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.

 

Fall Favorites

Fall is a favorite season. I like reflecting on all the efforts made in the garden imagined in the winter, begun in the spring, and realized during the summer. Once the fall arrives, there is the beauty of the harvest to be appreciated. There is an entire season of hard work that is coming to a close. There is a sense of accomplishment in the air. Many plants, have emerged from the ground in the spring, grown, and bloomed. Many will exhibit striking fall color, in defiance of the garden going quiet. The well tended summer containers planted in late May and early June can look their very best before a hard frost. The fall represents the culmination of gardening efforts that have gone on in some form or another all season long. That said, there are those seasonal garden gestures that just hit their stride in the fall. The fall window box pictured above features the trailing creeping Charlie that grew in this box over the summer. The late season harvest of broccoli, cabbage, onions and brussel sprouts look great in this box with ripened gourds and pumpkins. The grapevine provides motion and rhythm to the arrangement. In a long chilly fall, an arrangement like this will last for weeks.

The fall container plantings have a limited palette. I do not mind that. A limited palette of plants means the arrangement created by the gardener in charge is all about that ability to combine and recombine familiar elements to create something new and fresh. The ornamental cabbages and kale are my favorite fall container plant. Our custom grown crop of cabbage and kale is the best it has ever been my pleasure to plant. The pots pictured above have cabbage that were grown three plants to a single pot. It did not take many plants to give these containers a generous and overflowing fall look. A cabbage cuff, as Rob said. A favorite element of broom corn are those long leaves that dry so beautifully to a pale green. Though the front entrance and porch pictured above is quite formal, the fall pots are exuberant and not too tailored. They do a good job of representing the idea of fruition that characterizes our fall season.

I am always grateful for the chance to fill large pots, no matter the season. This fall container stands out in the landscape. Soon the foliage on “Ruby Slippers” oakleaf hydrangeas will color up a deep wine red. This part of my clients’ landscape will shine once our temperatures drop.

Fall container plantings can represent any aesthetic. This fall planting is very trim, and simple.

This fall container planting is exuberant.

This Belgian stoneware container is planted for fall in an architectural, rather than a traditional way.

Gardeners of very different persuasions represent their gardens for fall in very different ways. I applaud this. It makes the landscape all the more interesting.

Of course we plant pots for fall at the shop.

Those shop plantings frequently have some fall fruits selected by Rob to accompany them.

fall planting with broom corn and redbor kale

As the nights cool, this kale will turn a dark rich purple.

trio of fall pots featuring coral queen cabbage.

These containers are at their English border style best at the end of summer. The obelisks from Branch lend structure to the planting.

Changing out containers one season to the next is a satisfying way to spend time in the garden.

the last of the summer

Planting containers for fall is a way to celebrate the beauty of the season.

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So What Do You Do With A Pumpkin?

pumpkins at Detroit Garden WorksRob has made 3 epic pumpkin and gourd buying trips in the past 3 weeks. Epic, as in 8 hour trips to pumpkin hybridizers within 80 miles or so in every direction of our shop. Epic, as in the relationships he has cultivated with growers who specialize in these fall fruits. I am sure the gross vehicle weight of the Sprinter loaded with pumpkins and gourds is equally epic. His vetting of pumpkins and gourds one could describe as rigorous. The pumpkins have to stand up on their own. They have to have long and beautifully shaped stems fresh from the picking. Many of those long stems are integral to the pumpkin body. They have great shapes. Unusual surfaces. Incredible color. Who knew there were  black or pale yellow or blue pumpkins? Considerable is the education I have had about pumpkins and gourds in recent years. They have colorful and descriptive names. Long Island Cheese. Knucklehead. Porcelain Doll. Many of them have already gone to gardening homes. Many more will snapped up this week, in advance of Halloween and in anticipation of Thanksgiving.

pumpkins at Detroit Garden WorksA  gardening customer came in today, her husband in tow. She and Sunne launched into a discussion about something or another. Her husband found a place to sit on a bench outdoors. Milo and I joined him.  Only moments later he asked me, so what do you do with these pumpkins? Hilarious, this. I burst out laughing. Indeed, what does one do with a pumpkin? To follow are my answers. As for the above picture, I would contrast a green and a white pumpkin, and shower them with green eucalyptus and some yellow fall leaves conveniently shed by a nearby linden tree.

Detroit Garden Works stand up for fall

Detroit Garden Works fill a wood box

Detroit Garden Worksmake a scene

Detroit Garden Worksplant a vintage bushel basket with a single grand white pumpkin, and face it down with white ornamental cabbage.

Detroit Garden Workshang it up

Detroit Garden Worksincorporate them into a fall container.

