October GBBD: A Few Fall Favorites for Flowers

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

The subtle coloring of ‘White Towers’ toad-lily, Tricyrtis latifolia ‘White Towers’, is magical in the fall.  Every photo was taken at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens this fall.

I am linking this post to Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day for October when gardeners around the world show photos of what’s blooming in their gardens (follow the link to see  photographs from other garden bloggers assembled by Carol at May Dreams Gardens).  I am also linking to Gesine’s Bloom Day at Seepferds Garten.  I am located in Bryn Mawr (outside Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, U.S., and zone 6b.

In my last post, A Few Fall Favorites for Foliage and Fruit,  I explained that, inspired by an article about dressing up your fall garden with mums because everything else is finished, I grabbed my camera and headed outside to prove them wrong.  There was so much going on that I divided the plants into three posts: foliage and fruit, flowers, and hostas for fall.  This is part two highlighting flowers.  So here are some of the flowers dressing up my shady gardens right now:

Japanese anemones, Anemone x hybrida, are one of the undisputed stars of my fall garden, growing anywhere from full sun to almost full shade and thriving no matter what the weather.  Clockwise from upper left: ‘Honorine Joubert’, ‘Margarete’, ‘Whirlwind’, ‘Bodnant Burgundy’, ‘September Charm’.

The black plumes of ‘Moudry’ fountain grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry’, glow in the low-angled fall light.  ‘Moudry’ does well in the shade, flowering later and remaining more compact.

I grow about five different varieties of native golden rod, Solidago,  with my current favorite ‘Little Lemon’, growing only 12 to 18″ high.  Contrary to popular belief, goldenrod does not cause allergies as it is pollinated by insects.  Wind pollinated ragweed, which blooms at the same time, is the culprit.

Toad-lilies, Tricyrtis, bloom throughout the fall in full shade with ‘Sinonome’ just getting started now and continuing into November.  Clockwise from upper left: ‘Sinonome’, ‘White Towers’, ‘Miyazaki’, ‘Empress’.

Another plant that is just warming up is Pennsylvania native northern sea oats, Chasmanthium latifolium.  Its foliage will turn orange later in the fall and then dry to a beautiful khaki for the winter.  Be forewarned, however, when this plant reaches critical mass, it starts spreading, and its wiry roots are very difficult to remove.  Give it room and then triple the space you think you need.

Autumn leadwort, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, is one of my favorite groundcovers.  Its true blue flowers start blooming in June and continue through October when its leaves turn bright red.

Pennsylvania native ‘Bluebird’ smooth aster, A. laevis ‘Bluebird’, seeds all around my garden in full sun to part shade.  Butterflies and bees love it.  Please click here to find out why most native cultivars are just as friendly to native fauna as the species.

‘Zebrina’ hollyhock mallow, Malva sylvestris ‘Zebrina’, seems to move around my garden at will, but it never fails to steal the show with its 3 to 4′ stalks loaded with showy flowers.  It grows best in full to part sun.

Fall-blooming hardy cyclamen, Cyclamen hederifolium, is one of the plants I would take to my shady “desert island”.  Right now its pink or white flowers are floating all around my shady gardens.  Later its evergreen leaves will emerge from summer dormancy and look like the photo on the left all winter long.

I am always raving about the foliage of the coral bell cultivars derived from our Pennsylvania native Heuchera villosa.  Well this is the plant that started it all, Heuchera villosa ‘Autumn Bride’.  It has very large and attractive fuzzy green leaves and beautiful flowers that bloom right now–this is the only cultivar I would grow for its flowers (the rest I grow for the leaves).

The cultivar ‘Cory’ of Pennsylvania native hardy ageratum, Eupatorium coelestinum, is far superior to the straight species.  It has more abundant and showier flowers, ornamental purple stems, interesting crinkled leaves, and a much better upright habit.  ‘Cory’ is also a good spreader in sun to part shade so give it room.  Pictured above with another of my favorite Pennsylvania natives, wrinkleleaf goldenrod, Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’.

Hardy begonias, Begonia grandis, have spread all over my garden in full shade, and I have yet to find a place that I don’t want them.  Because they come up very late in May and really just get going in the fall, I use them to fill in between my hostas on my back hill.  

Pennsylvania native Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium dubium, reaches 10′ tall in my garden and flops over in our torrential rains.  The “dwarf” version called ‘Little Joe’ grows to a diminutive 5′ tall and has remained erect through the 30″ of rain we had in August and September to bloom now with its large purple flowers–a magnet for butterflies and bees.

