Unusual Plants for the Autumn Garden

– Posted in: What's up/blooming

Who doesn’t love a bargain? You can save a lot of money acquiring plants by growing them from seed or obtaining them as seedlings. Sometimes it’s the only way you can even get the plant, as it’s not common enough to be sold in garden centers. The tradeoff? Those plants will take some time to reach blooming size. Most of the plants I’m about to show you have been growing in my garden for a couple of years, but they’re only now starting to look like something. But all of them are a bit unusual, so if you want to branch out from asters and black-eyed Susans, one of these plants might be just what you’re looking for.

Persicaria amplexicaulis

I got Persicaria amplexicaulis as a seedling three years ago at a rock garden society plant sale.

Last year I think it had just one flower stalk, but this year it’s starting to make a statement. Mountain Fleece is one of the plants that Piet Oudolf has popularized in his meadow/prairie-style plantings. I have it growing in the Slope Garden, which I consider Oudolf-esque in design.
Sanguisorba tenuifoilia Purpurea

Also in the Slope Garden are several plants of Sanguisorba tenuifolia ex ‘Purpurea’

I grew these from seed that Nan Ondra sent me. This clump (pictured above) is from seed sown five years ago. The seedlings from two years ago didn’t make flowers at all this year, but that may be because they are too shaded by the peonies they are planted behind.
Verbascum roripifolium

I bought two seedlings of Verbascum roripifolium from Odyssey Perennials this year, but only this one bloomed.

Unlike most mulleins, it has a very airy habit. I hope both plants make it through the winter and are even taller and more floriferous next year.

This is an ironweed, but–which one?

I got it as Vernonia glauca (upland or broad-leaved ironweed) for free at a rock garden plant sale three years ago. (You get free plants at a plant sale when you linger until the end, when they give away the plants that didn’t sell.) I accepted this name as valid until I started writing this blog post, and discovered everyone that sells this plant seems to think it’s only hardy to USDA zone 6. Well, they could be wrong–could be no one has tried it in colder winters. (Or could be I haven’t had a zone 5 winter in quite a while.)

Or, it could be the much more common New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis). I’m having trouble figuring this out, because not too many sites show pictures of the leaves, and the flower color varies depending on how long that particular inflorescence has been in bloom. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen New York ironweed “in person.” New York ironweed is supposed to be taller; broad-leaved ironweed presumably has broader leaves. But I have nothing in my experience to compare it to.

Vernonial leaves

Take a look at these leaves: Do they look like New York ironweed or upland ironweed leaves?

Kirengeshoma palmata triplet

Yellow wax bells came from another gardener.

Kirengeshoma palmata flowers hang down like primrose-yellow bells…
Kirengeshoma palmata

…but it’s well worth peeking inside.

This plant likes moist soil and a bit of shade. Online sources describe it as “shrub-like,” but while my plant is four to five feet tall, it’s not very bushy yet. Well, my division from my friend is only three years old.
Actaea Black Negligee

Snakeroot sounds rather threatening, so they gave it the sexy name of ‘Black Negligee’.

Actaea simplex ‘Black Negligee’ departs from the young-and-cheap plants theme of this post, as I got it in 2009. But, it is an unusual, fall-blooming perennial. The flowers smell like grapes warm in the sun, and the dark foliage provides a nice contrast to the green of the yellow wax bells.
Chelone lyonii Hot Lips

Another sexy-name plant: Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’

Somehow the common name of pink turtlehead pales in comparison. You’ve got to admit, those flowers have some zing. This was also shared by a friend. You can see a bit of the yellow wax bells in the background. They like the same moist conditions.
Steeple Jackie daylily

Daylilies aren’t unusual, but Hemerocallis ‘Steeple Jackie’ is unusual for a daylily.

Not only does it bloom in the fall (“late” in daylily parlance, which is autumn for me), but the flowers are both more numerous and smaller. And it’s tall for a daylily, too. I’m looking forward to dividing this and spreading it around my garden once it gets bigger.

I hope you learned of at least one new plant to bring a little variety to your fall garden. And if you already grow some (or all) of these, tell me what you like about them.

Inspired by the words of Elizabeth Lawrence, “We can have flowers nearly every month of the year,” Carol of May Dreams Gardens started Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. On the 15th of every month, garden bloggers from all over the world publish what is currently blooming in their gardens. Check it out at May Dreams Gardens.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

When dealing with frost it is always best to be paranoid. In the spring never think it is too late for one more frost to come. And in the fall never think it too early.

~Rundy in Frost

Comments on this entry are closed.

Pat Webster www.siteandinsight.com September 26, 2018, 8:05 am

I’m just back from England where I toured gardens for almost three weeks. (Wonderful experience, very tiring, very rewarding.) There were many, many varieties of Sanguisorba and Persicaria. I’d love to find even a fraction of the choice in a garden centre or nursery in Canada. If only the plant selection were wider!

