Planting Containers For Fall

fall-container-arrangements-4If you read this journal of mine regularly, you know that in addition to my passion for landscape design, I am a devoted fan of planted containers. Part of that attraction has to do with an interest in the containers themselves. Whether it be an antique urn, a mid century concrete planter, or a re-purposed galvanized barrel, beautiful and interesting containers endow a garden with the personality of the gardener in charge. A great container is a sculpture that happens to provide a home for a collection of seasonal plants. A container planting is a one season only, miniature version of the landscape.  A statement about the the garden in real time. I am very interested in how gardeners express themselves in a container planting. Any gardener that takes the time and trouble to plant containers every season is a gardener who has my interest. How so?  I am a fan of any devoted and serious effort in the garden.  I plant my pots differently every year. That is the fun and the challenge of container plantings. Will I like this years crop of pots better than last year’s? That short three month window will tell. Not having to live with this collection of plants for longer than a season means I am more likely to feel free enough to experiment. The landscape is much about developing a relationship that is deep, wide, and long standing. In contrast, a container planting is a celebration of the season at hand. The joy of the moment. I have a whole season to reflect on what I have done, without any worry about the future.  A container planting is about being present. They are a perfect foil for the landscape, which is as much about the years as it is about the effort.

fall container arrangementsGiven that the fall season is dead ahead, we have begun planting containers for fall.  We frequently construct centerpieces for the pots from natural and dried materials. It is not only of visual interest to include harvested materials, but those materials help to provide scale and volume to the container arrangements. At the center of every centerpiece is a bamboo pole. All of the materials are attached to that pole with zip ties.  That stake gets pounded down into the container when it is installed.  The pole driven deep in the soil is what keeps that centerpiece aloft, and perfectly vertical.

fall-container-arrangements-8Fresh cut broom corn is a staple in our fall pots. Sorghum vulgare is a very tall coarse growing plant that somewhat resembles corn. The plant is largely used in the production of corn brooms and whisks. The seeds are arranged on panicles about 20 inches long. Once the seed is removed, those wiry panicles are used in the production of brooms. Corn brooms are sturdy, and long lasting. But the cut stems of broom corn, thick with mature seeds, adds a lot of color and textural interest to a fall arrangement. Over the course of the fall, the birds will feed on the broom corn stalks in our arrangements.  I like this. The stems and seed heads are quite heavy, so we anchor tall centerpieces to 3/4″ thick bamboo poles.

fall-container-arrangements-6We use lots of other materials for these fall centerpieces. Fresh cut millet, preserved millet, preserved eucalyptus and all manner of dried materials can all be built into a fall centerpiece. We are just as likely to shop the garden, or the field at our landscape yard for branches, the dried perennial seed heads of hibiscus, acanthus, and echinacea, and maturing weeds. The shop carries a great variety of materials that can be incorporated into a fall container.  Though the fall signals the beginning of that time when the garden goes dormant, the fall harvest is a time to be celebrated.

fall-container-plantings-30These centerpieces were made for a client that wanted something that would last the fall and go on throughout the winter season.  The yellow twig dogwood is exceptionally long lasting, but for a fall arrangement we needed to strip off the leaves.  Preserved eucalyptus will last outdoors for months without deteriorating.  The white berries are artificial, but convincing even in close proximity. What got planted at the base of this arrangement in the fall did have to be changed for the winter. Her interest was in a pair of front porch pots that would be inviting beyond the summer season. We were happy to oblige.

fall-container-planting-2015-6The orange berries from the American bittersweet vine are vibrant, and so appropriate to the fall season. These woody fruiting vines can loosen up a static arrangement.  If we use bittersweet in a fall pot, we add it to the centerpiece after it is installed. Some elements in fall containers ask for a last minute addition. Every airy gesture made at the last minute is the most personal gesture. Personal gestures in the garden are remarkable.  Those I have seen, I remember.

dsc_4905Not every fall centerpiece has to be yellow, orange, red and brown. A fall color scheme can take its cue from an architectural feature, or the preference of the gardener. This client had a particular love for rainy fall days.  This is our interpretation.

fall-container-arrangements-2Another client with small children makes every effort to engage her children with nature. For her, we combine a simple centerpiece with pumpkins on a stick. Container plantings are personal. A garden with personality is much to be admired.

dsc_4793A fall container centerpiece can be simple or elaborate. It can be a combination of fresh and dried materials. A hydrangea topiary you have had in a pot all summer can do duty in the fall season. It can be a fistful of weeds from the lot next door. It can be anything you wish. The important thing is to endow your garden with a personal expression of the season. It is a world of good to answer the close of the gardening season with beautiful fall containers. The fall centerpiece is the first part of that seasonal gesture. What comes next in that pot is up to you.

fall-container-arrangements-7whitewashed ladder branches and orange millet

dsc_4898broomcorn and preserved eucalyptus

sat-1layered centerpiece with broom corn and preserved and dyed black eucalyptus

sept-26-2014-2fall centerpiece with fresh cut broom corn, caramel preserved and dyed eucalyptus, and dyed banana stems

fall-container-arrangements-3sticks and stems

ladderbranch centerpiecePlanting fall containers are a favorite part of my designing life in late September and October.

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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.