In the spring, a gardener I very much admire brought over this plant, telling me it was a salvia with yellow flowers that grows in full shade and blooms in the fall.  I duly planted it in my shady “yellow garden” and it thrived through heat, drought, and rain with no attention.  It is called woodland sage, Salvia koyamae.

I am just beginning to learn about hydrangeas because until last year there was no point in planting them because of the deer.  One of my first acquisitions after the netting went up was ‘Limelight’, Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’.  The large white flowers aging to pink have been blooming all summer in part shade, and there are still buds coming—very impressive.

If you want a multitude of fall flowers in dry, full shade, you can’t find a better plant than Pennsylvania native blue wood aster, Aster cordifolius.  It fills in all the difficult sites in my woodland and produces a glorious blue haze in the fall.

It is fitting that I should end with my favorite Pennsylvania native perennial for fall, garden phlox, Phlox paniculata.  I love everything about garden phlox: its heavenly fragrance, its long bloom time from early summer through fall, the wealth of colors available, its polite self-sowing, and its attraction to butterflies.  I dream of installing a meadow area and collecting dozens of plants of every phlox cultivar out there!

Of the 17 photos above, 8 picture plants that are native to Pennsylvania and eastern North America.  I believe that planting native plants is crucial to our survival.  Please take the time to read this short essay explaining why.  And Pennsylvania’s native plants really come into their own in the fall eliminating the need for dressing with mums!

Click to enlarge


To read Part 1, A Few Fall Favorites for Foliage and Fruit, click here.  Stay tuned for Part 3, Hostas for Fall.  In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that sadistic botanists have recently changed the botanical names of many of the native plants that I highlighted to completely unpronounceable and unspellable but “botanically proper” names.  At this point, I refuse to follow.

Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.), just click here.

Nursery Happenings: The nursery closes for the year on October 16.

92 Responses to “October GBBD: A Few Fall Favorites for Flowers”

  1. I love, love, love your flowers. I think I have almost all of them as many are native up here in NY as well. Yours are still flowering in your zone but ours are almost done…still they are spectacular. The only mum I have is a pass-s-long from my MIL that I cherish.

    • Donna, Some of these flowers are at the end of their cycle here too, but others are just warming up. I really have nothing against mums because I believe everyone should plant what they want in their own gardens. I just object to the idea that you need to plant fall annuals because your perennials would be done by now. Carolyn

  2. My comment is similar to Donna. Many of the plants you have blooming are finished here. The asters bloom until snow though. Two others that only bloom at this time of year are, Gentiana ‘True Blue’, a hummingbird attractor, but pointless at this time of year, and Big Blue Lily Turf. The lily turf should bloom earlier, but up here, waits to early Fall.

    • Donna, Northern sea oats, ‘Sinonome’ toad-lily, ‘Moudry’, hardy cyclamen, and hollyhock mallow are just getting started. The Japanese anemones, both asters, goldenrod, salvia, Joe Pye, hardy ageratum, and ‘Empress’ toad-lily are in mid-season. The phlox, hardy begonias, ‘Autumn Bride’, and the two remaining toad-lilies are towards the end of their season. I don’t know what to say about ‘Limelight’ hydrangea–it just keeps going and going. Carolyn

  3. Well and truly not all about foliage at this time of year in Carolyns shade garden. Your Tricyrtis are fabulous, and although I cleared our garden of Solidago from our garden 26 years ago (previous owner couldn’t think of anything else to grow) I am very keen to check out Little Lemon’. As for a hardy Begonia, never heard of such a thing, checked already and it looks like it may well be fully hardy over here, however I may well find out that the cool Summer may not bring it on quick enough to flower, lets give it a try though.

  4. What an amazing selection to choose from – where do I start? I think your Toad lilies are beautiful, especially “White Towers” also your Eupatorium and Salvia. Your Begonias are amazing, I take it that they are hardy otherwise they would be bedding like “mums”, can’t believe they will survive a severe winter !! Fantastic selection.

    • Pauline, Yes, the begonias are completely hardy here and, in fact, spread happily everywhere. I really have nothing against bedding/annuals (well they’re not environmentally sustainable…)–I just want to emphasize that it’s not necessary. If you like toad-lilies, I would also recommend the straight species Tricyrtis latifolia which has yellow flowers in June. Carolyn

  5. Catherine Schack Says:

    Are you open tomorrow for a visit. If not, I can visit on this coming Staturday. I am new to the area, and my neighbor just told me about your wonderful nursery. I read your postings and enjoy them very much

  6. Your White Towers Toad lily is gorgeous Carolyn. I have become fond of those little blooms this year. I keep adding to that never ending plant list. LOL!

