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In the Garden: Time to focus on perennials, trees, shrubs

Monch asters, which bloom reliably from late summer into fall, will be offered at Saturday’s Friends of Manito plant sale. (Susan Mulvihill)
Monch asters, which bloom reliably from late summer into fall, will be offered at Saturday’s Friends of Manito plant sale. (Susan Mulvihill)

Monday is the first day of September and that means it’s nearly time for the Friends of Manito fall plant sale. On Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., gardeners will have the opportunity to pick up fabulous plants. TFM members can shop early at 8 a.m.

Did you know fall is an excellent time to plant perennials, trees and shrubs? The cooler temperatures and increased soil moisture help roots become established, thus giving plants a head start on next year’s growing season.

Once again, I’ve perused the offerings for the upcoming plant sale and wanted to give you a sneak peek:

Monch aster (Aster x frikartii) is by no means new to the scene but is a tried-and-true perennial that blooms profusely from late summer into fall. The daisy-like flowers are light purple. Plants are deer-resistant and prefer a sunny location with well-drained soil. Height: 2 feet.

The unusually-colored leaves of Burgundy Lace painted fern (Athyrium) add color to shady locations in the garden. The leaves are purplish-pink in the spring, maturing to metallic silver. They thrive in moist, well-drained soil and are easy to grow. Height: 2 feet.

Most of us are familiar with bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) with its intricately-marked leaves but Variegata really stands out. The leaves of this hardy, shade-loving plant have cream-colored edges that brighten up the darkest beds. It has blue flowers in the spring. Height: 1 foot.

I recently wrote about my favorite ornamental grasses for winter interest and feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora) is one of them. Avalanche has striking variegated leaves and an erect habit. It grows in part shade to full sun. Height: 3 to 4 feet.

You might question my choice of a plant with a common name of sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) but it’s also known as Helen’s flower. Helena Gold and Ruby Tuesday have an abundance of cheery yellow or warm red flowers respectively. They are hardy, drought-tolerant and exceptionally easy to grow in full sun. Height: 3 to 4 feet.

Two other noteworthy ornamental grasses are maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis) Cosmopolitan and Strictus. Both form tall, arching clumps and grow in full sun to part shade. Cosmopolitan features wide blades with white margins while Strictus is prized for its horizontal bands of gold. They are drought-tolerant, deer-resistant and provide winter interest. Height: Cosmopolitan, 6 to 7 feet; Strictus, 8 feet.

Lucerne blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) is dainty but its vibrant blue flowers with yellow eyes are hugely appealing. The grasslike leaves are attractive as well. It prefers sunny sites and is drought-tolerant once established. Height: 8 inches.

I saw Heartthrob viola during the Associated Garden Clubs’ summer tour and it’s still on my mind. It has the clumping growth habit and heart-shaped leaves typical of violets but the similarity stops there. Each leaf has deep burgundy centers, making it a striking addition to any planting. They have pink blossoms in the spring and grow best in part shade. Height: 8 inches.

This is but a sampling of the more than 300 plant species available at the sale. All proceeds will go toward improvements to Manito Park.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via email at Visit her blog at and Facebook page at for more gardening information.