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"The Grand Finale" from the Whistling Gardener

As we wind down summer and segue into fall the end of August brings some thrilling moments to our gardens. Perennials play a key role in this gardening drama as we crescendo to the final act.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo credit: Sunnyside Nursery.

This weekly column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

As we wind down summer and segue into fall the end of August brings some thrilling moments to our gardens. Perennials play a key role in this gardening drama as we crescendo to the final act. Here are some star performers that come into their own in August and September and reach heights of over eight feet tall.

Joe-Pye Weed. Eupatorium maculatum. Grandest of them all in my estimation.

Mine is currently a strong eight feet tall and covered with large umbrella-like heads of rosy-purple flowers that attract butterflies and bumble bees. The stems are purple in color, with whorls of bold leaves. Over the years this plant will form a large clump three feet across.

It performs best in full sun and consistent soil moisture. "Little Joe" is a variety that is a little more compact (5-6 feet tall) with huge flower heads. Cannabinum "Plenum" is a double flowering type with loose heads of mauve-purple flowers. It is used in Europe as a long-lasting commercial cut-flower and grows to 4-5 feet.

False Sunflower. Helianthus. These hardy perennials are related to the annual birdseed and snack food varieties. They are happiest in a moist sunny location where they will form sizable non-invasive clumps. All are great for cutting and attract butterflies.

"Flore Pleno" has beautiful dark green leaves with countless 2-3 inch golden yellow double dahlia-like sunflowers. The cut flowers look stunning in a dark blue vase.

"Lemon Queen" will grow 6-7 feet tall and the flowers are a wonderful single 2" clear lemon-yellow. If you don't like "hot colored" flowers then this is the variety for you!

Brazilian Verbena. Verbena bonariensis. I like to throw this one in because it's what I call a "gentle giant". While it will reach 4-5 feet tall, it is very wispy in brazilian verbena texture and will weave its way through the garden without being obtrusive at all. Stiff, upright branching stems hold clusters of magenta-purple flowers from early summer through late fall.

A large grouping makes an unforgettable display, one or two plants are a mere curiosity. While some might like to place this plant on the "noxious weed list", I rather enjoy its propensity to happily reseed through the garden and into my gravel paths. Like all of these late summer bloomers, it attracts butterflies, hummers and bees and makes a great cut flower.

Ornamental Grasses. While they do bloom in late summer, their best quality is in their foliar contribution to the garden. Three giants that I enjoy in my garden are as follows: "Porcupine Grass," a 5-6 footer with bright green leaves with golden horizontal banding; "Morning Light," which forms a stiff upright column of foliage that has a silvery and shimmering effect and Cabaret, a larger, coarser form with very bold white and green striped leaves. All of the above grasses do not spread or reseed but eventually form large clumps.

Obviously, I have just scratched the surface when it comes to large robust plants. Stop by and visit my garden at the nursery and you will see first hand how these marvelous perennials add drama to a garden.

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