The Sapphires of September

SEP 01

I love the color blue in the garden. Not that I don't love other colors, but there is just something about the soft splash of a blue spruce against an evergreen background, for example, that is strikingly artistic. And while there are a number of blues blooming earlier in the year, like the Forget-Me-Not's of spring or the Blue Wave petunias of summer, there are a few blue gems that sparkle in late-summer and early fall. No wonder September's birthstone is Sapphire!

Late summer and fall blues seem so vibrant; their cool tones are emphasized by the warm hues of newly turning leaves. One perennial that offers this contrast is Plumbago. Blooming in late-summer through fall, the clear, blue flowers are emphasized by its outstanding orange-red fall foliage. Happy in part-sun to part-shade, this groundcover is a September showstopper. For the shady grove, blue hostas offer calming majesty in the garden. The 'Blue Angel' Hosta in particular, with its robust leaves and cool overtones, is a true garden statement piece.  Plant en masse for the full effect or pair them with the bright  colors of Japanese forest grass or feathery, native ferns. For the sunny spot, blue asters dazzle late into the season giving crisp color to nature's autumn palette. Look for varieties like 'Woods Blue' or 'October Skies' to add glitz to the garden.

Shrubs come in blues too! Unique and interesting, these shrubs pull color and texture together for a lasting impression in the landscape. One such garden gem is the 'Blue Shadow' Fothergilla. Though fothergilla blooms in the early spring, its steel-blue foliage takes center stage for the rest of the summer season, giving way to spectacular shades of orange and red as its fall finale. Native and noteworthy, the 'Blue Shadow' is what your garden has been missing! Another native that excels in the categories of "blue" and "fall" is the 'Blue Muffin' Viburnum.  It puts forth an abundance of white flowers in the spring, followed by rich, blue, pea-sized berries in late summer that persist into winter. The berries look almost fake, but there is nothing "knock-off" about these gems, just ask the birds; birds and other pollinators appreciate the flowers and berries. The autumn contrast between berries and foliage is stunning - deep burgundy leaves off-set by jewel-toned berries begs the attention of any garden gazer. Plant 'Blue Muffin' as part of a native hedge for impact - you won't be disappointed. And let's not overlook the under-plantings; blue junipers add texture and color to the landscape's lower level. 'Blue Chip' juniper is a superior groundcover, particularly when used for erosion control on slopes. Its bluish, evergreen foliage has a purple tinge in the winter for added appeal.  'Blue Chip' works well in a rock garden - so instead of "putting a ring on it," (like the Beyonce song suggests), put a rock near it to make it sparkle!

For trees, there is no better choice than a blue spruce. Ranging from blue-green to more steel blue, depending on cultivar, the blue spruce is a handsome evergreen as either a stand alone specimen or in a mixed evergreen screen.  Tall and stately the Colorado blue spruce has stiff dense branches forming a pyramidal shape that give a formal look to the landscape. Best in full sun, the Colorado blue spruce is adaptable to many soil conditions and is even more drought-tolerant once established than other species of spruce trees. Look for named cultivars of the Colorado blue spruce, such as 'Fat Albert,' 'Hoopsii,' 'Bob's Blue,' and Bakeri,' if you want to add even more blue to the garden!

With autumn approaching, light and shadows dance across blue-sky days, beckoning the appearance of dazzling fall color. The brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows are offset by their complimentary colors, which is why blue is such a striking contrast in the landscape. So cool the autumn blaze with these blue beauties to make the most of your fall gardening!