September Favorites

– Posted in: Garden Design

vernonia spp

Text and photos © Catherine Renzi

Many September gardens are waning, preparing for dormancy after festive summer partying with exciting colors and fragrances. But, September is also a time of new beginnings; Autumn begins in September, and a new academic year begins for students of all ages. For me, each year begins anew with my September birthday.

Goldfinches are more visible and active even while the number of Swallowtails and other butterflies is in decline. Honeybees are busy gathering nectar and pollen, especially from Asters and Goldenrods, to fill their hives with plenty of food for winter. Migrating songbirds are loading up on berries and seeds, preparing for a long trip, much like marathoners might plan carbo-loading before a big race.


Birds, butterflies, and bees in my September garden strongly favor Ironweed (Vernonia glauca and Vernonia novaboracensis). The Goldfinches are crazy about the Tall Coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris) [above]. For some reason, they choose these seeds even more often than the perennial sunflower seeds (Heliopsis spp. and Helianthus spp.) that are similarly abundant.


Both the Ironweed and Coreopsis might flop and bend a bit, especially when the plants are young and/or the weather is wet. But, the established plants in decent soils go without staking or propping. Some of you might remember my spring post on this blog regarding my fondness for purple and yellow combinations in the garden. Without specific intention to revisit color themes, but rather to simply notice what is working best now, I am back to another purple and yellow pairing.

close purple lovgr

Thinking purple, I can’t forget Purple Love Grass (Eragrostis spectabilis). Its glowing seedheads glimmer in the morning sun at just 18-24 inches in height. The color is a sparkly jewel tone, almost amethyst, and the nice compact habit makes it suitable to fill in borders in front of the leggier wildflowers such as Ironweed.

callicarpa berry

If you have room for a shrub nearby, try to add Beautyberry (Callicarpa spp.). As the fruit sets now, the berries’ hue will enhance and intensify the shimmer in the Purple Love Grass and accentuate the Ironweed flowers. Most Beautyberry shrubs hold their fruit until well after frost. I often see Mockingbirds picking the frozen purple fruit in December and even January. I don’t eat Beautyberry fruit, but I smile in thinking it is the birds’ version of a delicious ice wine made from grapes after frost.

Catherine Renzi

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marmee September 21, 2009, 10:55 pm

i just saw this beauty berry at my local garden center and loved it. i had already reached my budget on that trip but really want to go back and get this for my garden. thanks for sharing.

Catherine Renzi September 22, 2009, 8:29 am

Because Beautyberry looks somewhat ordinary through most of the summer, it is easy to forget how much you like this plant until it sets fruit. I hope you will get an opportunity to add one to your garden.

Lisa at Greenbow September 22, 2009, 8:35 am

Yep, these are some of my faves too. I just love the beauty berry bush. The birds do too. It is such fun watching them try to get the berries on the ends of those delicate stems.

Jennifer AKA Keewee September 22, 2009, 10:26 am

I too like purple and yellow together. Right now I have Asters and Helianthus (variety unknown) sharing a spot in the garden.

Nancy Bond September 22, 2009, 10:28 am

Beautyberry is certainly aptly named. Gorgeous. Strangely, I’ve spotted more butterflies in the past week than I have all summer. We’ve had a week of summer-like days — perhaps they’re having a last hoorah. 🙂

Cameron(Defining Your Home Garden) September 22, 2009, 4:10 pm

Right now, there are 18 Black Swallowtail Caterpillars on the bronze fennel in my butterfly garden. I’ve had a good showing of the Monarch cats and they’ve now emerged in the last few weeks as butterflies and are hopefully on their way as the rains came today.

I love fall flowers, too. Your choices are great ones and I’d love to fit ironweed into my garden. Watch out for the love grass though. I finally pulled over a dozen from my garden throughout the summer as they’ve reseeded into every nook cranny, driveway gravel and garden space that they could find.


Mr. McGregor's Daughter September 22, 2009, 8:01 pm

I love purple & yellow together in autumn too. There’s something in the light that calls for such richness of hue. Vernonia is one of those plants I admire everywhere I see it, yet I don’t grow it for some reason. It’s a statuesque beauty.

Catherine Renzi September 25, 2009, 10:32 am

We also noticed that the butterflies arrived later than usual, and are maintaining larger numbers in the garden later than I remember. The wet, cool Spring likely caused the delay, but we are happy to see the butterflies now prosper.

Catherine Renzi September 25, 2009, 10:39 am

I understand your concern about Purple Love Grass seeding in. I don’t find that happening here, but often when native species finds a spot it loves, it will reproduce by seed and also by root sprouts, or stolons, too, depending on species.
I have heard reports that Coreopsis, Ironweed, and various Heliopsis/Helianthus species become overbearing, but then the same species are pretty mannerly in other sites. Here’s another case where “the right plant for the right place” is the best advice.

Ellen Sousa September 29, 2009, 10:31 am

I also love the combination of purple and yellow…Catmint and Coreopsis early in the year, and Asters with Goldenrod for the late season. Purple and yellow work together like ice cream and chocolate sauce 🙂

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