By the end of August, my garden looks like the dead zone.

It’s far from a colorful festive setting when I celebrate my son’s birthday right before Labor Day. Each year, I invite the family over for a party. Without fail - the green-thumb relatives head to the back yard or on the high deck to see what’s happening in the gardens. Without fail - they're disappointed.

The plants look like a birthday balloon that's slowing losing its helium after the party is over. Bee balm, black-eyed Susans and coneflowers are past their mid summer peak. The mass of phlox are spent and even the prolific moneywort has sprouted its last yellow flower. Thank God, the hydrangea bushes are still laden with plump petal balls. And the Autumn Joy sedum is just hitting its stride.

Sure, I could infuse bursts of vibrant color with garden variety annuals - petunias, impatiens and zinnias. But they never flourish in my mostly low, wet beds so they’re always relegated to patio pots. I’ve planted  New England asters, but they took their sweet time and didn’t bloom until mid September - weeks after the party was over.

I’d like a garden the family will gush over - not take one glance and then head inside for chips and salsa. I''ve got to be strategic in timing my garden glory.

What perennials can I plant next spring - in sunny and partial shade areas - that will reliably deliver gorgeous foliage and color right before Labor Day?