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 2018 Pumpkins

No fall garden journal of mine would be complete without a discussion of the pumpkins.  Not just any pumpkins, but those especially beautiful and select fall fruits that Rob cuts and brings to the shop for sale in October. He is most assuredly an aficionado of this iconic sculpture of the fall season. Were you to engage him on the topic, you might be witness to a passionate discussion of shape, color, stem size and surface. And standability. He favors pumpkins that stand on their own, over the leaners. But for those pumpkin fans that admire a pumpkin on its side, he will have those too. He can converse at length on the history and characteristics of varieties generally available in our area. And their variants. You will run out of patience for the pumpkin discussion long before he runs out of things to say. Normally he is quite taciturn, but he is an unabashed fan of pumpkins. Just ask him.
One year his yearly buying trip to Europe ran long. He came home at the end of September to find not a single pumpkin at the shop. Driving for hours to the grower and field of his choice, cutting the fruits free from the vines, and carrying them to the edge of the field so they can be loaded on to the grower’s tractor and trailer would not be my choice of a day’s work. I made it clear that if he wanted pumpkins, he would need to be available to make that happen. He now plans his European buying trip so he is home for the pumpkin season. It is a good bit of travel, and a lot of work to put a collection together.  This year, he, David and Marzela made the trip in 3 separate trucks to pick pumpkins. The field was muddy, but navigable.
His relationship with the breeder and grower spans a few years now.  I suspect they enjoy each other’s company. Once he realized that Rob likes to look at pumpkins as much as he likes to grow them, he spent a lot of time talking to Rob about his breeding program, and his growing protocol. I think Rob has a fairly good understanding of what characteristics are of interest to him. A testament to his breeding skill  that spans many decades is the fact that seed companies send representatives every year to look over his crop, and buy seed.  They get first pick.  But once the round of seed buyers have made their evaluation and purchases, the coast is clear for Rob to shop.

He did this year’s shopping in two trips.  One by himself, to see what was out there. It was a tough year for growing pumpkins.  The heat was relentless, and the rain scant. I can understand that if pumpkins start to mature in late summer, they will be ready for market too early. We wait until the beginning of October to buy. Pumpkins that ripen as the temperatures are beginning to moderate will have a better chance of lasting intact a long time. As we rarely have a really hard frost before the end of October, the pumpkin season can be enjoyed a month or better.  In a mild fall, I have seen them survive with no soft or rotten spots until after well after Thanksgiving.

Though the picking is organized, it is still hard work. Rob picks what he wants, and sets them next to the road running through the field. The pumpkins are then loaded on a flat bed pulled by a tractor.

Two trailer loads amounted to about 500 pumpkins. Give or take, about 10,000 pounds worth of pumpkins. The shapes, colors, sizes, surfaces and density look great to the last. What to do with one of these pumpkins? Set in on your porch, and celebrate the fall.

All of these tall oblong and round orange pumpkins with expressive stalks look good to me.

Orange is not the only color sported by pumpkins. Orange, black, bicolor orange and green, cream, white, peach, yellow, caramel colored-take your pick.

The shop is awash in beautiful pumpkins right now; you’ll see.

Rob’s pumpkin collection

white and cream pumpkins

big and small orange pumpkins

a color palette

This is my favorite pumpkin of all of Rob’s 500 choices. It is a subtle choice. I love the creamy gold skin. The oblong shape. The thick stem whose thin green anchors grip the top of the fruit. In my opinion, this is a perfect pumpkin. Should you be of a mind to represent the fall with the pumpkin of your choice, we have lot to choose from. As for the idea of dressing a porch or a terrace in Pumpkins – why not? Beautifully grown pumpkins speak loud and clear to that moment gardeners call the fall season. Once October comes, I load up on the pumpkins.

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 Boston Ivy, 2017

Once a year, usually when we are at our peak of fall color, I try to write about the Boston ivy that covers a neighboring 100 foot long wall parallel, opposite, and next door to Detroit Garden Works. In the early days of the shop, that originally giant cream colored concrete block wall towering over the shop made us all squint. 5 years into our tenure, we planted 10 parthenocissus tricuspidata veitchii, spaced 10 feet apart, at the base of that wall. Not so many years later, that wall was covered with a vigorous and gorgeous vine that made the trip up our driveway as green as could be. All summer long, that vine cools this corridor leading to the front door of the store.  Despite the fact that watering the vines was always an afterthought, the leaves were invariably dense and glossy green. I am grateful that my lack of attention never impacts its performance. Few plants deliver as much and ask for so little as Boston Ivy.

This year’s fall display is the worst for a decade.  An incredibly dry summer meant the leaves on the ivy began drying up and dropping in early September. The picture above, taken today, tells the story. Large areas of this vigorous vine dropped their leaves before the cool weather arrived. An incredibly warm and lengthy late summer meant what leaves had not fallen from drought have hung on to their green color. As much as I looked forward to the spectacular fall color on this vine, nature rules the plant roost. Am I disappointed? Of course. The fall color on the Boston ivy is not just a an eagerly anticipated event, it is a happening.

From the website    Boston ivy    I  have copied and posted the following:    “Boston Ivy is a deciduous vine with bluish fruits and bright red fall foliage. A member of the grape family, Boston Ivy is commonly used as a decorative addition for buildings. This means that it is most often used to grow on sections of buildings, walls, and fences for its aesthetic beauty. The glossy dark green leaves turn bright red in the fall. Showy leaves are held late into fall or early winter. This vine does well in poor soil and can grow in shade to full sun. While technically considered an invasive plant species (originally native to Japan), Boston Ivy’s invasive tendencies are typically shortlived, as it often succumbs to native vines (such as Virginia Creeper) when dispersed out of controlled bounds. Boston Ivy has been grown everywhere from Fenway Park in Boston to Dallas, Texas. Boston Ivy is unique in how it attaches to structures and surfaces. Unlike true ivies, such as English Ivy that attach with invasive aerial rootlets that can severely weaken brick and wood structures, Boston Ivy attaches to surfaces with tendrils tipped with sticky disks. This means that that the plant effectively glues itself to structures without structurally damaging the surface. The adhesive forces are so strong that researchers with the Plant Biomechanics Group have taken notice. Because of this special quality, Boston Ivy is not only a safe addition to structures and buildings, but a wonderful energy saving plant – effectively shading buildings during the summer and allowing buildings to absorb heat during the winter thanks to its deciduous nature.” Should you have a big wall that needs some green, consider this vine.

Boston ivy asks for a big space in which to grow.  It is one of the plant world’s top contenders for vigorous vertical growth in our zone. I can attest to this. No matter variations in the fall display due to weather, this vine is a beautiful in every season. The branches are beautiful dusted with snow in the winter.  The emerging leaves in the spring are brilliantly colored.  The large glossy leaves overlap one another, completely obscuring the wall beneath it all summer long.

Boston ivy yesterday

Boston Ivy 2012

The view of the Boston ivy from the roof in 2016

fall color on the Boston ivy 2015

The Boston ivy at this moment is more green than fiery. I have my fingers crossed that the best is yet to come.

 

 

 

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