hey, big boys: 3 easy tall perennials

joe-pye-weedWHILE ALL AROUND THEM ARE LOSING THEIR HEADS, the tallest perennials in the garden are just coming into their own.  No need for cutbacks; these big boys of the late-summer and autumn garden are pleasingly fresh looking, a striking counterpoint to some earlier stars who are plum tuckered out by now.

I used to grow Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium purpureum (above), in the back row of mixed borders with much smaller perennials. Eventually I relegated all these super-tall types to a bed of their own, where they could shine together instead of be the only bright light in beds with foreground companions who had seen better days, the sometimes-unavoidably tattered heroes of spring and early summer.

tall-rudbeckiaOne other resident of the big bed is Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ (I also see it listed various places as ‘Herbstonne,’ see comment from Yvonne after the post) or autumn sun coneflower (photo above). It gets to about 8 feet, with a wonderful linear quality and a graceful sway in every breeze.

Both of these attract butterflies, and seem to bloom forever (forever being from late July here through September), and both are technically native Americans, though the Rudbeckia isn’t from this neck of the woods.

big-miscanthusThe tallest herbaceous plant I grow, an Asian import, joins them:  Miscanthus giganteus, which soars to more than 10 feet and this year, with all the rain, looks inclined to reach a baker’s dozen. That’s one clump of it at the back of a section of the border (above).

None of these is a fancy plant (or probably unfamiliar to you, either). These are workhorses, requiring only an annual cleanup to remove faded parts eventually, and I appreciate them as such. The big bed serves to block the view of my compost heap and an extra vegetable-growing patch where asparagus and peas and such are tucked away, so I recommend the tallest perennials as a seasonal screen as well.

The bed is positioned to have the afternoon sun at its back, which means it runs roughly north-south and the far side is to the west. In high summer through fall and even into winter, in the case of the big grass, the sunset view’s divine.

Speaking of divine views: Any handsome, easygoing big guys in view at your place that I might want to meet?  If so, give me their numbers, please.

  1. Country gardener says:

    Hi Margaret: Those plants are some of my favorites of the season too. I believe it is Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’, not “Herbstonne”. The German “Herbst” means fall, and “sonne” sun. What I love most about this plant and the Eupatoriums is that unlike some tall plants they don’t need staking.


  2. margaret says:

    Great suggestions, Sylvia. And yes, Yvonne, I am confused on how to spell the damn thing…half the sources I have say the one, half the other. Even the Brooklyn Botanic Garden site has two articles on the plant, each with a different spelling. Here, and again here. Talking about something getting lost in translation.

    So I will amend the post to say that! Thanks.

  3. ChzPlz says:

    My tall easy favorite is Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera). Mine are currently about 8′ tall.


    Yes, I know they can be invasive especially in wet areas, but my postage stamp yard is well fenced, there are no rivers or wetlands anywhere near my urban area, and I haven’t seen any escapees in my neighbour’s yards in the 3 yrs I’ve been growing them. I’m currently using them to break up a large expanse of fence until my newly planted perennial climbers get established.

    They’re an annual but I’ve simply harvested and planted a couple of seeds each fall, and they have reliably grown each time.

    Note that they have an extremely shallow root system, so they’re good for rocky soils and can be easily yanked if they sprout in the wrong place.

    I’m in zone 5a in Ottawa, Canada.

  4. diana says:

    I love Joe Pye weed. It doesn’t get as tall here (CO) due to our semi-arid climate but I was recently in SW Virginia and the Joe Pye weed growing along the Blue Ridge Parkway was amazing, probably 8 feet tall!

    The big boys in my garden right now are Maximilian sunflowers (H. maximiliana) and the annual, Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate (P. orientale). Last summer I used the Kiss-Me to form an allay between two community garden plots, it was stunning and the kids loved it.

  5. Ted says:

    The bigger the better as far as I’m concerned. Those are some great plants.

    I also love Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’, some where in the neightborhood of 8 feet, with pale lemony daisies. New to me this year is annual grass Pennisetum ‘Princess’. It’s well over 6 feet with upright arching purple foliage. It’s really stealing the show right now.

