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As a founding employee of Gardener's Supply, I wore many different hats over the years. Currently, I have my own company called Johnnie Brook Creative. The gardens around my home in Richmond, VT, include a large vegetable garden, seasonal greenhouse, cutting garden, perennial gardens, rock garden, shade garden, berry plantings, lots of container plants and a meadow garden. There's no place I'd rather be than in the garden.
The ultimate perennial garden. It's not difficult to bring that vision to mind. For me, it's a classic English border, with iris, lupine and poppies, that continues blooming right into the fall, with wave after wave of color and form: foxgloves, roses, delphinium, dianthus, hollyhocks, lilies and more.
The truth is, since I don't live in the British Isles or the Pacific Northwest, making that vision a reality in my own garden is all but impossible. Bloom time in most American perennial borders runs from late May through early July—a glorious but short 5 or 6 weeks. By late July, most perennial gardens are past their prime and look pretty dull for the rest of the season.
Fortunately, there are many perennials that bloom in late summer, including coneflower, asters, mums, Russian sage, cimicifuga, sedum, rudbeckia, and phlox. But I've found annuals are the real key to summer-long color.
Unlike many perennials, most annuals thrive in summer's heat and once they get started, will keep blooming right into early fall. With a little planning you can create annual-perennial partnerships that will keep your flower gardens looking terrific for a full 5 or 6 months.
I plant most of the annuals right into my perennial borders in the spring. Others get planted in the cutting garden and get moved over as needed to fill those inevitable holes that occur as the season progresses. You need to choose a rainy day to move these plants, which may already be in flower, but if you soak them well ahead, and keep the root ball intact, they should survive the move just fine.
Matricaria: I can't imagine my garden without this refreshing blast of white. I grow matricaria from seed since I've never found it offered in nurseries.
Mums: Some varieties will overwinter here in zone 4, but I usually treat them as annuals. Plant a couple fist-sized clumps in the spring. By fall each plant will give you dozens of long-lasting blooms. For good late season color, keep your mum plants pinched back until early July.
Coleus: There are hundreds of incredible colors of coleus to choose from. Pinch them back to keep them bushy and remove the flower heads as they appear.
Anise Hyssop: I've interplanted this for so many years that it now self sows and I just dig up and move the plants where I want them. It's not exceptionally showy, but has good foliage and form, with fluffy purple flowers in August and September.
Salvia horminium (Salvia viridis): This is a great plant with purple, pink or white bracts. Like a poinsettia, it's the top leaves that provide the show, not the flowers. Salvia horminium looks good right through late fall.
Impatiens: I plant pink ones along the front of my long perennial border. The border faces north, so the perennials provide them with some shade. Impatiens bloom until frost, and the dependable splashes of pink pulls the border together.
Cleome: I plant these at the back of the perennial border. The four-foot high plumes provide both height and color from July through September.
Ammi majus: Also known as Bishop's weed, this plant looks like an airier version of Queen Anne's lace. Sow it successively from June through July since the plants fade after a couple weeks of blooms.
Sanvitalia procumbens: This low, spreading plant looks like a miniature black-eyed Susan. It loves the heat, and works well in rock gardens or at the front of a sunny border.
Salvia farinacea: The purple 'Victoria' has rich green foliage and spiky blue flowers. Its form is a bit stiffer than most good perennial companions, but I find it makes a great mid-border filler.
Last updated: 8/9/19
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