Detroit Garden Works go for the green

Detroit Garden Workscelebrate the season

Detroit Garden Workspile them up

fall-window-boxadd them to a fall themed window box

Detroit Garden Worksset the table

Detroit Garden WorksLine them out

Detroit Garden Worksfill the air space

Detroit Garden Worksspread them out

pumpkins-and-gourds-2013-38select a favorite

Detroit Garden Worksstack them up

Detroit Garden Worksbrighten up a dark spot

Halloween pumpkincarve them, of course

Detroit Garden Worksarrange them by color and texture

Detroit Garden Workscrate them

fall container arrangementgo for gourds

Detroit Garden Worksplump up a bench

Detroit Garden Workssort by size and color

Detroit Garden Worksload up a cart

Detroit Garden Worksset them on their sides

fall container with pumpkinsmake a statement

Detroit Garden Worksdress up an urn

Detroit Garden Workswarm up a porch

Detroit Garden WorksDoes this help?

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A Fall Container Planting

fall container planting 2015 (1)Our fall container plantings are underway. It is not always easy to convince a client that planting for fall is a good idea.  In Michigan, there is this psychological perception that the spring and the fall are short seasons, and the summer and winter are long.  It may feel that way, but all of the seasons are roughly equal in length.  My pots at home have been great, but just today I am seeing signs of decline.  The plectranthus is not liking the cold nights.  The elegant feather grass is just about in full fall color. Planting pots for fall is not just about replacing summer material that is no longer looking its best.  It is more about embracing and enjoying the season at hand.

fall container planting 2015 (3)One of my favorite materials for fall is broom corn. This tall grain features thick sturdy stalks, and seed heads in various shades of fall.  Zip tied around a bamboo stake, the broom corn provides a striking vertical element in a pot, and will last late into the fall.  Should you use it in your fall pots, be prepared for for the birds.  They love the seeds.  I can hardly fault them. And I enjoy all of that activity.   The wiry stems under all of those seeds have been made into brooms for hundreds of years.  As much as I like my brooms, I better value how broom corn can endow a fall container.

planting a fall potChrysanthemums elicit strong opinions from every gardener.  Were I thinking of planting a chrysanthemum in my garden for a yearly October display, I would plant “Sheffield Pink”.  I have a next door neighbor with trees under planted with this mum-they have made an impressive show every year of the 20 years I have lived in my neighborhood.  I don’t see that they get any special care or extra water. They shrug off the cold and light frosts.  But for fall containers, I can be swayed by a big mum ball.

fall container planting 2015 (4)I wait to buy them. A chrysanthemum blooming in late August or September will not last through the fall season.  When both the day and the night temperatures get down to 50 or lower, A chrysanthemum in bud will have some longevity. As much as I love ornamental cabbages and kales, there are those who love that color that comes from flowers.

fall container planting 2015 (5)Cut bittersweet is available at this time of year.  The color is striking. The stems are naturally curving.  Their vining shapes can loosen up the most formal and static fall planting. We buy cut stems from a grower that are loaded with seeds.  As much as I know that bittersweet is invasive, I have yet to see a garden infiltrated by bittersweet from branches I have put in pots. When the fall container season is over, we are careful to dispose of the stems-we never compost them.

fall container planting 2015 (7)The bunches we buy are fairly short, and loaded with seeds. We may cut them down to individual stems, so we can place them all over in a pot.  Though our broom corn centerpieces are zip tied in several places, we add a special zip tie-just for the bittersweet.  The fall season can be rainy and blustery.  Solid construction means your fall pots will look as good at the end as they do at the beginning.

fall container planting 2015 (6)The bittersweet zip tie is loosely set at the beginning, so all of the stems going all around the centerpiece fit inside. We always have 4 hands on deck for this-sometimes 6. The desired result?  A beautiful bouquet, speaking to fall. The long stalks of the broom corn help us to get a proper and proportional height to that centerpiece.  Another element will be needed to cover those sticks, and the zip ties.

fall container planting 2015 (2)Detroit Garden Works always stocks bushel baskets full of preserved and dyed eucalyptus. We must stock better than 20 colors.  Eucalyptus has the uncanny ability to absorb preservative and color. These stems are light fast, and the color does not run. The big leaves are a great texture, and the variety of color means there will be something to appeal to almost everyone.

fall container planting 2015 (10)
We attach a partial bunch of eucalyptus to a bamboo stake, so we can place it wherever an arrangement needs it. Rob and I placed an enormous order this past January.  There are few materials for fall and winter pots that are as versatile, durable and satisfying as this.  It is a natural material that fits right into a fall container.

planting a fall pot
The real story here is that the natural materials part of a fall container plays a critical roll in its visual success.  Cool weather means plants do not grow fast. Many of the cold tolerant plants are small in stature.  Not everyone loves cabbage and kale-which has a great scale for containers.  If you buy plants for fall containers, buy big ones.  Pack them in. There won’t be much in the way of growing. And last of all, consider cut natural materials.

fall container planting 2015 (9)I left my crew at this point.  Not that I even needed to be there.  They have been doing fall pots for me for many years.  And they have a gift for placement and arrangement. This pot was not done, but I could see where it was headed.  Headed straight away into fall.