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Savor the Relaxed Beauty of a Graceful Demise

I thoroughly enjoy watching plants change and evolve with the ebb and flow of the seasons—all seasons! Without a doubt, I adore autumn. I like everything about it—the cooler temps, the changing light, the shifting of gears. I'm even okay with the return of rain. I enjoy the feeling of abundance that the garden exudes at the pinnacle of its fullness. And of course, I love the fall foliage colors.

But there's more to the fading season than the traditionally celebrated fall color of the deciduous trees and shrubs. And though there are scads of plants that I specifically admire on the basis of their fall color, I'll leave them for another post, another day. Ornamental grasses, also fantastic contributors to the fall garden, are in a class all their own. We feted them in a different post where I singled out some of my favorite late-season varieties.

Instead, in this post we're going to single out plants that have merit based on their dead and dying foliage—plants I value for their graceful demise. The senescent display takes many forms: withering foliage, faded flower, dried stems and seed heads, decorative berries, and other delights of deterioration. 

While there's much to appreciate from the aesthetic standpoint, equally important are the ecological and cultural benefits of letting your garden age gracefully. Leaving the faded remnants of last year's perennials provides habitat for birds and insects while covering and protecting the ground from the vagaries of winter.

divider by Prime Icons from the Noun Project


I try to walk most days. One of the pleasures of this daily practice is the ability to gawk at gardens and appreciate plants throughout my neighborhood (and beyond). I like to revisit the same spots over and over. This allows me to monitor and learn about many more plants than I'm able to grow hands-on here in my home garden. 

In the video below, I share one of my discoveries with you. The video is a brief, street-side tour of a garden that I happened upon while exploring my neighborhood. The garden-makers did an excellent job of choosing perennials that die with grace and used them to create a garden that offers life, even in death.



As a bonus, my appreciation of this process of decline comes in really handy because I'm a lazy gardener. So I'm glad to enjoy my aging garden at my leisurely end-of-year pace. The gallery of photos below show that even on a wet and gray Northwest day, there's always something to savor.


SCENES FROM THE GARDEN & OUT AND ABOUT



See the list below for a sampling of plants that age gracefully. Don't forget to click through for the full descriptions and to get ideas for what to plant with them.


A GALLERY OF PLANTS THAT AGE GRACEFULLY

Agastache 'Blue Boa'

Blue Boa Hyssop, Hummingbird Mint

Type: Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Afternoon Sun
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

view plant

Allium 'Globemaster'

Globemaster ornamental onion

Type: Bulb / Corm / Tuber
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

view plant

Allium schubertii

Ornamental Onion

Type: Bulb / Corm / Tuber, Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 7, 8, 9

view plant

Amsonia hubrichtii

Threadleaf Blue Star
ARKANSAS BLUE STAR

Type: Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Echinacea 'Big Kahuna'

Big Kahuna coneflower

Type: Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Afternoon Sun
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Echinacea 'Merlot'

Merlot Coneflower

Type: Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Eryngium 'Sapphire Blue'

sea holly

Type: Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola'

Gold Variegated Japanese forest grass

Type: Grass / Grass-Like
Exposure: Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

view plant

Helenium 'Mardi Gras'

Mardi Gras Sneezeweed

Type: Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight'

Panicle Hydrangea

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Part Shade, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun, Open Shade, Open Shade
Zone: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Phlomis fruticosa

Jerusalem Sage

Type: Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

view plant

Physocarpus opulifolius 'Diabolo'

Diabolo Ninebark

Type: Shrub
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Part Sun, Afternoon Sun, Morning Sun, Filtered Sun
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

view plant

Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii 'Goldsturm'

Black-eyed Susan

Type: Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

view plant

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

Autumn Joy Stonecrop

Type: Perennial
Exposure: Full Sun, Full Sun, Afternoon Sun, Reflected Heat
Zone: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

view plant


Published December 11, 2020


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