Planting Fall Containers

Our summer gardening season begins to wind down in September. Come Labor Day, change in the air. That change is refreshing and energizing. Towards the end of the month, the watering on the summer containers becomes a full time job. All of the soil in the containers is shot through and thoroughly congested with roots. Those abundant roots can absorb water as fast as it can be supplied. They invariably want more. A gardener has to have a big love for their summer containers to keep them thriving throughout September. By the time that fall sees fit to arrive, this gardener is ready.

Last week and the first of this was remarkable for its blistering and record setting heat. All the more effort was required to keep the summer pots going. Added to that, the care of first plants for the fall kept us really busy. Keeping up with the watering on our first shipments of fall cabbages, kales, pansies, lavender, thyme, lemon cypress and other fall friendly plants was not easy.  It was 92 degrees, the first day we planted a collection of containers for fall. Fortunately for me, my crews are utterly professional and focused. They came to work with coolers filled with bottles of water that had spent the previous night in the freezer. They soaked every plant before it was loaded. They were dressed for the occasion. They sweated it out with aplomb. We had set a date to plant containers for fall for this client, and we honored that commitment. All of the pots had been emptied of the summer plants, and the fall centerpieces constructed the day before.

I have a special affection for pots planted for the fall season. Even when my first taste of fall is hot as blazes. The summer is that time when every gardener has the opportunity to enjoy the work they put in place in the spring. The fall brings all of those efforts to fruition, and then to a close. Fall pots stuffed with the moments and memory of the harvest are enchanting. The colors, textures and shapes are specific to the season. The low in the sky slanting light saturates everything it strikes, producing what we know as “fall color”.

Tall elements for fall containers can come from a lot of places. Ornamental grasses come immediately to mind. Rob makes sure we have plenty of natural dried sticks, stems, and seed pods available. I am fortunate to have preserved and dyed eucalyptus in every color imaginable to place in fall pots. The cut stems of eucalyptus are able to absorb preservative and color up through the stems and into the leaves. As the color is absorbed and not applied, the stems are color fast outdoors, and are remarkably resistant to degradation from sun and rain.

But no material is as important as the plants. This year’s crop of custom grown kale and cabbage are the best it has ever been my pleasure to plant. The container above on the left is planted with redbor kale grown to an astonishing size. The companion planter features 3 Purple Queen cabbage, an edible red cabbage. It did not take many plants to create a fall container scene that will last well into November.

Coral Queen ornamental cabbage leaves are a beautiful shade of bluish green.  The centers of the plants will color up a deep magenta purple as the temperatures drop.

Tuscan kale, also known as dinosaur kale, has large, strappy and highly textured leaves. The nutritional value of kale is legendary, but it is also beautiful to look at.  Individual leaves may grow to 3 feet long.

fall container with Tuscan kale

fall container with millet and lavender eucalyptus

containers with Ruby Queen cabbage

kale and cabbage crop

the kale and cabbage from the roof

Let the festivities begin.









At A Glance: Fall Containers, Old And New

fall container plantings (28)rainy fall dayfall container plantings (25)a centerpiece

fall container plantings (26)fall container in cream and blue

fall container plantings (21)a trio

fall container plantings (40)lavender and orange

fall container plantings (20)wood tubs

fall container plantings (13)Sunny fall day

fall container plantings (7)weedy centerpiece

fall container plantings (1)lots of bittersweet

fall container plantings (6)grapevine and gourds

fall container plantings (4)broom corn and eucalyptus

fall container plantings (12)low bowl

fall container plantings (39)steel topiary forms

fall container plantings (38)black millet

fall container plantings (31)A note of caution.  If you like weeds in your fall containers, cut them, and place them up side down in a large garbage bag, right in the field.  We  shook the daylights out of these thistle stems-to remove all of the seeds-before we placed them in a pot. Teasel is beautiful-but there’s no sense to passing trouble around.

fall container plantings (15)center pieces with black eucalyptus

fall container plantinga Halloween motif

fall container plantings (14)fall plantings in  wood crates

fall container plantings (5)lavender and purple

dry hydrangeasdry hydrangeas

fall container plantings (37)orange eucalyptus

fall container plantings (35)ornamental cabbage and kale

fall container plantings (33)black millet

fall container plantings (22)pumpkins, gourds and vegetables

fall container plantings (29)fall color

fall container plantings (24)centerpieces

fall container plantings (27)wicker pot

fall container arrangement
red lettuce
fall container plantings (32)dry millet and hydrangeas. We have a few more weeks of planting to go. Whether you shop your local farmer’s market,  a garden center, your own yard, or a field down the road, there are great fall container arrangements out there waiting to be made.

