Staying Power in the Fall Garden


As fall sets in, grasses and built elements, like this armillary, continue to provide strong interest in the garden

Next week, I leave for eight days in Mexico, and I should be upstairs reviewing my packing list(s). What lenses to take, which to leave behind? Backup external hard drive or my Epson P2000 storage device? What if my tripod goes astray because I have to check it (along with most of my clothes)?

In Mexico, it will be in the 80’s, although cool in the mornings and evenings. But here, it’s truly fall. Most of the gardens I work in (including my own), are starting to pack it in for the season. Ornamental grasses and built elements look as good as ever, but many perennials are fading. Nonetheless, there are two shrubs I’ve seen recently that are either still going strong or just coming into their own. The first is Callicarpa dichotoma, or beautyberry. It looks rather nondescript during most of the growing season, with average-green leaves on arching stems. But just about now, it develops fabulous purple berries all along the branches. They’re spectacular. This is a “cut-back” shrub that will work in either sun or shade, but which produces more fruit the more sun it gets.

Callicarpa 'Issai', beautyberry

Callicarpa's purple fruits are most profuse in sunny sites.

The second late-blooming shrub I can recommend for the fall garden is Lespedeza thunbergii, or bush clover. Like beautyberry, its stems arch over as it starts to bloom in the fall. Here’s ‘Gibraltar,’ planted in a client’s garden simply to soften the edge of an unattractive wooden retaining wall. Give this plant plenty of room! It can grow up to 10′ high in a good site. This one, unlike the beautyberry, won’t work in a shady site. There is a white version (‘Alba’) and a few other cultivars, like ‘Spilt Milk’ (variegated leaves). But at this point in the year, give me color!

Lespedeza 'Gibraltar' in bloom, in late October.

Lespedeza thunbergii

Seen up close, the blooms of Lespedeza reveal this shrub's relationship to the sweet pea family.

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6 Comments on “Staying Power in the Fall Garden”

  1. Cheryl Anne Says:

    I just planted a ‘Gibraltar’ bush clover. It was a total impulse buy at a plant sale a few weeks ago. So now I’m happy to see you recommending it. I hope it likes its new home. The established one I saw at Green Spring is fantastic!

    • Melissa Says:

      I love Green Spring Gardens and they are a great source to find new plants. Saw a great Clethra ‘September Beauty’ there a couple of years and have been searching for it in the wholesale trade ever since. Glad you liked the post, and enjoy the Gibraltar!

  2. gardeningasylum Says:

    Hi Melissa, I’ve got the callicarpa americana, and it’s great this time of year, I agree. I brought back a bush clover from a visit to Tony Avent’s nursery, and the bunnies thought it was lunch! Yours is especially beautiful – lovely photos!

    • Melissa Says:

      Wow, I am so sorry to hear bunnies like bush clover, because the client for whom I planted it has rabbits all over. Maybe they won’t find it since it isn’t near their usual path. What kind did you buy at Tony’s place?

  3. Liz Reed Says:

    Mexico!! fabulous. Have a wonderful time. Can’t wait to see pictures.

    I think our zone (Pittsburgh), doesn’t allow for ‘Gibraltor’, but then thats what I was told when I went into zone denial over Callacarpa, and Callacarpa does fine, even volunteers itself all over the place.

    Good point, that hardscape, sculpture and/or built elements in the garden show through at this time of the year.


    • Melissa Says:

      Give ‘Gibraltar’ a try; it’s supposed to be OK in zones 5-9, which should include Pittsburgh. Interesting to hear that Callicarpa can seed itself (I could do a whole blog post on plants that do that for me!).
      Thanks for the good wishes about Mexico. Still doesn’t seem real.

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