Recent Work

One of my crews has been planting fall containers full time and just about non stop for going on a month. I suspect we will be able to finish up by the end of this coming week. I am pleased that the warm weather has finally retreated. Really? Great seasonal container design is all the better for the inspiration that comes standard issue from nature. Our most colorful season is nigh upon us. The dogwood leaves have turned red and orange. The green leaves of the oak leaf hydrangeas everywhere are trending towards maroon. At the shop, the leaves of a single branch on the 5500 square feet of wall covered in Boston ivy are a brilliant red. This is a signal. Our fall season is underway. Cooler temperatures are a signal to deciduous plants to shut down their production of chlorophyll. Soon enough the green landscape will give way to the yellow, red, orange and purple we associate with fall. The rosemary in the above containers I would call a plant for all seasons. Planted in early April, these plants have grown on and still look great, seven months later.

Cooler temperatures means the ornamental cabbage and kale are beginning to color up. The color of their leaves will continue to intensify once the temperatures are reliably below 50 degrees. The most intense color will surface after a frost. That color will be more saturated after several frosts. Gardeners have a lot to look forward to. What you see in the picture above is a pale version of the the final mile. The changes to the leaves in the ornamental cabbage and kale as a result of dropping temperatures are part of the bigger process we call fall.That visual leafy change from summer to fall is the best reason for planting containers for fall. Should the experience of every season enchant you, bring that joy home. Pots at the front or back door, or on a terrace, are a daily reminder to enjoy the season at hand.

Ornamental cabbage and kale differ from the vegetable versions in several significant ways. Ornamental varieties form large flat rosettes.  The centers of these rosettes is what will eventually show color. The outer leaves stay green. The colder it gets, the more striking the color.  It won’t hurt you to eat ornamental cabbage, but the leaves can be shockingly bitter. You are on your own with that. Cabbage for consumption eventually form heads as part of their natural cycle of growth. Cabbage grown for consumption is mild. Cabbage meant for fall pots is all about the look of the leaves.  Kale meant for consumption evokes widely differing and strong opinions. Suffice it to say not everyone loves that taste. But kale representing in fall pots is about a visual discussion of the season.    The intersection of agriculture and landscape design is my most favorite place to be. Vegetables provide food. But the history and practice of growing plants for food contributes much to the ornamental garden. One obvious example is the corn maze. The availability of fresh sweet corn is a highlight of the summer. A field of late planted, late to mature corn bred and grown for silage with a maze cut into it is an experience of the farm enjoyed by many in the fall. This ornamental form of agriculture brings visitors to farms to buy pumpkins and apples at a time when their growing season has come to a close.  Interested in more information on local harvest events open to the public?   Michigan corn mazes

There are few fall container plants as showy as the ornamental cabbages and kale, but their true strength lies in their persistence. They are not only cold tolerant, they are frost tolerant.  I have seen them endure temperatures as low as 20 degrees without harm. Clients often ask me how long a fall planting will last. Each if our four seasons lasts 3 months, give or take. I value container plantings, as they celebrate the season at hand, so I’ll take three months.

Everything in the garden is ephemeral to one degree or another. A white oak tree can survive 300 years, and the lilac bloom time in my zone is 2 weeks in a good year.  The crocus can be felled by frost the first day they open, or with cool days and nights, last a few weeks. The transitory nature of life is part of what makes it so precious. The Rosebud cabbages in the above picture were grown from seed, probably sown in late June or July. Three or four months past the germination of that seed, they look as luscious as they are robust. I expect this pot will look good throughout the fall, and into early winter.

Broom corn is a crop grown for just that reason-corn brooms. The seed is a favorite of birds.  We have to keep the garage door at the shop closed, otherwise we would be inundated by birds. But this material has interest even when the seeds are gone. The long stringy stems would persist all winter and then some. We use all sorts of materials in concert with the cabbage and kale-some natural and some not. The big idea is to represent the fall season in a satisfying way.

dyed birch branches, faux seed ball stems and Rosebud cabbage

bleached sticks, broom corn and Coral Prince cabbage

broom corn, eucalyptus, faux orange seed ball stems and Coral Queen cabbage

Himalayan white barked birch under planted with Prizm kale and creeping jenny

fall pot set in ornamental grass

pair of pots with Ruby Queen cabbage

Lemon cypress and Coral Prince cabbage

centerpiece with the kids in mind

A trio of pots are all dressed up for fall.

 

The Finish

All that work early last week in preparation for the installation of a group of pots planted for fall came to the following. I hope you enjoy them.

