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Late bloomers

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date

But thy eternal summer shall not fade ”

— William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 18,” c. 1591

The first line of Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18” is one of the most famous openings in all of literature: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The Bard answers his own question as he goes on to explain why a summer’s day cannot out rival the poem’s “more lovely and more temperate” recipient. Indeed, as Virgil wrote 16 centuries before Shakespeare, “Love conquers all things.”

Still, summer days are quite lovely, and I miss the vibrant color in the garden when the early summer blooms have faded. Usually by this time, I have to stop relying on my flowering plants to provide pizazz and must wait impatiently for the maple leaves to turn red and gold in the fall.

Fortunately, however, I recently had a chance to visit Italio Gardens in Medford, owned by retired nurseryman Baldassare Mineo. His two-acre botanical paradise is filled with trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials that flower in every season. I asked Baldassare to share five of his favorite late summer-to-fall-blooming plants and here are his selections. (Read more about Italio Gardens in the Fall 2019 edition of Distinctively Northwest magazine.)

1. Hardy begonia (Begonia grandis ssp. evansiana) – Unlike the more familiar annual begonias, which are often grown as bedding and house plants, the perennial B. grandis, native to China, Japan and Malaysia, will overwinter outdoors down to USDA Hardiness Zone 7 if mulched with straw or shredded leaves. The most striking feature of the plant is its heart-shaped, olive-green leaves with vivid red veins and stems. Midsummer through frost, hardy begonias produce clusters of one-inch pink (or white for ‘Alba’ cultivars) pendant flowers with a light fragrance and nectar that attract bees and butterflies.

Hardy begonias have a clumping habit, growing up to 2 feet tall and wide. The tuberous roots can be dug up and propagated through cuttings. The plant also energetically self-sows by producing bulbils on leaf axils that eventually drop off and naturally add new plants to the garden.

Plant B. grandis in well-draining soil with compost, and keep the soil moist but not wet. The plant will keep its deep foliage color and bloom more profusely if grown in a shady spot with protection from the wind. B. grandis will tolerate a bit of sun, but the leaves will turn lighter green and the bloom period will be shorter.

Deadhead spent flowers to prolong blooming. Frost will kill off the above-ground parts of the plant, but be patient. Come late next spring, new growth will emerge and then the show will begin all over again.

2. New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Alma Potschke’) - This easy-maintenance (but not easily pronounced) perennial was recently reclassified to a different genus, along with other North American native asters such as the bushy New York aster (S. novae-belgii) that I grow in my garden. The ‘Alma Potschke’ cultivar produces a mass of daisy-shaped flowers that are up to 2 inches in diameter and glow bright pink from late summer until frost. Bees, hummingbirds and butterflies find these asters irresistible.

Plant in a sunny location in moist, well-draining soil with compost and ‘Alma Potschke’ will grow up to 3 feet tall and wide. Once established, the plants are somewhat heat and drought tolerant; another plus is that deer and rabbits tend to avoid the flowers and the dark green, hairy foliage. Be sure the plants have adequate air circulation; otherwise, powdery mildew can become a problem.

Mid-June, cut back the plant halfway to encourage sturdier stems. Once it begins flowering in late summer, pinch off the spent flowers to encourage more blooming. Mulch around the root zone after frost sets in to protect against root rot during wet winters. In the spring when new growth emerges is the best time to divide asters, making sure each division has plenty of roots and new shoots to transplant.

3. Daphne (D. xtransatlantica ‘Blafra’ or ‘Eternal Fragance’) – This semi-evergreen hybrid is more compact than other daphne shrubs, growing to 3 feet tall and wide. The intensely fragrant white to blush-pink flowers first bloom in the spring, and then a happy daphne will bloom on and off until frost.

Some gardeners insist that daphnes are hard to keep appeased, but others say the trick is to plant them in mounded earth raised slightly above ground level to protect against crown rot. They like rich sandy loams with good drainage and neutral (6.0) pH; add lime if your garden soil is acidic.

Plant daphnes in partial shade with protection from the wind, and add mulch around the root zone. Daphnes are slow to establish and don’t tolerate disturbance well; however, once they’re settled into a location they like, they will delight gardeners, bees and butterflies (but deer not so much) during many months of the year.

4. California fuchsia (Epilobium, formerly Zauschneria) – There are many hardy fuchsias to choose from; however, the California fuchsia is closely related in name and flower shape only. This deciduous woody perennial, native to dry western regions of North America, was recently reclassified to a different genus, causing some confusion in the garden world.

Despite the moniker uncertainty, however, California fuchsias are a colorful addition to the pollinator garden; in fact, one of their common names is the hummingbird flower. The funnel-shaped flowers range in color from bright pink to orangey; one of the most striking cultivars is the low-growing E. septentrionale ‘Select Mattole’ with silvery foliage and bright red flowers.

Choose from cultivars that grow into shrubs as tall as 3 feet or others that form 6-inch-high mats. Most California fuchsias are happiest in full sun and sandy, well-draining soil. They are drought tolerant once established; however, some cultivars like ‘Select Mattole’ prefer a bit more shade and moisture.

Epilobiums spread by underground rhizomes, which can be divided in the fall. Cuttings can also be propagated by taking stems that include several leaves from the growing tip. Some gardeners recommend cutting California fuchsias back to a few inches above ground to overwinter; others say leaving the wood intact adds protection and stability.

5. Tall sedums (Sedum spectabile hybrids) - Most people think of sedums as stone-hugging plants for the rock garden, but there are many colorful sedum varieties that grow up to 3 feet. Tall sedums have fleshy succulent leaves and sturdy stems with dense, flat-topped flowerheads that are at their most colorful in late summer.

Although ‘Autumn Joy’ is the most common tall sedum, new hybrids offer a wider range of flower and foliage color. For example, S. ‘Thunderhead’ has bronze foliage and bright pink flowerheads; S. ‘Dark Magic’ has deep burgundy foliage and rose-pink flowerheads. There are also several tall sedums that have variegated leaves.

Plant tall sedums in a sunny location in well-draining soil with compost. They will produce more flowers if the soil is kept moist but not wet. Even after the flowers fade in the winter, the plants add architectural interest in the winter. Be sure to mulch in the winter to help prevent root rot. Propagate tall sedums through division or 3-inch stem cuttings.

See all of these late-summer-to-fall-blooming plants, and many more at Italio Gardens, open from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays at 2825 Cummings Lane in Medford. For more information, email Baldassare Mineo at italio@hotmail.com.

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, visit her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/ and check out her podcasts and videos at https://mailtribune.com/podcasts/the-literary-gardener.

Baldassare Mineo points out the unique seed pod of a golden rain tree at his two-acre botanical garden in Medford. Photo by Rhonda Nowak
Baldassare Mineo shows off some of his late bloomers at Italio Gardens in Medford. Mineo opens the garden to other plant lovers from 9 a.m. to noon Saturdays. Photo by Rhonda Nowak