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The fall garden: Ending the season on a high note

As the evenings begin to cool, there’s a sinking feeling that your colorful summer garden will soon slip into dormancy. With a little planning, the fall garden can be anything but dull. Choose grasses, fall-blooming perennials, long-blooming annuals and deciduous shrubs with dramatic color to take you further in the gardening season.

When planning your garden, think about late-season bloomers that will perform into winter. Aster x frikartii ‘Monch,’ Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ are a few perennials that give color and structure to the fall garden. Ever-blooming annuals like Zinnia elegans ‘Aztec Orange’ offer long-lasting vibrant color, and Impatiens can last until the first frost of December.

Take advantage of fading foliage to add spark to the garden. The rosy leaves and flower heads of Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Sike’s Dwarf’ and Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Leuchtfeuer’ will soon be coming into their own. For even more drama, an under planting of the chartreuse Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) will take these colorful partners deep into winter.

Grasses create masses of soft color and texture in the fall garden. The seed heads of the delicate Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ and Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ are two examples. The cool blue of Helictotrichon sempervirens Blue Oat Grass contrasts beautifully with many of the warmer colors of the fall garden.

Remember that combining textures can create interest in any season and especially the fall. The bold Coneflowers of Echinacea purpurea, blended with the fine-leaved Euphorbia characias wulfenii are great, long-lasting companions.

Look for plants with berries and seed heads that are at their fullest in the fall –they not only add color and interest, but also provide food for overwintering birds. Two outstanding examples for berries are Viburnum trilobum and Viburnum opulus.

Acers, queens of the fall garden, are much loved for their brilliant autumn foliage. Acer ‘Emperor One’ is the improved Acer palmatum and a colorful standout until the last leaves fall. For the smaller garden, try Acer p. ‘Crimson Queen’ with its cut leaves that turn scarlet in the fall. For shades of gold, try Acer ‘Dissectum,’ a smaller shrub with finely cut leaves. One more standout is Acer ‘Sangu-kaku,’ Coral Bark Maple. Its green leaves turn bright red in the fall and are beautiful against its signature coral bark.

There are some real treats for the fall garden that provide a wonderful grand finale. The vine Clematis terniflora produces masses of fragrant white flowers in late summer and fall. For a real showstopper, try Euonymus alatus with its impressive autumn display of flaming red.

For more ideas for the fall garden, visit the local Association of Professional Landscape Designers at or drop by your local nursery, which should now be selling plants with fall color. Pick a few of the above and make them the stars of your autumn garden.

Laurie Callaway, a certified member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, practices in the Bay Area. She is a regular contributor to HGTV’s “Curb Appeal” and conducts tours of English gardens each June. For more information, visit or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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