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posted: 9/24/2013 1:00 AM

Art in the garden: Dependable perennials extend the color in fall landscapes

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  • The ruby red foliage of bergenia shines in the shade garden.

    The ruby red foliage of bergenia shines in the shade garden.

By Diana Stoll
The Planterís Palette

If you want to add more autumnal colors to your landscape but don't have enough space for an Autumn Blaze maple, plant perennials that boast showy fall foliage color as temperatures cool.

Amsonia tabernaemontana, commonly called willow leaf amsonia, is a generous-sized selection. After its steel blue flower clusters charm the garden in early summer and its willow-like leaves remain fresh and attractive all summer, the foliage of willow leaf amsonia glows a gorgeous golden yellow in fall.

Looking more like a shrub than a perennial, it grows up to 3 feet tall and wide. Its best show of flowers and foliage is achieved in full sun and well-drained soil.

Another blue-flowering perennial that sports outstanding fall color is leadwort. Botanically known as Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, its gentian blue flowers are set off by the bronze-scarlet foliage.

This perennial is often planted as a ground cover or short filler in the garden. It is late to emerge in spring, so take care not to disturb its roots or accidentally dig it up during spring clean up. Leadwort benefits from an extra blanket of mulch over winter.

Most gardeners appreciate their perennial geraniums throughout the summer for their long-blooming flowers. But in fall, some types put on a striking display when their foliage turns combinations of orange and red.

This group of plants, commonly referred to as cranebills, is adaptable to a wide variety of growing conditions including light shade. They are often used as fillers knitting other plants together into a lovely perennial tapestry.

G. sanguineum, G. himalayense, and G. dalmaticum are types of perennial geraniums with intense orange and red fall color.

The shiny, cabbage-like foliage of bergenia is why most gardeners choose this perennial for the front of their shady border. Its broad leaves contrast nicely with fine-leaved companions like astilbes or ferns. It also has showy flower clusters lifted by stout stems early in spring. Fall color could be another when dazzling bronzy-red leaves create a carpet of color that often lasts well into winter.

Purple wintercreeper, botanically named Euonymus 'Coloratus' is a vigorous ground cover that traverses large areas in sun or shade. It is useful to cover spaces under trees or along banks. Its dark evergreen foliage turns to fall shades of reddish purple.

The strong lines of ornamental grasses are accentuated in the fall when their foliage puts on their autumnal hues. While many grasses turn a warm tawny shade complementing drying seed heads of coneflowers and sedum, some types of maiden grass dazzle with color. November Sunset turns yellow and orange; Purpurescens glows purple-red.

Some native grasses put on a show -- the foliage of switchgrass turns golden yellow; the leaves of prairie dropseed change to orange-red; and the foliage of purple love grass turns red.

Even if your yard is a space challenged, you can have a landscape filled with fall color. Choose carefully and enjoy the show!

• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette, 28W571 Roosevelt Road, Winfield. Call (630) 293-1040, ext. 2, or visit

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