A Fall Container Planting

fall container planting 2015 (1)Our fall container plantings are underway. It is not always easy to convince a client that planting for fall is a good idea.  In Michigan, there is this psychological perception that the spring and the fall are short seasons, and the summer and winter are long.  It may feel that way, but all of the seasons are roughly equal in length.  My pots at home have been great, but just today I am seeing signs of decline.  The plectranthus is not liking the cold nights.  The elegant feather grass is just about in full fall color. Planting pots for fall is not just about replacing summer material that is no longer looking its best.  It is more about embracing and enjoying the season at hand.

fall container planting 2015 (3)One of my favorite materials for fall is broom corn. This tall grain features thick sturdy stalks, and seed heads in various shades of fall.  Zip tied around a bamboo stake, the broom corn provides a striking vertical element in a pot, and will last late into the fall.  Should you use it in your fall pots, be prepared for for the birds.  They love the seeds.  I can hardly fault them. And I enjoy all of that activity.   The wiry stems under all of those seeds have been made into brooms for hundreds of years.  As much as I like my brooms, I better value how broom corn can endow a fall container.

planting a fall potChrysanthemums elicit strong opinions from every gardener.  Were I thinking of planting a chrysanthemum in my garden for a yearly October display, I would plant “Sheffield Pink”.  I have a next door neighbor with trees under planted with this mum-they have made an impressive show every year of the 20 years I have lived in my neighborhood.  I don’t see that they get any special care or extra water. They shrug off the cold and light frosts.  But for fall containers, I can be swayed by a big mum ball.

fall container planting 2015 (4)I wait to buy them. A chrysanthemum blooming in late August or September will not last through the fall season.  When both the day and the night temperatures get down to 50 or lower, A chrysanthemum in bud will have some longevity. As much as I love ornamental cabbages and kales, there are those who love that color that comes from flowers.

fall container planting 2015 (5)Cut bittersweet is available at this time of year.  The color is striking. The stems are naturally curving.  Their vining shapes can loosen up the most formal and static fall planting. We buy cut stems from a grower that are loaded with seeds.  As much as I know that bittersweet is invasive, I have yet to see a garden infiltrated by bittersweet from branches I have put in pots. When the fall container season is over, we are careful to dispose of the stems-we never compost them.

fall container planting 2015 (7)The bunches we buy are fairly short, and loaded with seeds. We may cut them down to individual stems, so we can place them all over in a pot.  Though our broom corn centerpieces are zip tied in several places, we add a special zip tie-just for the bittersweet.  The fall season can be rainy and blustery.  Solid construction means your fall pots will look as good at the end as they do at the beginning.

fall container planting 2015 (6)The bittersweet zip tie is loosely set at the beginning, so all of the stems going all around the centerpiece fit inside. We always have 4 hands on deck for this-sometimes 6. The desired result?  A beautiful bouquet, speaking to fall. The long stalks of the broom corn help us to get a proper and proportional height to that centerpiece.  Another element will be needed to cover those sticks, and the zip ties.

fall container planting 2015 (2)Detroit Garden Works always stocks bushel baskets full of preserved and dyed eucalyptus. We must stock better than 20 colors.  Eucalyptus has the uncanny ability to absorb preservative and color. These stems are light fast, and the color does not run. The big leaves are a great texture, and the variety of color means there will be something to appeal to almost everyone.

fall container planting 2015 (10)
We attach a partial bunch of eucalyptus to a bamboo stake, so we can place it wherever an arrangement needs it. Rob and I placed an enormous order this past January.  There are few materials for fall and winter pots that are as versatile, durable and satisfying as this.  It is a natural material that fits right into a fall container.

planting a fall pot
The real story here is that the natural materials part of a fall container plays a critical roll in its visual success.  Cool weather means plants do not grow fast. Many of the cold tolerant plants are small in stature.  Not everyone loves cabbage and kale-which has a great scale for containers.  If you buy plants for fall containers, buy big ones.  Pack them in. There won’t be much in the way of growing. And last of all, consider cut natural materials.

fall container planting 2015 (9)I left my crew at this point.  Not that I even needed to be there.  They have been doing fall pots for me for many years.  And they have a gift for placement and arrangement. This pot was not done, but I could see where it was headed.  Headed straight away into fall.


