August can be a misunderstood month. As gardeners we put our energy into fighting back weeds and thinking about next year’s garden, and often miss the rich variety of flowering plants that the late season has to offer. Garden centers will tell you that most people shop for plants in the spring, and they reach for the plants that are blooming, passing over late season bloomers. That may help explain why so many of these plants are less used in our gardens. I reached out to several professionals and one homeowner to ask what August plants they love. Here are some of their underrated favorites:
Vernonia: A genus with many species, this is without hesitation the favorite of Julia and Duncan Brine of GardenLarge. Some Vernonia are towering and some are short, but they have an intense purple flower that contrasts vividly with other late summer colors. They like moist soil but adapt well to dry areas, and they reseed themselves. Their common name is Ironweed, and they are also deer resistant.
Clethra Alnifolia, one of my favorite shrubs, is on Pete Muroski’s (Native Landscapes) list. The highly fragrant Clethra has white or pink torch-like blooms and tends to be more compact than most shrubs, ranging in size at maturity from three feet to (less commonly) seven feet, depending on the variety. It’s flexible, too, thriving in either wet or dry soil in part sun or part shade. The common name is Sweet Pepperbush or Summersweet.
Japanese Anemone is on DeeDee Waruch’s (Claire’s Garden Center) list. It’s a delicate, late summer blooming perennial and can continue blooming for six to eight weeks, adding a splash of color in white and shades of pink to the late summer garden.
Joe Pye Weed is at the top of Ruth Clausen’s list. Ruth is author of 50 Beautiful Deer Resistant Plants (Timber Press) and is also a founding member of the fledgling Delaware Botanic Garden. She mentioned there is a brand new variety called “Joe White” that is about seven to eight feet tall and has white flowers. It’s hard to find now, but will be available in the future. For now, the tried and true Joe Pye Weed is a great addition to the August garden.
Lobelia or Cardinal Flower is a favorite of Kathy and Stan Scherer, whose Pawling garden is open to the public once a year as part of the Open Days program of The Garden Conservancy in Garrison, NY. It’s a native and self seeds, so there’s lots of it around, and it’s not fussy. Dahlias, which grow on tubers that, in our climate, need to be dug up and stored in the winter, add a charge to Kathy’s late summer landscape too. For a yellow flower, she loves her Helianthus, commonly known as Sunflower, available in both annual and perennial varieties.
Caryopteris is a compact shrub with silvery leaves and blue blossoms that attracts butterflies and bees. It’s a favorite in my August garden. So is Aesculus Parvifola, commonly known as Bottlebrush Buckeye. I planted cuttings from the Scherer’s garden last year and they’re blooming this year.
More August favorites from the Pros:
Eurybia Macrophylla (Big-Leaved Aster), Solidago Caesia (Wreath Goldenrod), Veronicastrum Virginicum “Fascination” (Culvers Root), Heptacodium Miconioides (Seven Sons Plant).
Native Landscapes: Shrubs: Potentilla, Hibiscus, and Baccharis. Perennials: Phlox, Helenium, Lobelia, Verbena, Aster and Agastache.
Claire’s Garden Center: Crepe Myrtle, Echinacea, Ligularia, Rudbeckia, Montauk Daisy, “Limelight” Hydrangea. Perennial grasses (Zebra, Calamgrastus, and all Pennesetum grasses).
Ruth Clausen: Allium Tuberosa (Garlic Chives), Blue Mistflower (Hardy Ageratum), Ajania Pacifica “Silver and gold,” Hydrangea “Little Lime,” Sedum Matron, Perovska (Russian Sage).
Dorian Winslow is the owner of Womanswork, Pawling NY, (Womanswork.com). Email your gardening questions and comments to DWinslow@Womanswork.com