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A Classic Fall Garden

Far from winding down in autumn, this suburban Wisconsin garden is hitting some of its sweetest notes of the year.

An exuberant fall garden

Fall is fortissimo time in this garden outside Milwaukee. The blare of red salvias, the softer notes of dusty rose 'Autumn Joy' sedums and the dramatic highs of towering ornamental grasses keep it exuberant, thanks to a homeowner who  perseveres, plants and tends straight until snowfall.

The secrets of success

Everything seems to grow bigger and better in this yard because the homewoner has amended the soil with compost for years. The other keys are watering through fall and cutting back any spent foliage, which often produces a fresh flush of green. In the photo, wine-red celosia draws the eye next to orange tuberous begonias with sedums, asters and other plants in the background.

Ornamental grasses

The backbone of every fall garden, ornamental grasses add height and texture. The bonus: They look great through winter. Especially good are large, frothy types such as 'Allegro', 'Sarabande' and 'Goliath'. Most are hardy to Zone 3.

Boltonia, an underused perennial

Growing up to 6 feet tall, these underused perennials (hardy to Zone 4) begin blooming in late summer or early autumn with small masses of white, lilac or pink-purple, asterlike flowers. Use them toward the middle of borders as a companion with large grasses, goldenrod and asters.

Silvery Russian sage

If you have lots of sun, the silvery, lance-shape leaves and delicate sprays of violet-blue flowers of Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) will charm you. For something special, try 'Little Spire' for smaller gardens or the fernlike foliage of 'Filagran'. Cut any of them back to half their height in midsummer to produce a more compact plant; the species reaches about 4 feet tall. Zone 5.

Tidy Coral bells

Tidy mounds of foot-tall Coral Bells contrast with most plants that grow nearby, and slender stalks bear delicate flowers. May different colors are available. Heucheras require good drainage and should be divided every three years. Hardy to Zone 4.

Crimson 'Firetails'

Crimson spikes emerge like tiny tails from still-green foliage in fall with Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Firetail'. This long-blooming perennial, growing 4 feet tall in sun or partial shade, is a nice foil in front of other foliage that may look less fresh in fall. Zone 5.

Colorful daylilies

Even though daylily blooms last only a day, these plants bring big color to a garden. Look for season-extending varieties, including 'Autumn Minaret' and the rebloomer 'Pardon Me.'

Spiky asters

The spiky foliage looks good all summer. By fall, blooms provide a payoff. Favorites include 'Purple Dome' (but plant something in front to disguise leggy plants), 'Alma Potschke', 'Blue Lagoon', 'Fellowship' and 'Lamb's Pride'.

Personalize it

Gazing balls and an arbor give this garden a special touch. 

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