When the temperature cools I want color: purple daisies, pink grass plumes, gleaming blue fruits, and the brightest of leaves.
Neon orange, red, purple, and bronze fall foliage make Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica; USDA Zones 4–8) one of my all-time favorite trees. The show continues into winter, when the peeling bark reveals marbled shades of cream and gray. Related to witch hazels, Parrotia are undemanding in sun to part shade.
Add a pair of sapphire earrings to your garden’s jewel box with Symplocos paniculata (Zone 5), a twiggy shrub from China and Japan. Modest white flowers in May are a prelude to spectacular displays of bright to navy blue berries (fruits). Sapphire berry does best with a warm summer and needs another Symplocos nearby to set fruit.
A silky haze of rosy color crowns pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaries) from early September until its airy panicles turn beige for the winter. Plant it on top of a bank where the low fall sun can backlight those plumes. It’s native to Texas, but try it in Zone 6b and south, with sun and good drainage.
Aster tataricus ‘Jindai’ (Zone 5), named for a park in Tokyo, makes a spectacular finale to the flowers of fall. Its foliage looks like romaine lettuce and stays crisply green from late spring until fall, when it is topped with clouds of purple daisies on strong stems reaching to five feet. It will keep your garden blooming to the last possible moment.