Fall Container Plantings

fall-container-planting.jpgThough most of my work involves landscape design and installation, I have a big love for container plantings. They can be different every year – what a relief to let go of something that didn’t work out so well.   Best of all, they can be planted for every season.  The beginning of any new gardening season sets me to thinking about how I would like to plant the pots. Unlike my landscape, which changes only incrementally from year to year, my containers are empty and waiting at the start of every new season.  In Michigan, we have four seasons every year, each lasting about 3 months, give or take. Four times a year,  I have the opportunity to start over.

fall-centerpiece.jpgHow I choose to design and plant pots is a process I look forward to.  Certain plants that I may have never given a moment’s notice suddenly interest me.  Certain plants or materials that I have never seen or used become available. Growers of all kinds give a special gift-a vocabulary from which a container planting is eventually able to speak. A color combination that suddenly strikes my fancy. There was a time when I dreaded the coming of the fall.  All I could think about was the beginning of the end of the garden. What a silly notion.  Fall is a great time to plant in a landscape or garden. The temperatures are moderate, and the rainfall more regular.  Fall is also a great time to plant containers.

DSC_4793The leaves of the trees maturing, turning color, and dropping, is a spectacular event. The sun low in the sky endows everything in the garden with a special glow.  The cutting flowers and vegetables at my local farmer’s market speak to the abundance of the harvest. Every color from the sky to the kale to the red peppers is completely saturated. The ornamental grasses are never more beautiful  than they are in the fall.  Caring for fall containers is easy.  Cool temperatures means infrequent watering.  Trouble with bugs-not so much.

DSC_4799  The summer annuals are slowing down, and showing signs of displeasure with the cool nights. The coleus and non stop begonias in my containers are the first to show signs that their season is coming to a close.  They like hot sunny weather.  Nights in the 40’s are not to their liking.  I am reluctant to give up my summer containers; they have provided me with so much color, texture, and form all season long.  My containers are always their best in September.  They have grown in, and grown up.  The dahlias are never better than they are in September and October.

DSC_4877However, it is but a short time from the peak, to the decline.  That said, the decline of the summer summer loving plants does not mean the decline of the garden.  We have a fall season, dead ahead.  Summer containers can be switched out for fall.  Local nurseries, garden centers and farmer’s markets carry all kinds of fall blooming and cold tolerant plants. Pansies and asters are great in fall containers.  Dwarf evergreens shine in fall pots. Succulents, even tropical succulents, are tolerant of cooler weather.  Foliage plants are especially gorgeous in the fall.  The ornamental cabbage and kale are extraordinarily beautiful. I like heucheras better in the fall than the summer. So many of the ornamental grasses are suited for a planting in a fall container.  Chrysanthemums have their place-they thrive and bloom in cool weather.  There are lots of choices, if you decide to go ahead and choose.

DSC_4878I like adding fresh cut and preserved or dry natural materials to fall pots.  Why not?  They provide me with the option of going taller and wider. They have the potential to provide a sculptural quality to fall containers that is hard to obtain otherwise.  Faux materials, as in the orange suede floret stems in this pot, can add a lot of color. There will not be so much in the way of growth from the fall pots unless the weather stays moderately warm and sunny-just like the weather we are having right now.  The ornamental grasses that are available can add some height and rhythm to fall containers. This is welcome, given the static quality of chrysanthemums, asters, and ornamental cabbage and kale.

DSC_4892The only draw back of the ornamental grasses is the size of their rootballs.  Big grasses have even bigger root systems.  A six foot tall grass is likely to take up a lot of space in a pot. An ornamental grass transplanted into a pot is not rooted in.  A good wind or hard rain can knock them over.  It is possible to get all of what is good about a grass or a grain by cutting them, and securing them to a bamboo pole.  A stout 8′ bamboo pole only takes up one inch of space in a container.

DSC_4893In addition to ornamental grasses, broom corn and millet dry beautifully.  The colors mix well with preserved eucalyptus, twigs,  the ripe seed pods of butterfly weed, gomphrena, Chinese lanterns, mature echinacea stems and thistle. Any garden has plenty of materials that can be harvested for a fall container.  If the roadside weeds suit you, be sure you shake out all of the ripe seeds before you use them.

DSC_4895Some materials I turn upside down and hang for a few days prior to use.  If you need an element to be upright, let gravity do the work of drying it in that position.  Other materials look better in a casually draped state. I do dry the grains indoors.  Once they are outside, and the seeds mature, you will have gold finches swarming your pots.  This is an experience of fall that is pure pleasure.

Sept 26 2014 (2)New to me this year-dry banana stalks.  They curl as they dry in a way that only nature could create.  They are quite heavy, so we attach them to bamboo stakes in two places before we use them in pots. If you use any preserved or cut materials in pots, they need anchoring.  You need to supply what the roots once did.  Rob does a great job of finding great dried and preserved materials for pots.

Sept 26 2014 (1)These pots are quite large, and ask for an arrangement proportional to that size.  The centerpieces provide a lot of height, and a lot of visual interest.  The kale and cabbage are enormous this year-thanks to the cool summer.  If you do use them in containers, be sure to water at the soil line, and not over the leaves.  The leaves shed water, and can leave the soil dry. The leaves of some varieties are arranged densely around the stalks-if they do get wet, and do not have a chance to dry out, the plants can develop mold.

DSC_4905The most important part is to exercise your imagination, and enjoy the experience of fall gardening.  Though my pots at home still look good, I am thinking ahead to what I might want to see for fall.  I have plenty of trees and shrubs that are getting ready to turn color.  My fall pots will look right at home.

Sept 26 2014 (4)eucalyptus, black and green millet, and “Coral Queen” kale

Sept 26 2014 (3)finished fall arrangement

Sept 26 2014 (6)ready and representing the fall

 

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.

Chase-Tower.jpg

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.

1001-Woodward.jpg
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.