Thomas J. Story
"The fullness of late summer and early fall ought to be one of the richest seasons in the garden," says Mary McBride, a horticulturist at Tom Piergrossi Landscape Nursery in Vista, California.
But - and this is one of McBride's pet peeves - that's when most gardens look their worst. Summer annuals and vegetables are spent; spring-blooming perennials are growing leggy and are in need of cutting back. This time of year, when the weather is often at its most glorious and we're most inclined to linger outdoors at day's end, what do we see? Hardly a flower.
Don't blame it on Mother Nature, chides McBride. Plenty of perennials peak during this period. Their flowers come mostly in colors with character: Golden yellows that stand up to strong sun now, then later in the season burn like embers under gray skies - gloriosa daisies, coreopsis, and goldenrod, for example.
Coppers, rusts, and wine reds that forecast the shades of falling leaves, such as the flowers on Sedum 'Autumn Joy', purple coneflower, or sneezeweed (Helenium) hybrids.
And lots of soulful violet blues - asters, Russian sage, salvias. Colorado garden writer Lauren Springer calls this palette of burnished tones and blues "the colors of autumn in America."
Why don't we see these beauties in more gardens? Call it the catch-22 syndrome. If you saw them, you'd want them. But to see them, you have to visit nurseries now - not next spring.
If you buy and plant some of the perennials listed here this month, you'll get pleasure from them immediately. Then, next year, promises McBride, your garden will be even better: "Plants will be twice the size, so you'll get twice the display."