbers.

  12. Terryk says:

    “The trouble is it’s very slow from seed (sometimes doesn’t germinate until a second year, I believe, and mustn’t dry out all the while) so not exactly an easy, cheap thing to produce in numbers.”

    I know I have tried to grow peony from seed (among a zillion other things!) and did not have success.

  13. Suzanne shaffer says:

    Margaret: how about agapanthus? mine has thin green sword like leaves all summer since the beautiful purple flowers stopped….is this the perrenial?should I winter it in the house sun or no? My astilboides is doing nicely purchased on you advice looking forward to next spring to see the new growth.
    Want to plant daffodils goal….a breathtaking patch like you have but I will wait until it’s colder right?
    Hope Jack is on the mend soon

  14. Cory Rytterager says:

    Margaret, I just moved from sunny Los Angeles to rainy Bainbridge Island (a 35 minute ferry ride from Seattle). Any suggestions for roses up here in soggy Washington?

    Thank you, and your recent book was a delight to read.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Cory. Glad you enjoyed the book. I recall that a few sites I’ve been to have recommendations for your area, including North Coast Gardening, the Seattle Times, but my very favorite for your area: Great Plant Picks. (Search for rose in the search box and you will get a bunch.) That site is *so* helpful for all kinds of PNW things. Enjoy!

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