Recent Work


fall-container-planting.jpgFall is an incredibly beautiful season in Michigan. The sun low in the sky, and the morning fog makes every color intensely saturated.  The leaves changing electrifies a fall palette of color in the landscape in a way that no flower could hope to achieve. The sugar maples are brilliantly fiery; the hydrangeas are a muted shade of brown and pink.   No season celebrates color like the fall. We are in the early stages of that transition from summer to fall.  This is a season that I follow closely, as I do not wish to miss one moment of it. The materials available for fall are spectacular in color.  The ornamental cabbages and kales intensify in color as the temperature drops. The pumpkins and gourds are impossible to resist. Everything about them speaks to the harvest, and to fall color.

coral-bells.jpgThese pots are planted all around at the bottom with heuchera.  I am not so much a fan of dark leaved coral bells in the summer garden.  They are shockingly gloomy to me in the heat of August.   In the fall, they shine in containers. These dark colors are so beautiful on a rainy fall day. I see many more growers offering large heuchera plants for sale in the fall.  There are so many foliage plants with great color available.  No doubt I associate and welcome certain colors with certain seasons.  This is a luxury enjoyed by a gardener in a four season zone.

DSC_5372The window boxes in the front of the shop are showing signs of fall color.  I so appreciate those years when the fall comes slowly, and the killing frost is late.  The brown potato vine and the coleus are singed with cold.  The color in these boxes is changing with the season.  It is easy to replace certain very cold susceptible elements in a summer container with more cold tolerant plants.  But letting the fall season work its magic on a a summer planting can be quite beautiful.

week of Sept 29 (7)
These urns sitting at the front door empty would be just lovely.  But planted for fall, they have a warm and welcoming appeal .  week of Sept 29 (14)Red Bor kale is one of the most versatile of all fall container plants.  They are tall enough to make a vertical statement.  The crinkled dark purple leaves darken more as the temperatures get cooler. They are less rigid in shape than the other cabbages and kales, making it easy to fill in the gaps between the other plants.

DSC_5408Not every fall arrangement needs to be standard issue orange and yellow.  There is an astonishing number of white and green pumpkins and gourds to be had.  Every grower has something a little different.  Every fall I see gourd shapes and color combinations I have not seen before.  An arrangement of pumpkins and gourds in a window box is as lovely a celebration of the fall as a boxful of foliage and flowers.

DSC_5364pots at the shop

JR fall 2014  5fall pots with dry hydrangeas

White kale and dry banana stems


fall container with broom corn, plum eucalyptus, orange floral picks, red bor kale and red chidori kale.

JR fall 2014red cabbage, cirrus dusty miller, gray eucalyptus and white banana stems

Red bor kale, pink cabbage and succulents

coleus-in-the-fall.jpgHow I am enjoying this beautiful moment.

Fall Fete And Fandango


Every year we place pots outside the Community House in Birmingham in celebration of their Our Town Art Show and Sale.  This event is not only an art show, it is a fundraiser.  The money they raise goes to support any and all of their community outreach programs.  We are not only happy to lend a hand, we enjoy it.  I like to create an atmosphere of celebration with these, and all of our fall container plantings.  Fall is a fete and fandango in Michigan that features incredible weather and great color.


These flower arrangements in pie pumpkins went to decorate the tables at Roast downtown.  The event- the fall Gala for the Greening of Detroit.  Their gala celebrates the people and events that have contributed to the success of their programs.  The fall gardening season is a celebration of the harvest, a final fiery display of color that precedes the first hard frost, and a time to plant for the future.  We are doing lots of fall planting in the landscape.  Soon it will be time to plant bulbs for spring.

pumpkins and gourds 2013 (39)We have finished all of our fall container plantings for this year, save one project coming up next week.  To follow is a sampling of the work.

pumpkins and gourds 2013 (49)bucket of swiss chard

pink-chrysanthemum.jpgpink mini-mum ball with rose pink pansy mix

pumpkins and gourds 2013 (15)rosemary, alyssum, and green gourds

Oct 3d 2013

fall container

October container 7

red bor kale and bittersweet

the-pink-door.jpgthe pink door

Oct 9 2013 (29)Rob’s grow sphere with a gourd and pansies

October container 2fall container arrangement

potted-pumpkin.jpgpotted pumpkin

Oct 3i 2013

broom corn, eucalyptus, cabbage and kale

Oct 4cfall window box

fall-pot.jpgpurple chrysanthemum

urn-full-of-gourds.jpggrapevine and gourds

Oct 3a 2013

ruffly red cabbage

Oct 3f 2013

green millet

Oct 3 2013 (1)dyed yellow twigs

DSC_4704pumpkin pot

Oct 3b 2013lavender, green, and white

fall-planters.jpgfall containers

black kale

black eucalyptus

black twigsblack twigs





fall-planting.jpgThough we have had some very warm weather lately, our the fall gardening season has begun.  There are telltale signs.  Shorter days, a decidedly cooler quality of light, and the the chilly mornings are all signs that summer is coming to a close.  But the end of summer is by no means the end of the garden.  The abundance that results in the harvest season is one of fall’s great pleasures.