  7. Carolyn,
    I am curious whether you think Begonia grandis would survive in zone 5 with some cover? And also if you have found any cyclamen that you think are particularly hardy? I planted a few that were supposed to go to zone 5, but they did not make it.

    You have a wonderful selection of plants! (And do such a wonderfully thorough job of putting them together for your posts!) I only hope to be able to come out to see them someday!

    • Julie, Every source that I consulted said that zone 6 was the lowest that Begonia grandis went. You should try it anyway in a warm microclimate in your garden. I never totally trust zone information. The fall-blooming hardy cyclamen, C. hederifolium, is much easier to grow than the spring version, Cyclamen coum, which requires very careful siting. The fall cyclamen grows in zone 5, just make sure it is well-drained. Carolyn

  8. Carolyn a beautiful selection, I don’t much like toad lilies with all the spots but I love white towers, the sea oats look wonderful too, you always give something to think about, Frances

  9. I only have one type of Toad Lily. Yours are exquisite. And every time Joe Pyeweed features in a post, I make a mental note to add it to the garden next year. I’m glad to hear there is a smaller version.

  10. Love your flowers. I also have some of them 🙂 Pretty mosaic! I am looking forward to your Hosta Post!

  11. I have found that ‘Moudry’ does well in shade, sun or anywhere there is a square inch of exposed soil. After I grubbed mine out, it took another three to four years of constant seedling pulling until it was all gone.

    • Les, It always amazes me how plants behave differently in different places. When I took the ornamental grasses course at Longwood Gardens in 1994, I fell in love with and purchased northern sea oats and ‘Moudry’. I planted the sea oats along the edge of a path near my hellebore production beds. I have been fighting it ever since, although I have never tried to remove it completely. It is seeking world domination. I planted the ‘Moudry’ above my raised species hellebore beds, and it has politely spread along the wall where it resides. Although it has had 17 years to become invasive, it has produced about six total plants where I don’t want them. I have read that it can be invasive, and it certainly proved that at your place—buyer beware. Carolyn

  12. That’s a fabulous selection of flowers, Carolyn. No one in your part of the world needs to have a dull autumn garden, that’s for sure.

  13. Carolyn, they are all so stunning! We have Joe Pye here as well, and this year, instead of treating it like a weed, we let it grow along one of the sheds and it really is quite stunning!

    Your toad lilies are stunning! Ours bloomed very early this year and overall, it was a poor showing (weather, I’m sure), and I miss them! We have lots of native wild asters, and the Zebrinas are definitely a favorite of ours as well. (I’ve yet to meet any member of the hollyhock family I didn’t adore.)

    That yellow salvia is amazing! What a find!

    I love your garden “tours”…. but they always make me so envious! I wish I lived closer to you but most of all, I wish we had more shade. Still, you’ve motivated me to really make better use of the shaded areas we DO have!

  14. Your Fall blooms are delightful! Limelight Hydrangeas star in our gardens as does the Autumn Leadwort. I absolutely adore them. While I love the Japanese Anemones, it tends to want o take over in my gardens. It self seeds prolifically. Have to be diligent about removing seed heads.

  15. I always learn about some new plants I like here Carolyn. The hardy begonia is one this time. I will read more about it. And I already love the toad lilies. I just wish they had a cuter name. Shade plants are the best!

  16. That salvia koyamae is SO cool!

  17. Dear Carolyn, Your fall shady garden is amazing! Mine is a disaster — since I’ve been away. I’ve been coveting Joe Pye Weed for some time. I think the shorter one you describe will be perfect for me — just added it to my list. Thank you so much for putting me on your mailing list. P. x

  18. BTW the word verification you dislike on blogger/blogspot is the choice of the one who blogs. I prefer to moderate comments, and bypass word verification.

    • Diana, I wish all bloggers would bypass word verification. It adds another time consuming step to commenting and can get really annoying when you get an 18 letter word that’s written in script. It always makes me feel like it has sensed that I am the criminal type and really needs to screen me :-). Carolyn

  19. I have seen sea oats now and then and have decided to put it on my wish list. I like the texture and think it would be a nice addition to the perennial bed. All of these selections are lovely.

  20. oh Carolyn, I’m laughing at myself right now. There is a reason one should read the tag that comes with the plant. I had no idea ‘Little’ Joe Pye Weed got to be 5 feet tall! I thought it was truly a little plant. It definitely needs to be moved to a different position in the garden next spring.

