At A Glance: A Collection Of Fall Containers

pumpkins and gourds 2013 (39)bok choy, violas and pansies

October container 2eucalyptus, broom corn, cabbage, and kale

fall containers 019bleached sticks, eucalyptus, green and white pumpkins and gourds

Oct 11 2013 (3)chrysanthemums and pansies

burlap-sack-pot.jpgstriped gourds

white-pumpkin.jpgwhite pumpkin with white cabbage in a bushel basket

flame-willow.jpgflame willow

fall window boxa mix of fall materials

Oct 11 2013 (17)striped pumpkins and squash on grapevine

Oct 11a 021fall pots with big pumpkins and gourds

Oct 14 2011 023burdock seed heads, bleached plastic grass and peacock kale

October 19a 2013 (10)Rob’s grow-sphere with yellow pumpkins and pansies

fall-container.jpgrosemary and alyssum

variegated-basil.jpgpair of fall pots with variegated basil

planters-for-fall.jpgfall containers

fall-container-with-broomcorn.jpgfall container with broom corn, black eucalyptus, and ornamental kale

pumpkins and gourds 2013 (15)The fall season provides an embarrassment of riches in materials great for fall containers. In a pinch, faux materials can provide just what a container needs in form or color. That material may be fake, but I am a real person putting the whole thing together.  As for you-plant for fall in a way that expresses your take on the season.  I try to exercise a little good sense.  If I put the stems of weeds in containers, I try to put every last seed in the trash, first.  Dry thistle stems are gorgeous in fall pots, but those seeds will spread a terrible weed that is tough to eradicate. That said, I use the intact seed pods of butterfly weed everywhere I can, in hopes it will seed with abandon. If weed seeds must be part of the display, I will encase them on the stem with floral sealer.  I wait until the weather gets good and cool to pile pumpkins and gourds in pots.  Set in place too early in the fall, they will rot.  Outside of that, I’ll stuff pots with anything that looks good.  It makes no sense to exercise restraint at the time of the harvest, does it?

 

Fall Container Plantings

fall-container-planting.jpgThough most of my work involves landscape design and installation, I have a big love for container plantings. They can be different every year – what a relief to let go of something that didn’t work out so well.   Best of all, they can be planted for every season.  The beginning of any new gardening season sets me to thinking about how I would like to plant the pots. Unlike my landscape, which changes only incrementally from year to year, my containers are empty and waiting at the start of every new season.  In Michigan, we have four seasons every year, each lasting about 3 months, give or take. Four times a year,  I have the opportunity to start over.

fall-centerpiece.jpgHow I choose to design and plant pots is a process I look forward to.  Certain plants that I may have never given a moment’s notice suddenly interest me.  Certain plants or materials that I have never seen or used become available. Growers of all kinds give a special gift-a vocabulary from which a container planting is eventually able to speak. A color combination that suddenly strikes my fancy. There was a time when I dreaded the coming of the fall.  All I could think about was the beginning of the end of the garden. What a silly notion.  Fall is a great time to plant in a landscape or garden. The temperatures are moderate, and the rainfall more regular.  Fall is also a great time to plant containers.

DSC_4793The leaves of the trees maturing, turning color, and dropping, is a spectacular event. The sun low in the sky endows everything in the garden with a special glow.  The cutting flowers and vegetables at my local farmer’s market speak to the abundance of the harvest. Every color from the sky to the kale to the red peppers is completely saturated. The ornamental grasses are never more beautiful  than they are in the fall.  Caring for fall containers is easy.  Cool temperatures means infrequent watering.  Trouble with bugs-not so much.

DSC_4799  The summer annuals are slowing down, and showing signs of displeasure with the cool nights. The coleus and non stop begonias in my containers are the first to show signs that their season is coming to a close.  They like hot sunny weather.  Nights in the 40′s are not to their liking.  I am reluctant to give up my summer containers; they have provided me with so much color, texture, and form all season long.  My containers are always their best in September.  They have grown in, and grown up.  The dahlias are never better than they are in September and October.