Kathy Purdy September 26, 2018, 8:54 am

As I mentioned in my post, mine were not easy to come by. I needed to attend a members-only plant sale to get the persicaria. It was, essentially, a pass-along plant with a donation to the rock garden society. And I grew the sanguisorba from seed, thanks to Nan Ondra, who occasionally offers seed she has personally collected to the public, and also sells on Etsy. Happily, many perennial seeds respond well to winter sowing, which is about the only method I have patience for.

Maria Janowiak September 22, 2018, 8:16 pm

Have you ever use the fall season to ask for a bargain on plants? I noticed that our local Tractor Supply store has a dozen or so fruit trees outside for sale, and I’m very tempted to walk up as ask if they’d sell them for half price if I bought 5. I’ve also been thinking about reaching out to a local greenhouse owner (from whom I buy starts every year, and I think he’s fond of me) with a similar offer. Have you ever tried anything like that to score end-of-garden-season deals? Love your thoughts!

Kathy Purdy September 22, 2018, 8:53 pm

No, I’ve never tried to bargain, but a friend of mine did and got a good deal. It was a grower that knew her by sight because she came in there so often. However, I walked into a big box store middle of October last year and found all their shrubs 75% off! I did a bit of shopping that day!

Beth @ PlantPostings September 18, 2018, 9:22 pm

Many good ideas here, Kathy! I need to keep your advice in mind, since I’m always more excited about adding new plants in the spring. My attempts to scatter seeds have not been successful here, but I should try planting some perennials in the fall. Lovely photos.

Kathy Purdy September 26, 2018, 8:56 am

Instead of just scattering seeds, you might want to try winter-sowing them. That gives the seeds a little more supervision, while still allowing them to experience the cold of winter, which many perennial seeds need to germinate.

Deborah Banks September 18, 2018, 10:16 am

I think you’ll find that Hot Lips will spread a LOT if it’s happy. Unless you have it in a spot visited by deer; that might keep it in check. In my experience it’s also hard to dig up, but maybe for me that’s because of our rocky ground.

Kathy Purdy September 26, 2018, 8:57 am

I’ll keep my eye on it!

Sylvia Josh September 17, 2018, 6:33 pm

Have you tried Aconite also called Monkshood? Great blue flowers in late fall. I garden in Webster, NY.
My wax bells were not happy this year, perhaps too dry. Love your blog.

Kathy Purdy September 17, 2018, 10:29 pm

Sylvia, a friend gave me some monkshood this spring, and they have buds on them but haven’t bloomed yet. I think Webster is at least one zone warmer than here.

Patricia Evans September 17, 2018, 10:28 am

Hi, Kathy,
I have Yellow Wax Bells and New York Ironweed. I’m in Avon, NY, south of Rochester. I’ll take some pics of the leaves and email them to you. I’m not sure it still has any blooms.

Kathy Purdy September 17, 2018, 10:27 pm

Thanks, Pat. I’d find that helpful.

commonweeder September 17, 2018, 8:48 am

What a beautiful fall garden you have. I did have a snakeroot, but it disappeared. Possibly because my garden is too wet, especially this year.

Kathy Purdy September 17, 2018, 10:26 pm

There’s more than one species of snakeroot, so maybe you should try another? Joe Pye weed likes it pretty wet, too.

Linda from Each Little World September 17, 2018, 8:21 am

Great group of plant suggestions. I have Kirengheshom, Cimicifuga and ‘Steeple Jackie’ and love the way they look now when the rest of my garden is on the downturn.

Kathy Purdy September 17, 2018, 10:25 pm

It’s challenging to have a good-looking garden at this time of year, but so satisfying when you pull it off!

Kathy Larson September 17, 2018, 7:11 am

I grow Kirengeshoma here in Iowa (zone 4).A friend brought a division to a plant auction at our daylily club.It formed a neat clump,adds stems each year like a peony,and it is easy to remove divisions to share.The blooms start in late July,continues till frost.My clump is in full shade under a pin oak,5′ tall,gently arching stems.Makes a good cutflower,too.A great plant!

Kathy Purdy September 17, 2018, 10:24 pm

I’m glad you enjoy it as well!

Lisa at Greenbow September 17, 2018, 7:00 am

These are all fun, beautiful blooms Kathy. I have several of them and I would like each and every one of them. I have looked for that Persicaria but it hasn’t made it to my area yet.

Kathy Purdy September 17, 2018, 10:24 pm

Maybe you should look for it online? Or join the closest chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society! Rock gardeners grow all the best plants!

Lea's Menagerie September 17, 2018, 2:33 am

All beautiful, but it is the Yellow Wax Bells that really catch my eye! And then there is Hot Lips!
Have a wonderful week!

Kathy Purdy September 17, 2018, 10:22 pm

Thank you, Lea! Hope you have a great week, too.