September Charmer: Chelone lyonii’s Late-Blooming Beauty Spans the Seasons

Chelone lyonii 'Hot Lips' with Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight' - michaela medina harlow - Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’ with Lovely ‘Limelight’ Hydrangea (H. paniculata)

September is a mostly summer month, and yet, there’s something about Labor Day weekend that signals the unofficial start of fall. Well, much as I love autumn, I’m just not ready yet and neither is my garden! Although the beds and borders look a bit blowzier —tidy mounds of springtime green now spilling voluptuous into the walkways— there are still plenty of blossoming beauties to be found in September. One of my favorite transitional blooms? She’s a lipstick-pink-clad, girly-girl known as Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’; one of my favorites for late-summer to early-fall color in the garden.

Turtlehead - Chelone lyonii 'Hot Lips' Blossom - michaela medina harlow - Chelone lyonii’s Beauty Transcends the Seasons with Gorgeous, Deep Green, Leathery Foliage and Long-Lasting, Vibrant Blooms

Native to the wetlands and moist, shady woodland regions of eastern North America, Chelone lyonii is hardy in USDA zones 3-8. With shiny, deep-green foliage and mid-size stature —2′ high and wide at maturity— this is a great perennial for filling the center of a semi-shade border or for naturalizing in difficult, water-logged sites. A fast-maturing, reliable August-September bloomer, turtlehead is the perfect perennial for impatient gardeners.

Because of her lovely, leathery foliage and late-seaon bloom, Cheloni lyonii combines well with many other perennials, shrubs and ornamental grasses. Try placing her in mixed company as a mid-border plant with Little Lime or Limelight Hydrangea (H. paniculata cvs) in the background and Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra cvs), up front. She also pairs beautifully with silver-tinted foliage and black seedpods of Wild Blue Indigo (Baptisia australis). If your garden has moist soil and gets a bit of morning light, but is partially protected from hot afternoon sun, try Turtlehead in combination with Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis cvs), as a backup and   place a bit of Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis), Foamy Bells (Tiarella species) Coral Bells (Heuchra species & hybrids), at her feet to add some mound shapes and edge the border. Spring-bloomers with season-spanning foliage and other textural plants make great companions for late-season flowers. In my garden, I’ve paired Turtlehead with Fairy Candles (Actaea simplex cvs), Yellow Wax Bells (Kirengeshoma palmata), Rodgersia, Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford’, Bethlehem Sage (Pulmonaria species & hybrids), Barrenwort (Epimedium), Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’ and other cvs) Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium nipponicum)  Ghost Fern (Athyrium  x ‘Ghost’), Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamonea), Sedge (Carex species).

Turtlehead - Chelone lyonii 'Hot Lips' - michaela medina harlow - At Maturity, Chelone lyonii ‘Hot Lips’ forms a Compact 2′ x 2′ Clump – Perfect for Mid-Border Placement in Semi Shade Gardens or Naturalized in a Damp, Cool Spot Beneath a High Canopy of Trees

Turtlehead’s snap-dragon like blossoms make great cut-flowers, and as an added bonus, this bubble-gum pink beauty attracts and supports a wide-range of late-season pollinators; including butterflies, bumblebees and hummingbirds. Although it remains upright in my garden, Chelone lyonii may need a bit of staking in some situations. Although largely pest and disease resistant, I did notice a bit of grasshopper damage this year (what is it with those hungry critters this season?). For best performance, mature clumps should be lifted, divided and replanted in replenished soil once every three years. Once established, a seasonal dressing of mature compost and thick mulch are all this pretty, reliable, late-summer knock-out desires to remain content for many years.

Why not invite a pink-lipstick wearing gal to your end-of-summer garden party? She’s cheerful, pretty and mingles well with others. I think she’s great company!

Turtlehead - Chelone lyonii 'Hot Lips' with Bumblebee - michaela medina harlow - Like Many Late-Blooming, North American Native Perennials, Chelone lyonii Provides Critical Support to Butterflies, Bees and Other Pollinators. On a Late Summer Day, Blossoms are Buzzing with Bumblebees and Hummingbirds

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