Our fall container season will pick up steam from this point on, as will the fall landscape and garden. Looking forward to it.

The Prep

As busy as we have been with landscape installation projects, we have a full roster of clients for whom we do fall container installations. We are happy to oblige. I understand wanting to change the pots out for the season to come. A summer planting that has declined, or not done well, or which has not measured up to expectation – it can be a relief to put that planting to rest, and move on. I have other clients who would prefer to move on to the fall when the summer planting is at its super nova best. Watching a container that has been a pleasure to experience the entire season go in to decline is a painful acknowledgement that the garden season has begun its long slide towards dormancy. Yet other clients like the fall season the best, and are ready for a new look as soon as the night temperatures drop. Not matter the reason, we are available to plant containers for fall. We try to treat the fall season with fresh eyes, and we like to represent the fall season in the most robust way possible. The summer season provides no end of plant material that is tall and vining, of medium height, of short stature, and of trailing habit.  I could make lists. But the fall season challenges anyone who plants a container to create a variety of levels, contrast, and volume. We look first at the construction of a centerpiece that might organize the entire arrangement. Our fall container pots sometimes feature centerpieces of a variety of materials that celebrate the end of summer, and the harvest. Constructing those centerpieces is in preparation for a fall container planting.

We rely in great measure on the height, volume, and color provided by cut stems of broom corn. The seed heads and drying leaves can provide a dramatic centerpiece to a fall pot. The broom corn we purchase is hung upside down from the moment we get it. That drying process up side down will challenge the effect of gravity – somewhat. This fall maturing crop was and still is grown for the production of corn brooms, but we value its bold good looks. Marzela has a gift for handling and arranging these heavy stems in a graceful way. Her centerpieces, no matter the materials, anchor the plantings we are about to do.  All of her materials are arranged around a stout bamboo pole, the length of which will be driven in to the soil in the pot. She has been creating centerpieces our installation scheduled for tomorrow, for the past 2 days.

Some summer pots have centerpieces that still look great.  I am thinking about the figs, the lemon cypress, the rosemary, the boxwood topiaries, and a whole host of dwarf evergreens. But other central players in summer pots will go down in concert with falling night temperatures. There are few fall plants that provide stature, and represent the color or the spirit of the season. So what other materials might be available? This is the long way of saying that not every centerpiece we do for a fall pot involves live material. In the interest of celebrating the fall season, we may assemble lots of materials that are not especially living, but are very lively visually. These centerpieces are a mix of all of the above. The bleached kuwa branches are a natural curly stem available to us in dried bunches. The preserved eucalyptus is a natural material that has been treated to last for months, no matter the weather. The white berry picks are as fake as fake can be. But they reference the natural world in a graphic way.

These centerpieces are slated for a specific pair of pots on a terrace that features a number of pots. The primary view is from a distance, so the creamy white centerpiece will read.

This centerpiece will be viewed from up close, so the darker colors and more subtle variations in color will be appreciated. A centerpiece of distinction, no matter the origin of the materials, can endow a fall container planting with with fall appropriate style and verve. I like the idea of endowing the garden with seasonal plantings that are vervacious. If you are a gardener like me, you understand that a garden and landscape is about a certain kind of earthy and unforgettable romance. I am a fan of bringing on the romance every season. The fall season coming up asks for a representation of the end of summer harvest.

fall centerpieces

preserved eucalyptus in butterscotch

fall picks

Of course every fall pot we plant involves living plants. All of our custom grown cabbages and kale are incredibly well grown. See for your self. They benefit from regular water and food, as they are growing fast this time of year. Our September weather has been unseasonably warm,. Once the temperatures cool, the leaves will color up dramatically, in shades of purple, pink, cerise, and white. Tuscan kale is a tall, all green variety that I hear is delicious to eat after a few frosts. Having superior quality plant material available to plant makes the process and outcome a pleasure all around.

The outer leaves of this cabbage variety, Osaka Red, will darken, and the center will turn a brilliant deep cerise pink, given some chilly weather. The look of the pots will evolve as the plants take on their fall color. If the early winter season is mild, these glorious and showy ornamental vegetables will look great in to December.

Each centerpiece has a photo tucked into it that shows which pot it belongs to, and what will be planted with it. That kind of planning helps to make a large planting job go smoothly and efficiently. But no matter the planning, seeing the work come together is always a pleasure. Pictured above is a trio of pots planted for fall last October. This year’s pots will feel just as fallish, but will feature whatever interesting materials Rob has purchased for the shop.

