Fall Fete And Fandango

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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.

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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

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black kale

black eucalyptus

black twigsblack twigs

 

 

 

Generous

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.

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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.

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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.

A Case For Planting Containers For Fall

 

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Our summer season has not been so friendly to those of us who garden in containers.  All of the tropical plants in the containers despised the cold, and the relentless rain.  Why do I even plant tropical plants in my containers?  Annual plants bloom, set seed, and die, over the course of one season.  If I remove the dead flower from an annual plant, I am thwarting its natural instinct to reproduce itself via the act of setting seed. This annual plant will bloom again, hoping to set seed, the next time.  This means there are flowers coming on all season long.  Some hybrid annual plants are sterile-they do not set seed.  They will continue to bloom over the warm months in spite of this.

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Warm months is the operative phrase here.  Many of our common annual plants are native to climates much warmer than the midwest.  They dislike being planted in cold soil in our spring, and they faint dead away with the first frost.  Why do I put up with this?  I like that group of annual flowers that grow larger and bloom with abandon all summer long.  Those plants with oversized tropical leaves-as in alocasias, calocasias, cannas, tree ferns and the like-are equally as pleasing.  They represent lush in a way that few plants hardy in my zone can match.  Container plantings help make my landscape feel like summer.

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I admire those gardeners that plant hostas in pots-bravo.  However, I like my hostas best, in ground. I have tried lots of perennial and shrubby plants in containers-by this I mean lavender, hydrangeas, hyssop, buddleia, gloriosa daisies, boxwood-I could go on, but won’t.  The only perennial plant I really value in containers is strawberries.  The leaves are large and beautifully serrated.  The unripe fruit is a beautiful color.  The ripe fruit is irresistible.  Some gardeners are attracted to the idea that their containers full of hostas could be brought out of the garage in the spring, and put in place-as usual.  Other gardeners are determined to keep boxwood, boxwood topiaries, junipers and their topiary variants alive in containers, season after season, year after year.  One of the things I value the most about the planting seasonal containers is how a fresh start energetically engages the imagination.  Last year’s containers-more about history than the moment.  I am not enchanted by my containers being over and done with.  Done-I dread both the adjective, and the noun.  So does nature, by the way.

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The prospect of my containers being filled with the same plants year after year would bore me beyond all belief. I would not care if the boxwood sphere put on another six inches in height and girth.  I value the change up pitch better than a fast ball down the middle.  My landscape has taken many years to bring to a level that pleases me.  Any major change would be a major upheaval.  Not that I adverse to some upheaval.  A landscape is a big fluid situation that evolves over a period of years.  There is no fast forward.  No matter how loud you are able to snap your fingers, the landscape will take years to really respond.  But my summer containers reward my efforts relatively quickly.

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The second reason I so value tropical plants in my containers?  I can plant something different next year, and the year after that.  I can ditch my failures, and move on.  I can entertain a color scheme on a whim.  A cold and rainy season will not stalk me beyond the frost.  Next year will be different.

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As for planting fall pots-let’s agree that this summer was not the best for container plantings.  I have appreciated the summer heat we have gotten in September-all of my containers look much better than they did a month ago.  Most of my containers have dark empty spots.  Those holes are from the begonias that rotted.  What coleus didn’t give up has spots-the tell tale sign of cold.

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In late September, there are several options for a container that has unnattractive gaps.  Those tropical plants that have faded away can be replaced with cold hardy plants-as in parsley, 4″ cabbage and kale, pansies, bok choy, Napa lettuce, ivy of every description, chrysanthemums, asters-there are no end of fall hardy and fall blooming plants that could fill your gaps.

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Or you could replant you containers for fall. I have lots of containers.  I will stand pat with most of them until the frost takes them down.  But the pots I drive up to every day, I replant them for fall.  I have lots of choices for material.  Broom corn, fresh and preserved eucalyptus, twigs, preserved leptospermum, asters, gourds, dried grasses, cabbage, kale, lettuce, pansies, rosemary, thistles, pumpkins, bittersweet, dried hydrangeas from my yard, twigs from the field, chrysanthemums-you get my drift.  It is entirely possible that my fall containers will be the best of the year.  I have no regrets about the annuals going down.  I have the fall season coming on.

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All my driveway pots need is for me to assemble a group of fall materials, and soldier on.  Soldiering on?  This means plant.  Stick.  Arrange.

fall-planting.jpgEnjoy the season.

 

 

Shop Your Own

Once the summer garden wanes, every devoted gardener is looking to extend their expression on into the fall.  Why wouldn’t they?  The alternatives are not pretty- sulking is not a good look.  I understand that the love for the garden is not something that be turned on and off, like water from a spigot.  Fall containers and plantings enable gardeners to take advantage of the fruits of the harvest, the late blooming perennials, and the cold tolerant annuals.  Just today I spoke with a client who told me he hated this time of year-the coming of the end of the garden.  Michigan is a great place to garden, as we do have four seasons-each distinctly different than the others.  Why not take advantage of that?

Farmer’s markets and garden centers feature loads of fall plants, pumpkins, and gourds this time of year. There are mums and asters to be had, and pots of grasses, seeding.  Petunias and salvias are all good with the cold. I will confess I buy lots of them-for my own garden, and my shop.  But as blog reader Alan Fox put so clearly, I am driving with one eye to the road, and my gardener’s eye to what lies on the side of the road, or in my own garden, that might help make my fall containers more interesting.

Anyone who grows a perennial garden has fall material available to them.  The thick stalks of perennial hibiscus, laden with seeds, dries beautifully.  Bunches of ornamental grass, or dry hydrangeas are good looking.   My own Acanthus mollis, or bear’s britches, has stems and seeds that are uncommonly beautiful.  Any perennial or grass whose stems dry can enrich your description of the fall season. 

Bear’s britches from my garden, and butterfly seed pods from the field next door make a great fall centerpiece.  I did spray the acanthus with a clear sealer-this helps to glue the seeds in place.  The brown dyed eucalyptus adds a little warm company.  This pansy mix would be a little lonely all on its own, but it as a member of this group, it shines.


Statice longifolia is easy to grow, provided you have a loty of sun, and soil that drains in an instant.  A mature plant in full bloom is like a cloud of lavender blue.  Though that color is fairly short lived once it is cut, it lasts long enough to enrich a fall pot.  The stems themselves are easy to dry. 

The field next door has plenty of plants which have gone dormant. No end of wild plants have sturdy stems that can grace a fall container or display.  Many are even strong enough to survive the winter intact. The field next door has grasses seeding, weeds going to their skeletal stage. The remains of the summer Queen Anne’s Lace, in a substantial mass-quite beautiful.  The creams and browns may not be as showy as a delphinium in full bloom, but they have their own charm.

The fuzzy bits of these spotted knapweed stems are surprisingly sturdy.  Centaurea stoebe is a short lived but very vigorous perennial one would not invite into a cultivated garden.  But their remains are lovely. 

Rumex crispus, or curly dock, has strikingly robust seed heads.  It is just one of many materials that are readily available.  Foraging the roadsides can be a treasure trove of natural materials for fall.  The only time I would ever welcome a Canada thistle into my life would be the dead and dried version.  In this form, I like it. 

    

All those roadside weeds freshly matured into their fall forms, and arranged as a centerpeice can be quite handsome in a pot.  This time of year, more than any other, I envy those gardeners with wild places on their property full of popple branches, rosa multiflora, chicory, butterfly weed, centaura, sumac and so on that look so graceful in a fall arrangement.