Unusual Plants for the Autumn Garden

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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.

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