  6. Donna says:

    You’re giving me ideas . . . Great ones, for screening along a fence-next year’s project! One of my favorites, although this might be in the mid-height range, is Rudbeckia Triloba, with its somewhat delicate small blooms on wiry stems. I love it, and allow it to seed and jump where it may. My best grass that would bring in a red to the border is Shenandoah, a panicum, growing to about 5 feet, and holds upright for the winter. Looking forward to next year!

  7. Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening says:

    Have the Joe Pye weed growing wild and sunflowers planted by the chipmunks. Seneca Hill Perennials sells (or sold in the past) a giant veronicastrum, and some other giant things.

  8. margaret says:

    @Kathy: Thanks for visiting last week and for the wonderful story you did about my garden. I can’t get the chipmunks here to do any work; sounds like you have them trained better than I do. I used to have Veronicastrum (Culver’s root) and also a giant Vernonia (ironweed)…now where the heck did those big boys run off to?

  9. Brian G. says:

    I LOVE that Rudbeckia. I inherited a patch of the standard black eyed susan that self sows all over the place but I had no idea there was a variety that would grow so high. Is it also a biennial like other varieties?

  10. margaret says:

    @BrianG: No, it’s a perennial, and decidedly so. Loomis Creek has it normally if you don’t see it elsewhere locally (and you are “just up the road,” or so I imagine).

    I think VtGatos would like to incite a riot here (tee hee…love your comment) but I will attempt to act in a manner my Grandma would approve of. Or maybe not. But after all, we are in mixed company!

  11. SandDuneDigger says:

    I am currently planning just such a bed as you describe … and also have a miscanthus screen of my veggie bed. The plants I’m thinking of using for this purpose (a border that goes from full sun to part shade):

    -joe pye weed
    -macleaya cordata
    -cephalaria (looks like a giant, lemon-yellow scabiosa)

    Other plants (annuals) I’ve seen used for screening purposes are: Mexican sunflower and thickly-planted nicotiana sylvestris.

    Photos of your garden always do my heart good!

  12. vtgatos says:

    *sigh* Alas, Margaret, the handsome easy going big boys around here are, for the most part, dumber than a box of rocks.

    oops…did I say that?

  13. margaret says:

    Welcome, Craig, and thanks for the link to your Olympian plants. And yes, of course: Inula! A great one, good thing you reminded us. Not sure why I don’t have it here; again, I think it once was but, hmmm…what in heavens happened to the Inula? Come back soon.

  14. Tina zone 5b says:

    Must add Vernonia novaboracensis, New York Ironweed, to the list of handsome big boys for late summer. Planted along with Rudbeckia ‘Herbstsonne’ creates a tall handsome couple indeed! My grasses are shining at this time, swaying in the late summer breeze, Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’, Molinia caerulea…truly magical.

  15. margaret says:

    Welcome, Tina. Lots of good grasses over there, and great flowering perennials, too. Thank you for sharing (and stopping by). See you soon again.

  16. Dooryarder says:

    I’m a sucker for tall plants that look great in a breeze. One of my favorites is the the plume poppy (Macleaya cordata). I learned the hard way to relegate it to a bed of its own. Some say it’s a curse, invasive as it is. I admire it anyway – and don’t hesitate to confine it to a bed of its own with a lawnmowver.

  17. denden8148 says:

    i found some joe pye weed growing wild in a field about 5 miles from my house. i’d like to bring some to my yard. any suggestions on transporting/transplanting w/ minimum shock? is there an optimum time to do this?
    zone 5
    lagrangeville, ny

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Denden. I would wait till bloom is done (or fall) and cut down the stalks to make the move easiest on the plants. Even better, early spring.

  18. Kathy says:

    Hi Margaret,
    A fabulous ‘big girl’ is Eupatorium maculatum ‘Bartered Bride’
    white Joe Pye weed which is 8 feet tall in our garden.
    Londonderry, NH

    1. margaret says:

      Yes, those are goodies, aren’t they, Kathy. Thanks for the reminder. I used to have so much Joe Pye and not so much now…might need to repopulate!

  19. Kathi metzger says:

    I like verbena bonariensis. Tall but see through. It can be a prolific self seeder. The extras are easy to weed out

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