Plants - Perennials

Inspiring fall plant combos

With a bit of planning and serendipity, you can enjoy perennial harmony and synchronized blooms

I love to linger in my garden near two special shrub-and-perennial- plant combinations because they are so harmonious. The first is a Pink Diamond hydrangea that, by autumn, holds its prominent pink panicles behind the chartreuse foliage and scented blue flowers of ‘Worcester Gold' bluebeard.

The second combination is more commanding in size, and stands by my front walk for all to see-a splendid ‘Red Jade' weeping crabapple, heavily spangled with clusters of crimson fruit (which don't fall off during the summer and are eaten by robins in autumn), paired with the white-petalled, golden-eyed ‘Honorine Jobert' Japanese anemone that grows up and through the crab's cascading, scarlet berries.

There is a particularly satisfying autumn scene in a shady corner of my garden. Here, the primordial beauty of orchid-like (but utterly reliable and trouble-free) toad lilies-my favourite is Tricyrtis hirta, which has white petals sprinkled with dark purple dots-adds spice to the graceful yellow wax-bells, with handsome maple leaf-like foliage held horizontally beneath extended dark green stems of pendulous yellow bells. The third partner is the late-blooming 'White Pearl' snakeroot, which provides a vertical contrast to the spreading clumps of the toad lily and yellow wax-bells. Snakeroot is part of the bugbane family, all of which have tall, wiry wands of fuzzy, cream-coloured flowers. These plants are well worth collecting, as they provide a long season of bloom and are happy in moist woodland soil and light shade. Most gardeners are familiar with black snakeroot, the July-blooming family aristocrat with the largest leaves and flowers in the genus. The American bugbane, with a distinctly more woodland character, flowers from August into September. Late-blooming Cimicifuga simplex hybrids, such as 'Brunette' (with deep bronze leaves) and 'Hillside Black Beauty' (with nearly black foliage), flower in October. Both of these bugbanes have ornamental foliage that's an asset in any grouping, scented with a wild honey-like perfume.

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