fall-container-plantings.jpgThe grasses are maturing.  Our farmer’s market is overflowing with squashes, greens of all kinds, pumpkins,  cabbage and broccoli, gourds and tomatoes.  Many vegetables need our entire season to mature.  Locally grown fruit of all kinds-especially apples-are available at market.  Similarly, there are lots of beautiful materials available to the avid container gardener. I like for the fall containers we do to have a generous and abundant quality to them. A fall centerpiece for a container is usually comprised of harvested goods.  Millet, dry twigs, broom corn, eucalyptus, milkweed pods and dried perennial stems are all natural materials in a harvested state.

planting-for-fall.jpgWhen the temperatures begin to drop, there is not so much growing going on.  We rely on large material to give containers the scale they need right from the start.  The centerpieces have large stout bamboo stakes at their center.  These stakes go deep into the soil, keeping a big heavy centerpiece not only aloft, but straight up and down.

fall-container.jpgThe cabbages and kale are the mainstays of our fall plantings.  We are indeed fortunate to have growers that supply them in one gallon pots this time of year.  A container this size represented in a generous way makes a visually pleasing statement.

fall-plantings.jpgThis material will persist and look good long into the fall.  The cabbage and kale will shrug off the frosts in November as if they were nothing more than an annoyance.  The dry and preserved material is very happy outdoors in cool weather with great air circulation.  All it takes is a willingness to scoop up what materials are available that interest you, and make something of them.

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgThis Friday past we planted 24 pots in downtown Detroit-we will finish up the last 7 on Monday.  Assembling the materials for a planting takes a lot of time and planning, especially if the pots are large.  My group has worked together long enough to have established a working routine.

fall-container-plantings.jpgAhead of the planting, the pots need to be designed.  Once I put that on paper, Steve will coordinate the installation.  Everyone has a job such that the work can be completed with dispatch.  All of the summer material needs to be removed and put on the truck; that material will be added to our compost piles.  The new material is sorted, and distributed where it needs to go.  Assembling centerpieces on site take 2 pair of hands.  We try to clean up as we go, to keep the mess at a minimum.

planting-for-fall.jpgThe centerpiece goes in last, and is firmly secured.  The construction of fall pots is entirely unlike planting pots for summer, and more like planting pots for winter.  There is more arranging going on than growing.

fall.jpgBittersweet stems are zip tied to bamboo stakes, and set in the pot at the very last.  Bittersweet is not a plant I would want in my garden-it is highly invasive.  However the dried stems and berries are very durable and beautiful outdoors in fall pots.

generous.jpgThe dried and dyed yellow twigs provide lots of color at a time of year when color is at a premium.  Preserved eucalyptus is another great source of color.  The plum eucalyptus in this arrangement is subtle, but it picks up the dark carmine pink of the cabbage and kale.

fall-planting.jpgI like fall represented as a celebration.


Pansies and violas are great in small pots, or as a accent in a large pots.  These bowls are 6 feet in diameter, and take a lot of material.  The contemporary shape benefits from the repetition of materials.  Each of the 11 pots we planted for fall has the same overall design, but features different and alternating materials.

moss-dog.jpgThe fall planting for all of the dogs at Chase Tower have a center of dusty miller and cut green millet.  The silver and light green help the dark moss sculptures to stand out.  The pots are located under a very high overhang, so they are always in the shade.  The cabbage and kale will tolerate this for the several months they will be planted here.

moss dog.jpgThe moss dogs add so much visual interest, and they can be retained season after season.  The moss can be be sprayed with moss food coloring once it fades.  When the time comes that the moss deteriorates, the steel frames can be re stuffed.

moss-dog.jpgThre dogs themselves are welded onto steel posts that are 30″ tall.  This keeps the sculptures above the top of the plant material.

1001-Woodward.jpgOur last stop-the stock tanks at 1001 Woodward. The espalier pear trees will spend the fall season here, and then be moved into storage for the winter.  The redbor kale and frilly purple cabbage look great with the black tanks.

This small urban park is as friendly as it is stylish.  The stock tanks are an unexpected choice for containers.  The artificial turf is just plain fun.  It was a gorgeous day to be downtown planting.