Second Thoughts & Encores . . .

With a Backdrop of Golden Clethra alnifolia and Side-Show of Blackened Rudbeckia Pom Poms, Glistening Asclepias tubersoa (Butterfly Weed), Parachutes Await a Breeze

Some things in life are one-hit wonders, and others are worth a second thought or three. When it comes to gardening in a cold climate, I’m always looking to get the most out of my growing year. With this in mind, I am generally pretty picky in my selection of plants. With rare exceptions (fragrant plants like peonies come to mind), I ask at least two seasons of performance before I’ll let any newcomer through my garden gate. Points of consideration: flowers are a real plus, but their absence is not a deal-breaker; good bones are always important, especially for trees and shrubs; foliage —dramatic or changing— is considered a high value asset in both herbaceous and woody plants; and colorful berries/drupes/seeds/calyxes/tufts/bark are always very desirable.

The three plants featured here are unusual knock-outs both in bloom and again, later in the season with other special effects. Butterfly Weed (Aesclepias tuberosa), gets double points as a beautiful butterfly magnet; foliage for caterpillars and later, brilliant orange flowers for adults. But it’s autumn that brings out this plant’s hidden treasure: spiky, dramatic seed pods that split to release silver-white parachutes into blue October sky. Magic!

Recently Featured, Seven-Son Flower (Heptacodium miconioides), is an Autumnal Double Feature worth Repeating. Here Seven-Son Flower’s Calyxes Shimmer Alongside Rose-Tipped Tufts of Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis).

Seven-Son Flower (Heptacodium miconioides), recently featured, is another butterfly favorite in the late-season garden. Watching Monarchs dance about the fragrant blossoms would be gift enough, but the long-showing rose calyxes offer an unusual hue at this time of year. I love this plant paired with purple-tinted Ninebark leaves (Physocarpus opulifolius, ‘Diablo’ is my favorite), and silken tassels of Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis).

Another less-common beauty, Fingerleaf Rodgersia  (Rodgersia aesculifolia), offers three season interest from early to late in the garden year. Creamy white or pink cultivars bloom on sturdy stems in late spring through early summer, looking fresh and cool above gorgeous, dark green foliage. Then, in early autumn, the boney remains begin to ruddy up to purplish ruby, just as the leaves morph to gold. Sweet alchemy! Don’t grab your shears just yet, though. Left standing over winter, the flower heads will slowly shift from dark brown to jet black —perfection with sparkling frost or a light dusting of snow.

With gorgeous foliage and beautiful summertime flowers, Fingerleaf Rodgersia (Rodgersia aesculifolia), is just a great garden plant, all the way around. Still, I think her best attributes are on display in autumn, when her gilded foliage is offset by a bejeweled crown, shifting from complementary ruby-violet to dramatic jet black bead.

So many garden plants offer more than one season of beauty, but sometimes, it takes a bit of sleuthing to discover them. Of course it helps to haunt great public gardens and commercial displays at this time of year. Make notes for shopping clearance sales at garden centers or return in spring to snap up those collectible, rare gems before they’re all sold out. The best plants are always worth at least a second thought!

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