  21. I always get so many great ideas reading your blog Carolyn. I wish I didn’t know I was moving next year, I’d be searching out Salvia koyamae, holyhock mallow and more phlox. Maybe this time next year…

  22. Some of these plants I already have in my garden, and you have given me more to research and possibly add to the list. I was influenced by other bloggers to plant a group of toad lilies this year, and I was so looking forward to their blooms until my woodland garden’s resident rabbit ate them down to nubs. So far only one bloom has managed to bravely unfurl. I’m glad to see what I am missing! I appreciate your blog as a great resource, as well as tasty eye-candy for inspiration.

  23. You’ve proved your point! Abundant blossoms – I especially like the toad lillies.

  24. Carolyn I couldn’t agree more! Fall is definitely the best season in our climate for gardening. After a long, hot summer and finally a little rain, the garden has sprung to life!

    The sea oats have always captured my attention and heart. Their invasive habits scare me away. I believe someday I will throw caution to the wind though. Those seed heads are hard to resist!

  25. Simply beautiful. It was like a veritable feast for the eyes. The Toad Lilies stole my heart though.

  26. aloha,

    you have such a beautiful collection i love all the fall colors and combinations of plantings.

    thanks for sharing your garden

  27. I have a few of your plants here in my garden though I made the mistake of pulling out my anemone in August while I was re-doing a border makeover. My Limelight hasn’t produced any new flowering buds since the makeover as it too got moved but I too sing that plants praises all of the time. I’ve been told that Hydrangea ‘Phantom’ is just as good – but I’ve no room in my garden to grow it.

  28. How lovely your garden is – all that colour! The toad lilies are very interesting! Thank you for sharing

  29. You have so many lovely blooms for so late in the season! I appreciate all the helpful information as well. I’ve been looking for a groundcover for a small semi-shady area, and will definitely check out the leadwort.

    • Rose, You really can’t go wrong with autumn leadwort. It really doesn’t take up any room but grows politely around the other plants. I just let it keep going and going. Then there are the blue flowers for such a long season and the bright red foliage in fall. Carolyn

  30. Great post and photos as usual! I planted my first Japanese anemone this year–love it! I can’t wait to add more next spring 🙂

  31. It is still very beautiful where you live. My ‘Bluebird’ aster just stopped blooming, but so many are at their height. Mums are usually the last thing in my garden to bloom, but the perennial mums haven’t even started yet.~~Dee

  32. Your posts are very inspiring when planning the part of my garden under a few huge beeches. Thank you!

  33. Beautiful flowers this month and I do love that fountain grass. Your garden is lovely.

  34. Very nice. You have a lot of blooms, and they are all beautiful. Love the sea oats picture. With the light coming through them, they are beautiful. And good to know that the blue wood aster can be so beautiful in such a hard part of the garden – dry shade. Happy GBBD!

  35. It is a lot easier to just rush out and buy a big display of ready-finished mums coming into bloom just in time for frost than it is to plan for late zinnias and blanket flower from seed, or any of the shade lovelies that you showed. My joy is in the growing, not bought-ready pots.

  36. Yay! I was especially excited to visit your shade garden blog this month because I was on the hunt for more photos of toad lilies. They are all so dainty and exotic looking.

    The ‘Zebrina’ hollyhock mallow is really stunning as well. I looked it up to see if it could tolerate my zone, and it seems it can. Are you growing it in full sun?

    Thanks for sharing all the wonderful blooms. Happy bloom day!

    • Jane, I really don’t have any full sun on the whole property but ‘Zebrina’ is in one of my sunnier spots. It just pops up different places so I am not sure whether the same plants comes back every year. It’s beautiful though and just started flowering. Carolyn

  37. The reason I enjoy Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day so much is that I get to see plants that could not live in my climate. I love your toad lilies, espcecially ‘White Towers,’ and I’m not sure if they will grow in my zone 9 climate, but I plan to ask at my local nursery. Thank you for letting me enjoy them vicariously through your post!

  38. They are all so beautiful. I don’t even know where to begin. Love all the blooms and I find the northern sea oats very interesting.

  39. Looking forward to part 3 even tho’ hostas are not my favorite. I can’t get enough of the asters at this time of year.

  40. Wonderful photos, wonderful blossoms. Thanks for the tour.

  41. Your garden makes me want to close my eyes and just smell the air that must waft along the paths.

  42. Your gardens are beautiful with color and I love the Northern sea oats-what a wonderful plant. Your Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry’ is also lovely. So many wonderful plants…I need more room! Always a pleasure visiting you!

  43. So many beautiful flowers. Toad lily is definitely going on my wish list. I was admiring a spotted one on someone else’s bloom day post, but it was the delicate pink and white one at the top of your post that sold me.

  44. Fantastic Carolyn!

    I love Northern sea oats, but am somewhat afraid of all the self-seeding it does. I have a beautiful bouquet of seed heads right now, and am tempted to sprinkle a few in the garden – haven’t taken the plunge yet, not sure if I will, but I sure do love the looks of this grass.