DSC_4877However, it is but a short time from the peak, to the decline.  That said, the decline of the summer summer loving plants does not mean the decline of the garden.  We have a fall season, dead ahead.  Summer containers can be switched out for fall.  Local nurseries, garden centers and farmer’s markets carry all kinds of fall blooming and cold tolerant plants. Pansies and asters are great in fall containers.  Dwarf evergreens shine in fall pots. Succulents, even tropical succulents, are tolerant of cooler weather.  Foliage plants are especially gorgeous in the fall.  The ornamental cabbage and kale are extraordinarily beautiful. I like heucheras better in the fall than the summer. So many of the ornamental grasses are suited for a planting in a fall container.  Chrysanthemums have their place-they thrive and bloom in cool weather.  There are lots of choices, if you decide to go ahead and choose.

DSC_4878I like adding fresh cut and preserved or dry natural materials to fall pots.  Why not?  They provide me with the option of going taller and wider. They have the potential to provide a sculptural quality to fall containers that is hard to obtain otherwise.  Faux materials, as in the orange suede floret stems in this pot, can add a lot of color. There will not be so much in the way of growth from the fall pots unless the weather stays moderately warm and sunny-just like the weather we are having right now.  The ornamental grasses that are available can add some height and rhythm to fall containers. This is welcome, given the static quality of chrysanthemums, asters, and ornamental cabbage and kale.

DSC_4892The only draw back of the ornamental grasses is the size of their rootballs.  Big grasses have even bigger root systems.  A six foot tall grass is likely to take up a lot of space in a pot. An ornamental grass transplanted into a pot is not rooted in.  A good wind or hard rain can knock them over.  It is possible to get all of what is good about a grass or a grain by cutting them, and securing them to a bamboo pole.  A stout 8′ bamboo pole only takes up one inch of space in a container.

DSC_4893In addition to ornamental grasses, broom corn and millet dry beautifully.  The colors mix well with preserved eucalyptus, twigs,  the ripe seed pods of butterfly weed, gomphrena, Chinese lanterns, mature echinacea stems and thistle. Any garden has plenty of materials that can be harvested for a fall container.  If the roadside weeds suit you, be sure you shake out all of the ripe seeds before you use them.

DSC_4895Some materials I turn upside down and hang for a few days prior to use.  If you need an element to be upright, let gravity do the work of drying it in that position.  Other materials look better in a casually draped state. I do dry the grains indoors.  Once they are outside, and the seeds mature, you will have gold finches swarming your pots.  This is an experience of fall that is pure pleasure.

Sept 26 2014 (2)New to me this year-dry banana stalks.  They curl as they dry in a way that only nature could create.  They are quite heavy, so we attach them to bamboo stakes in two places before we use them in pots. If you use any preserved or cut materials in pots, they need anchoring.  You need to supply what the roots once did.  Rob does a great job of finding great dried and preserved materials for pots.

Sept 26 2014 (1)These pots are quite large, and ask for an arrangement proportional to that size.  The centerpieces provide a lot of height, and a lot of visual interest.  The kale and cabbage are enormous this year-thanks to the cool summer.  If you do use them in containers, be sure to water at the soil line, and not over the leaves.  The leaves shed water, and can leave the soil dry. The leaves of some varieties are arranged densely around the stalks-if they do get wet, and do not have a chance to dry out, the plants can develop mold.

DSC_4905The most important part is to exercise your imagination, and enjoy the experience of fall gardening.  Though my pots at home still look good, I am thinking ahead to what I might want to see for fall.  I have plenty of trees and shrubs that are getting ready to turn color.  My fall pots will look right at home.

