By Kerry Ann Mendez
Fall blooming perennials for shade are rare - most shade tolerant plants will bloom in spring to early summer before heavy leaf canopies and rising temperatures make flowering challenging.
However, here are a few choices for late season color:
Kirengeshoma palmata, commonly called Yellow Waxbells, has impressive soft yellow, waxy flowers that dangle from dark purple-black stems. It starts blooming in late summer and continues into fall. Yellow Waxbells are grown as much for their attractive, medium green, maple-like leaves as for the flowers. It is a 2-4 feet tall, shrub-like perennial that develops woodier stems at its base, similar to Montauk Daisy. It's hardy in Zones 5-8.
There are several species of Toad Lily (Tricyrtis), but all have orchid-like flowers. Some varieties have flowers clustered at the stem tips, while others produce flowers along the arching stems. They will start blooming in late summer and continue into fall with no deadheading required. The flowers are usually white or shades of purple with spotting. Most Toad Lily have solid green leaves, but 'Autumn Glow' has striking light green margins surrounding a blue-green center. They grow between 2-3 feet and range in hardiness from Zones 4-9.
Aconitum 'Arendsii', commonly called Monkshood, is a late blooming cultivar that opens in September and continues for weeks. Its spectacular azure-blue flower stalks will command attention, as do the deep green shiny leaves. This is a tall beauty, growing to 4-5 feet in height where happy. Thankfully, the stems are thicker than other Monkshood and reduce the need for staking. Every part of the plant is poisonous, keeping deer and bunnies at bay (this plant is also poisonous to humans and pets). The common name is based on the helmet-like flower structure that somewhat resembles the hood worn by medieval monks. Monkshood 'Arendsii' is hardy from Zones 4-7 (some references say Zone 3).
Another blue beauty that is deer resistant, Leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) will start flowering in August and blooms for 6 or more weeks. The shiny medium green, ovate leaves turn a lovely bronze-red in cooler weather. Leadwort is low growing, only reaching 6-10" tall. In warmer zones it can be an enthusiastic ground cover, but this is not as common in Maine. Leadwort is hardy in Zones 5-9.
This is the perfect time to visit Estabrook's and check out all of the fall blooming, shade and sun-loving perennials (and shrubs)!