    I feel the same about the way leadwort spreads, but threw caution to the wind and planted some anyway last fall. Hope I’m not sorry later!

  45. Wow! I’m always impressed to see all the plants’ lush appearances in such a different place from me. Like taking a long trip without TSA searches or rental car costs! I have a sister in SE PA (near Reading) and other relatives across the NY-PA line near Bradford (Jamestown NY).

  46. Hi Carolyn, you have wonderful collections of colors. However, I think it is only the asters, hydrangea and begonia which can live with us. However, even that aster does not grow luxuriously, growing only maybe a foot tall and little flowers. Then the shoots at the base replace the older ones, and they fully die in the dry season.

  47. Thanks for all the inspiration! What a beauty your Tower’ toad lily is. And a November blooming one too! I am getting a witch hazel next weekend ‘harvest moon’ to add to the garden and some of your selection would be nice additions to an area that would be fall bloomers. I have to read your part 1 on the fruiting and foliage plants, I have a feeling that I may come home from Broken Arrow Nursery with more shrubs to plant.

  48. What an informative (and beautiful) post! The fall interest in my garden is basically non-existant right now. I’m going bookmark this to use as a reference when I’m buying plants next year.

  49. Very informative post. We have a lot of wild asters growing on the edges of the woods that border our yard, and around the cul de sac, with goldenrod. I learned just this year that goldenrod and ragweed are not the same thing!

    I will have to plant some asters up under a little copse of trees in my backyard so I’ll have some fall interest (beyond the leaves!) up there.

    I like the colors in mums, but hate to have to buy them every year for such a short bloom time! They occasional winter over OK in the garden, but mostly not.

  50. Beautiful post…and THANK YOU for reminding me about the Eupatorium coelestinum! I keep forgetting to add it to my “Must-Find” list of plants for next year…and your pic might just be the best I’ve ever seen of it 🙂

  51. Hi Carolyn,
    I enjoyed seeing all of your lovely blooms. I wish those ageratums were also native here. I liked your post about all those hostas, too. Some of mine are bedraggled because our yellow lab has been digging back there. I was wondering if it was her or another critter, but I caught her in the act the other day.

    Thanks for your comment on my GBBD post. I can’t remember if those reblooming irises were one of those given to me by a neighbor lady, or my daughter-in-law.

  52. Mac_fromAustralia Says:

    Beautiful flowers, and I love the grass and the sea oats.

  53. I live on a mostly shady site in Rochester, NY, so I was thrilled to all the plants featured your GBBD post. Thank you for giving Japanese anemones the fall blooming stardom they so rightly deserve. And I love growing Joe Pye Weed as well – Ever grown chocolate eupatorium? That’s always been one of my fall favorites because of the dark/light contrast. I particularly love the backlighting on all those plants – must’ve been a beautiful day. Can’t wait to read about the hostas!

    • Lisa, Glad you could visit. The hosta post is already up on my blog. White snakeroot, of which ‘Chocolate’ is a cultivar, is incredibly invasive on my property, meaning it pops up in many places where I don’t want it and it’s very hard to remove. I have heard from fellow gardeners that ‘Chocolate’ seeds too, although this must not be universal because you are the second person to recommend it. Carolyn

  54. Belated happy GBBD! There are many interesting plants in this post! I am curious about the Eupatorium coelestinum. When you say it “good spreader” can we assume you mean it quickly makes a nice, good-sized clump or that it can be invasive? (Can you tell that I have been burned too many times!) I like goldenrod a lot and jotted down the name of the variety you recommend.

    • Jennifer, To me invasive means that the plant spreads to places in your garden where you don’t expect it and it is difficult to remove (or there is so much of it that you can’t remove it all). E. coelestinum ‘Cory’ quickly forms a large clump and may exceed the space you have allocated to it, but it doesn’t appear other places and is not difficult to reduce in size. We have been chopping off chunks of it and moving it to other locations. Carolyn

  55. A stunning display! I am always in awe of your garden.
    PS: Thank you for the caring, kind comment you left on my blog. It meant a lot to me. xx

  56. Dear Carolyn,
    you have so many beautiful blooms in your garden, it´s hard to decide which one I like most!!! One of my favourites is the sea oat, it looks really interesting!
    Thank you for joining Blogger Blüten!

  57. Happy Bloom Day, Carolyn! Whenever I visit here, I get such great ideas for the shade areas of the Lot. I was searching for a toad lily partner and think I may try a Cyclamen or woodland sage. Thank you for sharing your garden with us.

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