What’s Good About This?



These pots are a bit of a bedraggled mess, but there are some good things about them.  It is proof positive that we have 4 seasons, each of which lasts about three months.  I planted them the end of September- that makes this planting just shy of three months old.  This client got a full season’s worth.  I did have a client who did not plant fall pots this year.  By October 15 she was wondering when the winter pots could be done.

Twigs and greens become available in the early part of the winter season.  The twigs arrive after all of the leaves have dropped; in a good year, this is November 15.  The winter cut greens are not far behind. She emailed me threee times-that fall season with empty pots proved to be a long one for her.  This fall pot is finally beginning to succumb to the effects of relentless fall rains, and cold.  The kale are still amazingly fresh looking and colorful.

 The mess of a deteriorating situation reminds me of the look of my perennial garden in early winter.  The grasses bend, go over, break off, and blow down the street.  The kales are still their inflexible and massive selves.  Brown is beginning to seem like the dominant color. Clearly my client has not touched these pots up in any way.  All of the dead leaves are still there.  Not one thing has been snipped off, propped up, or fluffed out.  What I am looking at is the end of the fall season, plain and simple. 

I don’t mind the look of plants going dormant, or succumbing to the cold.  There is a certain stark beauty in that.  I had to chop back all of the perennials in my rose garden early this fall, as I repainted all of the trim and windows on the house. I am already missing seeing that garden in its early winter incarnation. 

This spike will eventually dry to a pale cream color.  The wiry stems firmly resist decomposition.  Would that my hosta leaves would dry, rather than collapsing into mountains of yellow mush.  Hosta leaves are mostly water; a good frost finishes them off for good.  Have you ever tried to rip a spike leaf in half?  The entire plant would come out of the ground first.  If you have a plan to leave your dead plants in your pots over the winter, spikes and grasses will brave the winter weather better than most.

Certain plants represent robustly-all fall long.  The cabbages and kales far outlast the pansies, and the creeping jenny.  The seed heads of grasses far outlast their foliage.  Vinca maculatum is the most amazingly cold resistant plant.  It is as green as green can be, in December. 

There are those bridge plants-plants that can thrive for more than one season.  The succulent trailer known as angelina is green all year round for me.  Persian Queen geraniums are great in the summer, and good very late into the fall.  The fairly new perennial geranium Rozanne is still throwing flowers in December.   Some pansy cultivars planted in the fall are right back the following spring. I probably will redo this container for winter, but I do not really need to do so anytime soon.

Constructing The Centerpiece

No matter what season is in question, a centerpiece in a container planting can organize the planting, and enrich the visual experience.  Fall in my zone means a limited selection of plants grow at a vastly reduced rate.  My summer pots have nicotiana mutabilis topping 6 feet now-none of my fall plants will grow like this.  I have no objection to creating a centerpiece in a fall pot from natural materials that have already grown up, and been harvested.  A case of really beautiful bittersweet arrived a few days ago-I could not wait to use it in some fall container plantings. 

Other natural materials are from places far from my home.  Bahia spears-I have not the faintest idea what plant produced these stems.  They are stiff and woody; these chocolate and gold stems look just like fall.  Dried natural materials are an element that can spice up a fall planting. I love each and every one of my living plants, but the ability to create a shape from natural materials, and integrate that into a planting is great fun-try it!      

The base of this centerpiece-a pair of broomcorn shocks.  Broomcorn-yes, this plant has been widely grown for for brooms.  This means the stalks are stiff and weather impervious.  The seed heads come in a range of colors from cream to red to black.  I zip tie several bunches around a stout bamboo stake.  That stake will keep my centerpiece straight up and down, no matter the weather.  Zip ties-love them.  They hold the heaviest centerpiece together.  I use lots of them, in the early stages of construction.This centerpiece is ready; there are three layers- all zip tied to a stake.  The lower tier-10 faux grass stems.  Fault me if you will for the fake statement, but anything that pleases my eye is ok.  The long portion of this stake will be set way down into to soil of a pot.  This stake is an anchor, and a rudder.  A centerpiece gone out of level is not a good look.  The centerpieces need to stand up straight.  The beauty of any design depends on what your eye can believe.  This centerpiece has a ways to go, before I would call it finished.    

This three tiered centerpiece gets some air from the bittersweet vine sections, and a welcome shot of fall color. I cut the stems on an extreme angle, and work them under the zip tie.  These wild and curving stems will start to loosen up that strictly zip tied affair.  I use lots of zip ties in the construction of a centerpiece, as it will need to travel to the job.  Should you be constructing a fall centerpiece for a treasured pair of pots-go large, go tall-be loose. The ties you do not really need once the entire container is finished can be cut off, for a looser yet effect. 

My centerpiece made the trip to the job without any damage.  It is very heavy, but easy to handle.  My crews handle anything I send their way with aplomb.  The fabric you see draped over the edge of a pot keeps the pot from getting dirty on the rim.  The tarp on the ground is there for the same reason.  A little care keeps the cleanup part fast and easy.  The Redbor kale are the center plants.  These we plant first, so its easy to tell exactly where the centerpiece goes.  Getting the centerpiece in the center is as important as making sure it is perfectly upright.         

Levelling the centerpiece takes some time-and at least four hands.  Once that centerpiece is set, level, and solid, we tweak.  The top most zip tie-we cut that off.  We move this element up, we move that element down.  We deconstruct what we constructed. This is the most important part.  A centerpiece has to be strong and securely made.  But how it gets loosened up is what creates a very natural look.   

All of the elements of the centerpiece gets adjusted after it is installed.  I try to integrate it with the living material in such a way that it all looks lively, and of a piece.

Fall  plantings are all about some cabbages, some mums, some late representing grasses, the pansies-those plants that tolerate cold temperatures.  But fall container plantings are greatly about that gardener that has a mind to represent fall in a way they think is beautiful.    

What is in your yard, drying, now?  Sounds like a centerpiece to be, to me.

If your yard is light on materials that might work in a container, your local nursery or famer’s market is bound to have something. There are lots of possibilities for fall pots- make the most of having a choice.  Your fall pots have lots of possibilities.  Make much of the fall plants that tolerate the cold.  Make more of putting it all together.