When people gush about fall foliage, they're almost always gushing about trees and shrubs.
"Oooh, aren't the maples gorgeous?"
"OMG, that burning bush is TDF!"
"Jeez, Louise, that ginkgo is a pinko!" (Which is both inaccurate and makes no sense. By rule, ginkgos cannot be members of the Communist Party.)
This is unfortunate, because it ignores a large class of plants that offer outstanding fall foliage every year.
Perennials. Most people grow them primarily for the flowers, but forget about colorful autumn leaves. Here are some of Grumpy's favorites.
Hubricht's bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii). That's it, up top, in the lead photo. In Grumpy's humble opinion, this is the number one perennial for fall color. Discovered in Arkansas in 1942 by Leslie Hubricht, this native forms a clump about 3 feet tall and wide. Sky blue, starshaped flowers crown the soft, needlelike foliage in spring. In fall, the leaves turn an exceptionally bright gold. Hubricht's bluestar takes full to part sun and is very drought-tolerant once established. You can find it at better garden centers. Niche Gardens is a good mail-order source.
Variegated Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum'), above, ranks right up there with hosta as the finest perennial for shade. (In fact, they look great planted together, so take the hint.) It grows from a rhizome that slowly spreads to form a colony and it easy to divide. Arching stems up to 20 inches high carry rich green leaves edged in white. Spring sees small, white, bell-shaped flowers suspended beneath the stems. In October, the leaves turn bright yellow and fade to tan. Give this plant rich, woodsy soil. I've found it to be surprisingly drought-tolerant once established. I got mine from a friend, Louise Wrinkle. You can order by mail from Plant Delights.
Many ornamental grasses develop dynamic fall foliage. Flame grass (Miscanthus sinensis 'Purpurascens'), above, is one of them. I really think it has the showiest fall leaves of any grass, as they turn bright orange and red, before fading to orange-brown. Flame grass grows into an upright clump about 4 feet high. Its one drawback in the South is that it tends to be shorter-lived than other Miscanthus species. Other ornamental grasses with nice fall color -- Chinese pennisetum (Pennisetum alopecuroides), switch grass (Panicum virgatum), moor grass (Molinia caerulea), and bluestem (Andropogon). Excellent mail-order source for these grasses -- Santa Rosa Gardens.
What's an extremely common shade perennial that almost nobody (except for the enlightened Grump) thinks about in terms of fall foliage? That would be hosta, shown above. Many of the approximately 12 million selections available to you turn a nice golden color in fall. No need to give mail-order sources. You can buy hostas just about everywhere.
This Year Your Vote Counts More Than Ever!
Faithful readers, the situation is dire. We teeter on the edge of a precipice. The stakes have never been higher. Now is not a time to laugh, smile, relax, drink a beer, go for a swim, ride a bike, or watch "The Daily Show." Should you make the wrong choice, the potential for doom and disater hangs thicker than Andy Rooney's eyebrows in the air.
Next week, the nation will vote. And I beg you, I implore you, I plead with you, I prostrate my ineffable brilliance before you -- cast your vote wisely. Vote for the one candidate who has unfailingly taken a strong pro-gardening position and is prepared to propel America to the heights of 21st century horticulture.
That would be me -- the Grumpy Gardener. I am humbled by your support.