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Late Summer Gardens
updated: Aug 13, 2011, 10:00 AM

By Renée Beaulieu

Clear, warm days and cool evenings this week gave hints of the autumn that will arrive too soon. But there's still plenty of time to enjoy the garden. If you're not enjoying your garden, this is a good time to figure out possible solutions.

For many of us, the landscape is just plain dull by now. We may have stuffed our yards with spring-blooming shrubs and perennials that were colorful in April and May and are now simply green. It's easy for that to happen - we all tend to shop in early spring and buy plants that are colorful then. The late-bloomers don't usually look like much, so we pass over them. To survive, many garden centers simply stock what they know will sell -- the azaleas, rhododendrons, flowering cherries and crab apples that are so tempting.

August is a good time to visit public gardens and botanical gardens to get some ideas for late-season interest. There's more than you might guess. Annuals such as petunias, of course, still look good if they've been watered and fertilized. Dahlias are producing their prodigious blooms. Cannas are drawing hummingbirds to their intricate blooms. Morning glories have covered their supports and are starting to bud.

With their graceful, rustling leaves, ornamental grasses are earning their space this month. By far, the perennial members of the vast daisy clan are the stars right now: Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan), Echinacea (Coneflowers), Shasta Daisies, Coreopsis, Heliopsis (False Sunflower) and Helianthus (true Sunflower).

Add in a few shrubs: Hydrangea, shrub roses, Buddleia (butterfly bush), with dark-leaved Weigela and Cotinus (smokebush) for accent. What's not to love?

Still to come: Asters and hardy mums, the small, colorful perennial daisies of fall for the garden's swan song.

August is also a good time to check out nurseries. Look carefully at the stock - which roses still look gorgeous, and which have miserable, spotty foliage? Even if you don't want to buy now, take careful notes (and photos with your phone) so you'll know what to purchase when you are ready to buy. Perennials and grasses that were unassuming tufts of green three months ago may be growing and blooming vigorously.

Many of these later bloomers are big, bold plants that require some space. Even a handful can make a statement.

Cornell University has published a very helpful booklet, available for free as a pdf. Called "Sequence of Bloom of Perennials, Biennials, and Bulbs," it will help you find plants that bloom during months when your garden is dull. Online edition found here

Fallscaping: Extending your Garden Season into Autumn, by Nancy Ondra and Stephanie Cohen, with delectable photos by Rob Cardillo, is an inspiring compilation of specific ideas for livening your landscape without resorting to stuffing cushion mums into every available nook and cranny.

Renée Beaulieu learned years ago to love asters, and spends August visiting the plants and looking for buds

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