Home and Garden

Three Autumn Favorites to Anchor Your Backyard Design


I’m addicted to new plants, maybe more than most people. If you tell me all the glorious details of one last one Introduction, I’ll buy it by the dozen. Oh, is it fussy and demanding? That’s okay. I want it and I want it now.

But sometimes what you want is not what you need. Often you really need a plant to build a garden bed around. It should be tough, undemanding, able to handle some stress, and visual
appealing for several seasons. After more than 25 years in a public garden, I’ve discovered some great plants that won’t let me down. Here are some that make attractive anchors for great displays.

Photo: millettephotomedia.com

“Autumn Bride” Heuchera

Name: Heuchera villosa ‘Autumn Bride’

Zones: 3-8

Size: 18 to 36 cm tall and 18 to 24 cm wide

Conditions: Full to partial shade; moderately moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Southeastern United States

If I have a spot in full or partial shade where several plants have failed, I reach out “Autumn bride” Heuchera. This plant is what all the other Heucheras want to be beautiful and resilient. Big, blurry, light green leaves provide color and an architectural element. White tips of flowers in late summer and early fall can grow up to 3 feet tall. ‘Autumn Bride’ is very coldhardy and tolerant of heat and drought once established.

Photo: Joshua McCullough

Aromatic aster ‘October Skies’

Name: Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’

Zones: 3-8

Size: 18 to 24 cm tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; average to dry, well-drained soil (tolerates sand and clay)

Native range: Eastern and central states of the USA

Aromatic aster ‘October Skies’ forms a large mound that is completely covered with blue-purple flowers from September until freezing weather. Not only is it one of the longest-blooming asters, but it also holds healthy foliage throughout the season. Because it doesn’t get too big, it fits in almost any garden. Give it full sun and average soil for the best show. Once set up, it can handle dry conditions.

'Sheffield' chrysanthemumPhoto: Nancy J. Ondra

‘Sheffield’ chrysanthemum

Name: Chrysanthemum ‘Sheffield’ (syn. ‘Sheffield Pink’, ‘Hillside Sheffield Pink’)

Zones: 5-9

Size: 2 to 3 feet tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun; moderately moist, well-drained soil

Native range:: Garden origin

The last shrub that blooms for me is ‘Sheffield’ chrysanthemum. I swear the frost will get it every year, but it still blooms every October. Although its flowers are called pink, soft peach is a more accurate way of describing its color. Plant it in well-drained soil to prevent winter root rot. This mother is super tough. However, it tends to lean over time. If this is uncomfortable for you, pinch the plants back in late spring through early summer to keep them shorter.

These sturdy perennials are as beautiful as they are functional. I am not saying to use them exclusively; Experiment with all types of plants, but think of a few so that you start off with a solid foundation. Now go out and start building the new bed.

Plant plan 3Illustration: Elara Tanguy

P.Plan 3

Flashy textures add drama

Never forget about foliage when choosing plants. This combination, perfect for a spot with partial shade or morning sun, has lots of exciting leaf textures with flowers as a bonus.

1. Bear breeches

2. ‘Autumn Bride’ Heuchera

3. Hellebore ‘Mango Magic’

4. Japanese forest grass ‘All Gold’ (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, Zones 5–9)

5. Autumn fern ‘Brilliance’ (Dryopteris erythrosora ‘Brilliance’, zones 5–8)

6. Oak leaf hydrangea ‘Little Honey’ (Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Little Honey’, Zones 5–9)

Irvin Etienne is the herbaceous and seasonal landscaping curator for the Newfields, Indianapolis garden.


  • Bluestone perennials, Madison, OH; 800-852-5243; bluestoneperennials.com
  • Perennial Farmers Market, Glen Arm, MD; 410-592-6106; perennialfarmmarketplace.com
  • Rare Roots, Mechanicsville, VA; 804-296-6592; rareroots.com
  • White Flower Farm, Litchfield, CT; 800-503-9624; whiteflowerfarm.com

Get our latest tips, how-to articles, and how-to videos in your inbox.