A day to love plants that die well

If you find the chore of deadheading scary, don’t fear. For some plants, deadheading has been dead for a decade and more. Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf woke us to the beauty of plants in all their stages, including the end of their lifecycle. In other words, dying and dead.

Confession: I’d never absorbed the Oudolfian phrase, “plants that die well,” until I heard Irish designer Jimi Blake utter it this year in his garden. Since then, I’ve been a bit obsessed (can you be a bit obsessed?) with capturing that expression in pictures, and combing my archives for more.

Luckily, in Toronto we are within easy reach of two great botanical gardens that understand its meaning well.

Royal Botanical Gardens

The RBG straddles the line between Burlington and Hamilton. Earlier in October, I explored the fall display of its renovated Rock Garden, saving some pictures (like the one above) for this post. Check that link for other great plant and planting ideas.

At any time or for a sharper image, click a picture to launch the slideshow. To read captions on smaller images, cursor over the picture or use your touch screen if on mobile.

The dried seed heads of coneflower (Echinacea) make an even stronger silhouette when massed against a light-coloured background. Here at the Rock Garden, they’re shown with the grey, finished flower spikes of Russian sage (Perovskia).
Toronto Botanical Garden
TBG Entry Garden

The TBG at Leslie and Lawrence whispers “plants that die well” from both sides, on your way in and out through the Outdolf entry garden. However, this is only one of many places in our local botanical garden to voice the same refrain.

As you enter the TBG…
And as you exit.

Here are some favourite vignettes from a recent visit. Note how plants that become bare-legged as they lose leaves on their bottom half late in the season look best when surrounded by a matrix of cloudlike plants such as grasses.

No filter on this shot – an almost abstract tapestry of varying degrees of softness.
TBG Knot Garden

This tiny, formal garden manages to cram a lot of seasonal changes into a small space.

At sun-fall in October, joe-pye’s fluffy seeds light up the knot garden’s opposite end.
TBG Parking Lot

The TBG takes justifiable pride in its sustainable parking lot. Not only does it capture rainwater runoff with permeable paving, even the berms between the parking bays are gorgeous.

TBG Perennial Garden

Spring and summer among the perennials, the garden blazes with summer [Ed: well, obviously, I meant:] colour. But, by October, monochromatic shapes and forms have their own subtle interest.

A rivulet of Monarda buttons.

For more late-season beauty at the Toronto Botanical Garden, see the amazing colour one November and glorious grasses one snowy January.

For Hallowe’en and the Day of the Dead, tell us: what’s your favourite plant that dies well?

P.S. Please be ready for more-frequent-than-usual posts in November, when we once again attempt to post daily for our informal #NaBloPoMo.


    1. Both great for fall colour! Although I’m not as crazy about fragrant sumac in the winter – a little too bare and tangly for my taste.

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