The Ruby Queen cabbage, the kale “Pinstripe”,  and broom corn are all looking good.

In Consideration Of All Of The Views

Creating beautiful views in the landscape is an important component of good design. Those views are not exclusive to the outdoors. The frames around windows and  glass doorways provide an ideal opportunity to create interesting views of the landscape from inside out. This is the most compelling reason there is to avoid foundation plantings that grow tall and obstruct the view out, rather than frame or enhance it. Foundation plantings? Any planting that is cozy with that place where a house comes out of the ground is considered a foundation planting. I grew up in a suburban neighborhood in the 1950’s, where every house had shrubs and trees lined up tight to the base of the house. I am sure the idea was to soften that hard structure emerging from the ground with plants. This is a fine idea, as long as the plants don’t overpower what they were intended to augment. Dead center to this large window and pair of French doors is a large container. I plant it tall and lavish enough to provide an obvious focal point from the garden that can be enjoyed from inside the room.

The pot is not a foundation planting; it is at least seven feet away from the house. It is however, the star attraction out that window. I plant it for summer and most definitely for winter. The view out that window in those seasons are just as important as the views from outside. Providing room and airspace is key to a good landscape design. Even the arborvitae in the center background of this picture was planted a good five feet off the foundation. How it hugs the house now it friendly, not threatening.  There are no views from the inside out there.

At least twenty feet away from the window are a collection of much taller plants. They not only provide a garden like backdrop for the pot planting from the indoor view, they provide some privacy from the street. This means the blinds can stay up. The outside view of this pot is a feature of the walk to the front door. Anyone who gets within six feet of the front door has has a pot left and a pot right to see. It is an unexpected view, as the street view does not reveal much beyond the top section of mandevillea.  The pot also screens the maintenance opening in the boxwood hedge from this view. On the far side of the boxwood is the hose, piled up in a messy heap. No one sees that but me.

The house is symmetrical from north to south. A corresponding set of doors and a window provide an identical view out from this room. The same pot, the same distance from the foundation, on axis with the center window, repeats the gesture made to the north.  A repetition of interior views means there is an opportunity for the exterior view to form a strong and consistent exterior axis. Would that I could take a photograph looking left and right at the same time. Only a drone could visually convey this axis established by two pots placed parallel to the house, but a person coming up the walk can take it all in with a blink of an eye.

Creating views out of any interior windows asks for a good space between the window and the view. The boxwood is part of the exterior view.  From inside, one’s line of site passes over them.

I am fortunate to have a front door whose upper half is glass. There is a view out that door that has plenty of interest in the foreground and mid ground space.  As for the background, the street sign across the street is a sign of urban living. But the rest of the view is remarkably green.

The view in to the front door is accompanied by, and celebrated by, the landscape. The pots at the front door with lemon cypress stuffed with lime and variegated licorice embraces the house number. I like this. My corgi Howard is too old to navigate the back stairs from the driveway up to the kitchen, so I pick him up and drop him off at the front door every day. There are 3 sets of two steps, separated by long runs of flat walk. He is a dawdler, so I have a chance to enjoy the view. Landscapes that are designed such to provide interesting views for the people who visit and live in them are landscapes I admire.

The view out the kitchen door is framed to the right by a mandevillea in a pot. The views out is substantial, given the strong design of that element in the foreground space. The mid ground space here is a perennial garden. The background space tells the story of living in a neighborhood. I have lost the maples in the tree lawn. I plan to replant with trees that will be happier in a confined space. At one point I will be standing here, to determine the placement of those trees. One rarely has design control of the background. My advice?  Make the foreground and mid-ground views as strong as possible.

The view in, approaching the side door, is a welcoming view.

The view out here is all about perennials and roses. Yes, those roses, boltonia asteroides, and anemone Honorine Jobert were planted close to the foundation of the house. They have created a filtered view out. Perfect for a bathroom window. The arborvitae in the background have screened all but the very peak of the house next door. The planting is a better privacy solution than a blind. The large pot planted with a multi-trunked birch and carex provides the interest in the mid ground space. This pot will go on to organize the entire view of this garden in the winter. Providing for views from the inside can make the long winter season more tolerable.

The outside view is the strong view. But there are still subtle views out to the Japanese anemones all along this south side. It won’t be long before all the blinds go up for the duration of this season. That pot is centered on that bathroom window. It is also centered on the stairs coming up into this garden.

That same pot anchors yet a third view, from the sidewalk looking in. Small properties do not imply limited landscape design opportunities. All the possible views are there for your consideration.