A Busy Week

We had gusty winds today, sun and stormy clouds alternating, and cool temperatures.  It seems like it rains every fifteen minutes-for days on end.  Our weather is beginning to act like fall.  I am not sorry for this really.  It makes all of the plantings I did this week seem appropriate to the season. 

Rob found these great bleached sticks and branches with bleached leaves from a company in Canada-I was keen to try them out.  I was pleasantly surprised by the contrast of light and dark in these planters.  The blond leaves highlight the complex and moody color and texture of these redbor kale.  That tall centerpiece will go on to provide the foundation for an arrangement that will last the winter. 

It may be hard to see exactly what materials are in this trio of pots, but how the low in the sky fall light illuminates plants is one of the best parts of fall.  As thick as cabbage and kale leaves are, those leaves transmit light.  There are times when a fall planting captures that light in a beautiful way.  No summer container planting ever has this look.  The long low slanting shadows-a sure sign of fall. 

The creeping jenny from a summer planting was left in this pair of pots.  It will brave the cold until very late. The color is not quite so lime like as it is in the summer, but it still is as green as green can be.  Any summer plant that can handle what fall dishes out, we leave in.  I try to handle the transition from one season to the next as gracefully and simply as possible-why not? 

Most pennisetum plumes have lost their their color, and some of their bulk by now, but that feathery texture is a great foil for those giant, silent, and unmoving kale leaves.  This planting has a lot of movement, in spite of those kales and cabbages.  Interesting relationships are vital in creating lively compositions.  This robustly trailing vinca maculatum thrives on this cold; it has been in this planter since May.       

A garden terrace now is much more about the look from inside, than a place to be.  I try to go out every night that I can, and I am not afraid to bundle up. Winter will wander in soon enough.  But I do like a planting that looks great from the street, or the kitchen window.  Some nights now are just too cold for a stay.   I would guess this client has moved inside, but that does not mean they do not want a good view of the out of doors.

The centerpiece of this rectangular planter is dried bahia spears, and preserved eucalyptus dyed a color I call butterscotch.  The cabbages front and center have turned quite pink, given the cooler weather.  The angelina trailing in the front would easy survive the winter in this planter, were it left there.  Placed just next to the front door, this planting gives a cheery fall hello to anyone who comes to the door.   

The chocolate centerpiece in this planter is comprised of many stems of a tall weed gone to seed.  I am sorry, but I do not know the name.  Is it dock?  I only know they look sensational in the fall.  Were I interested in having them long term in a pot, I would spray them with Dri-Seal.  But for the fall season, I just bunch them up around a bamboo stake, and set them at a height that looks good to me.  The loose creamy grass-plastic.  They add just enough adrenalin to this planting to make you come back, at the very least, for a second look.

The Community House in Birmingham Michigan hosts an art show and sale for local artists every October.  I may be wrong, but it seems like the Our Town event has gone on 25 years now.  The past two years, we have placed fall pots at the entrance in celebration of their event.  I like how local artists have a yearly chance to show and sell their work.  The intent here is to welcome visitors to the exhibition.   

These contemporary beehive pots from Francesca del Re look great planted for fall.  The theme of their show this year-the garden.  I plan to get there this weekend to see how some 200 artists have interpreted that idea. 

We were busy this week, planting.  We also were making the rounds to all of those clients who have topiaries or tender plants they want wintered in the greenhouse space we have on reserve.  The installation of a landscape for a new house-we are fighting the rain, the mud, the carpenters, plumbers, and  masons.  Business as usual-a very busy week.