garden compositions—the fellowship of plant nerds

Share this:

h&h&g gardening – by Barbara Wise – garden compositions—the fellowship of plant nerds

At our monthly meeting of the Fellowship of Plant Nerds, the hot topic this time of year is “what new plants have you found to plant this fall?” I really don’t have a Fellowship of Plant Nerds—we’re just a group of moms who love to get together once a month to catch up with each other and just happen to share a love of gardening. Since I seem to be the only person at these gatherings who openly confesses to be a plant nerd (the others prefer terms like  
exquisite plant collector or master gardener), I refer to this group of friends (when they are not listening) as founding members of what could someday be an international society of Plant Nerds. Anyway, we all love to hear about the latest plants we’ve read about or seen at the independent nursery centers around town. Fall is perfect for revamping your landscape and trying the newest plants on the market.  
These are a few of the newest or underutilized plants that can bring a renewed look to your garden.
Sambucus Black Lace™ (Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’)—Ten years ago the thought of growing a beautiful plant with black leaves sounded almost like an oxymoron. But the entrance of this elegant dark maroon lacy leaved bush could soon be the “little black dress” of the truly stylish landscape. With the delicate look of a Japanese Maple, this shrub will amaze you with its easy care and full-sun durability. Pink flower clusters during the summer turn into red berries for autumn, which can then be picked and made into jam or wine. Beautiful sustainability! Tolerant of most soils; plant in full sun for best color. Grows 6-8 feet tall and wide or train into a small tree.
Rosey Carpet or Orchid Cascade Dwarf Crape Myrtle—We now have a whole variety of weeping crape myrtles to use in summer window boxes and hanging baskets or to plant along the top of a wall or sloping bank. Keep in mind that these have a bare but architecturally interesting look during winter, leafing out in late May with glossy green or burgundy tinged leaves. Their great hurrah is the burst of blossoms throughout the summer, especially if kept well fertilized.  
Use them to border a large bed or give some weight to a perennial bed. There are about 20 new dwarf or weeping crape myrtles, so check carefully to see which ones are the most hardy in our zone. I’ve had good success with Chickasaw as a dwarf crape myrtle that I’ve used as a border plant. Most of these weepers and true dwarfs stay under 2 feet tall.
“Seven-sons tree” Heptacodium miconioides—Fortunately this tree is much easier to raise than a house full of sons. It is not bothered by pest or diseases but does need watering during dry spells. Mine survived the freeze/drought of ’07 but I did loose some branches, and it didn’t grow at all that year.  It has bounced back to thrive this year. Technically a large shrub, it can easily be limbed up to make a small tree. Starting in August the white buds form fragrant flowers in September, followed by the calyx turning a bright red in late fall. Winter interest comes with lovely peeling tan bark that  
reveals a brown inner bark. A moderate grower to 20 feet and about 8-10 feet wide.
Phlox paniculata Candy Store “Bubblegum Pink,” “Coral Crème Drop,” “Cotton Candy,” “Grape Lollipop”—Somebody must have given up sugar for Lent when they were naming these plants. These highly disease resistant, looooong blooming phlox were a work horse for me this past summer both in the ground and in containers. This garden phlox is a magnet for butterflies, hummingbirds, and those who enjoy cut flowers. Plant in full sun and keep well watered until established; these are a wonderful new addition to your perennial flower bed. This is an introduction from Novalis “Plants That Work” so look for their tags to find these great new phlox.
Penstemon “Dark Towers”—You’ll love the deep purple/plum foliage that serves as a backdrop to the soft pink tubular flowers that lasts spring through early summer. It gives “Huskers Red” a run for its money. It has a thick bushy habit for a perennial that serves as an excellent background for flowering plants like Erysimum with long spindly stems.
Hopefully I’ve given you a few ideas to add to your own as you embark on fall planting. Don’t forget to order your bulbs to plant in late fall:

Editor’s Note: Barbara Wise, a horticulturist with Southern Land Company, brings her gardening expertise and experience to readers of House & Home & Garden™.  E-mail your questions to her at


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *