Steele: Season for colourful flowers, vibrant ornamental grasses

Some plants make autumn gardens extra special with their colour and appeal.

I love the garden in autumn. Here are some plants that make it so special.

Caryopteris (blue mist shrub) is a wonderful low-water shrub. Covered in tiny blue flowers from August to frost, it’s a favourite of pollinators.

C. ‘Dark Knight’ has the deepest blue flowers to complement the silver leaves of this compact 5×5-foot shrub.

Sulphur yellow blooms of the native rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosus) brightened our dry grasslands from mid August to late September. With silver, needle-like foliage, it’s outstanding all season and a great addition to dry, sunny gardens.

Another great dry garden performer is Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’. An easy plant to grow and propagate, it has excellent glaucous foliage all season.

Buds begin green in early August, opening pink, deepening to red and going rust in October.

I wait until spring to cut them down as they look wonderful in frost and snow.

The many varieties of tall annual sunflowers and red amaranth are really spectacular until frost and provide winter seeds for birds.

Japanese anemones have attractive mounds of maple-like leaves and produce masses of fall bloom even in a fairly shaded garden.

Anemone ‘Robustissima’, the drought tolerant variety, has pink flowers and a vigorous habit. Dry conditions and lean soil slow its growth.

Although not drought hardy, the following sun-loving perennials will grow with moderate to low water:

Fall is synonymous with chrysanthemums. There are many variations in height, colour and bloom time from mid summer through to late fall. We often get frost before the late varieties can bloom.

Fall asters are in their glory in September, however they only bloom for about three weeks so I prefer to grow Aster frikartii.

It has masses of yellow-centred blue daisies from July to frost and does not require dead-heading.

Another July to frost bloomer is Gaillardia ‘Burgundy.’ Its deep-red daisies provide a vivid contrast to almost any other colour. It needs dead-heading for repeat bloom.

Equally long-blooming, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’, provides a golden show and the prominent black seed heads look great in winter, and feed birds.

The more drought tolerant Rudbeckia hirta varieties are grown as annuals but always re-seed abundantly in my garden, blooming from July to frost.

My favourite ornamental grasses are the fall blooming Panicum virgatum varieties, Miscanthus varieties and Saccharum ravennae. The golden seed heads of June blooming Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster and Deschampsia ‘Goldtau’ compliment the fall garden.

Visit Stuart Park, on Kelowna’s downtown waterfront, to see some mass plantings of grasses.

Ornamental grasses are low maintenance and combine well with mass plantings of some of the above mentioned perennials.

To find out more, join me on Saturday for a class on easy maintenance gardening with ornamental frasses, from 1 to 3 p.m., at Kinsmen Fieldhouse. Cost is $20 (barcode: 126042). Register online at or call 250-469-8800.

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