Sept 26 2014 (4)eucalyptus, black and green millet, and “Coral Queen” kale

Sept 26 2014 (3)finished fall arrangement

Sept 26 2014 (6)ready and representing the fall

 

At A Glance: Late Fall

fall-leaves.jpg
maples shedding

mid-November.jpgbleached maples leaves

maple-fall-color.jpgmaple leaves

Japanese-maple-in-the-fall.jpgJapanese maple in late November

gingko-and-hydrangea-in-the-fall.jpgGingko and hydrangea

parrotia.jpgparrotias

pear-tree-in-fall.jpgpear tree

pear-espalier.jpgpear espalier

Venus-dogwood-fall-color.jpgVenus dogwood

oak-tree.jpgold oak

snow-today.jpgsnow today

Leaf Me Alone

 

green-leaves.jpg

Why is it that the moment you want something the worst is that very moment you are destined to loose it?  I mourn the loss of the leaves, come fall.  It is the end of a story that has unfolded over many months.  Once the plants have leaved out in the spring, we are awash in the green that leaves provide.  Everywhere I look in my little garden, I see green leaves.  The stiff little boxwood leaves all precisely laid along the stems.  The big lax rhododendron leaves flopping this way and that.  The big handed Princeton Gold maple leaves are held parallel to the ground, and shade every plant and every person beneath them.  The curly fronds beech ferns have that missing front tooth look.  The magnolia leaves are simple, big, and strong.

boston-ivy.jpg

The hellebore leaves fan out, whorled around their stems.  The hydrangeas leaves are ovate-each shrub is smothered with them.  The rose leaves are glossy, and subtly serrated.  Perennial geranium leaves-they are the most astonishing clubby shape, and heavily veined.  The leaves of grass we refer to as blades. The leaves of the Parrotia are stiff, and marked with strong parallel veins.  The dogwood leaves are softer, more subtle.  The leaves of the hardy hibiscus-large and thin.  The leaves of butterburr-the elephant in the garden room.  Yews do not have leaves.  They have needles.  Those green needily configured leaves grace the garden year round.

boston-ivy.jpg

The leaves of the Palabin lilac are short and pert.  Snakeroot has large and dramatically serrated leaves.  The peonies feature thick glossy leaves that endow the garden long after they have finished blooming.  Thyme leaves-so small.  Dandelion leaves-coarse and uncouth.  Horseradish leaves-the ultimate height and breadth of uncouth. Scotch moss leaves are soft and mossy in appearance.  The platycodon leaves are thick and stiff as a board and quite blue in color.  The big sail like delphinium leaves are all a spring storm needs to blow a stand of tall and ethereal blue blossoms over and onto to its knees.

boston-ivy.jpg

Creeping jenny has round leaves-the lime version can cover the ground in no time.  The lime leaves of the hosta Sum and Substance are stiff and heavily veined-in the summer.  Regal, this plant.  At the first frost they collapse in a heap.  Not so regal, how they melt in the cold, and go down.  Russian sage, lavender and dusty miller have silvery gray leaves.

boston-ivy.jpg

There are those leaves in colors other than green.  This list is long.  Red leaves.  Variegated leaves.  Yellow leaves.  White leaves.  But the leaves do more than delight a gardener with their shape, mass and color.  Leaves photosynthesize, meaning that they absorb, and convert sunlight into energy.  The leaves of a plant fuel its growth and health.  In the fall, those food makers are shed from the plants about to go dormant.  The process by which a leaf provides a plant with energy all summer,  matures, colors up, and drops, is an extraordinary story.

boston-ivy.jpg

Fall color is all about the leaves.  The lime green shoot that leafed out in the spring, and energized a plant all season long, matures in the fall.  The life cycle of a leaf represents the life cycle of a garden.  How astonishing that the leaves turn such beautiful color in the fall before they drop. That garden day that I treasure the leaves the most is the the spring.  The leafing out in spring is all about the hope for the future of the garden.  My second most treasured day?  That moment when all of the leaves in my garden have colored up, and are about to fall.

boston-ivy.jpg

Once fall comes, the leaves have done their job. No leaves make a better show of the end of the season than Boston Ivy.  They make a party, in celebration of a season well lived.  The close of their season-fiery.  Just look at the leaves.

the-stems.jpgAll that remains now of these Boston ivy leaves are the stems.  How could I miss them-they are the most astonishing shade of pink imaginable. They come away from the wall in a way that stops me dead in my tracks.  All summer and fall long I look at these leaves, and marvel.  The garden asks for a lot, but the story it delivers is delightful.  Epic.