Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is a highlight of my fall garden. This highly agreeable plant grows in a variety of conditions (it’s supposed to like much wetter conditions than my site provides), is trouble-free, self-seeds readily, and is easy to divide and share but is never aggressive. You may be familiar with its cousin, cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), named for its bright red flowers that are the color of a cardinal’s hat. If you have a wet site, that plant may work for you–it’s less tolerant than great blue lobelia, so I can’t grow it. In nature, you often see it growing along pond shores. Both species like at least a few hours of sun and grow perhaps 3 feet high.
Lobelia is at the height of its bloom right now; it began about two weeks ago. When it begins to bloom, I know that fall is coming. And to me, fall means asters and goldenrod and white snakeroot. Look carefully at the bottom right of the photo above, and you’ll see the heart-leaved asters (Aster cordifolius) just beginning to bloom.
Heart-leaved aster is a shade-loving species. There are many shade-loving asters, all with lacy, fragile-looking, small white flowers. But there’s nothing fragile about them. Take a walk in the woods anywhere in the northeast in fall and it’s hard to miss them.
Asters, lobelia, goldenrod, and snakeroot provide autumn color in my shade gardens, taking over the role the spring ephemerals played a few months ago. Notice the foliage of Canada anemone, Solomon’s seal, and columbine in the photos. Those plants all bloomed in the very same place in spring. The fall bloomers are not quite as showy, but they’re very welcome all the same, and they provide the same environmental service, providing pollen for insects and, later, seeds for birds.
If you don’t grow any fall-blooming natives, consider planting them next spring. That will give you a whole year to look forward to them.