Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Growing up: Fall is a great time to plant perennials, preplan bursts of color

The beautiful colors of summer were abundant this year. The spring phlox and lilacs in shades from pink to lavender to the summer bright red and purple tones were out in force.

About the time that I began to take for granted their bright colors and grew tired of maintaining the summer display, a wonderful surprise occurred. I had forgotten that last year, I planted a few Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida var sullivantii 'Goldsturm') in and among my annual bed on the north side of the house. This 1999 'perennial of the year' began to reveal large, strong green foliage in mid-August that seemed to appear almost overnight. Just as fast, about two weeks later the entire bed was covered with the most beautiful shades of gold that I've ever seen. The surprise left an indelible mark on my gardening rule book: 'A properly planned flower bed includes perennials that show color at different times during the growing season'.

Spring perennials like phlox, basket of gold, bellis, iris and tulips get things started. Mid-summer perennials , like veronica, campanula, sage, peony, catmint joined by annuals like geranium, petunia, sweet potato vine, and bacopa carry us through the hot months. Then like magic, when the spring and summer perennials begin to fade, the beauty of fall emerges with the late-season blooms of black-eyed Susan, Russian sage, sedum, aster and mums to name a few. The combination of the summer annual colors of red, purple, yellow and orange joined by fall's gold, bronze, brown and burnt-red tones remind us that one of most beautiful seasons is about to unveil itself.

Early fall, when some gardens rely on annuals to provide color, others come alive with a cast of late-season perennials, each contributing in their own way to the "grand finale". As the arc of the sun descends and the autumn equinox approaches, the light in the garden changes. With the soft light of early fall, these perennials glow amidst the surrounding fall leaves.

Perennials are still available to plant this fall. Now is a great time to identify the spaces where a pre-planned burst of fall color could be added to your garden so that you too can enjoy a full season of color.

The name "Black eyed Susan" is believed to have been derived from the John Gay (1685-1732) ballad entitled, Sweet William's Farewell to Black-Ey'd Susan. The following is an excerpt from that poem where a young sailor says goodbye to his love.

All in the Downs the fleet was moored,

The streamers waving in the wind,

When black eyed Susan came aboard;

"O, where shall I my true-love find?

Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true

If my sweet William sails among the crew."

"O, Susan, Susan, lovely dear,

My vows shall ever true remain;

Let me kiss off that falling tear;

We only part to meet again.

Change as ye list, ye winds; my heart shall be

The faithful compass that still points to thee.

"Though battle call me from thy arms,

Let not my pretty Susan mourn;

Though cannons roar, yet safe from harms

William shall to his dear return.

Love turns aside the balls that round me fly,

Lest precious tears should drop from Susan's eye."

Jim Gainan is VP/Shareholder of Gainan's Flower and Garden Center in Billings.