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.


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.

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.

Garden Designer’s Roundtable: The Details

When I first met Buck, he was head of technical design at Rossetti Architects.  Though his usual gig involved sports stadiums and office buildings, he had designed, and was project managing a very large and involved residential project-some 5 years in the building.  I had occasion to meet him, as I was responsible for the design and installation of the landscape.   

I was also involved in the design of the conservatory, which was built by Tanglewood. There were a number of garden elements and ornament that got built over the course of three years.  What I learned from Buck is that careful attention to the details makes the difference between an acceptable project, and a project that turns heads.

Most every day I would get an email from him-do you have a drawing for this detail?  I did more drawing for him those three years than I have done before or since.  But what I really learned from him-the devil is in the details.    In designing this fall arrangement, I began with a great plant.  Kale “Glamour Red” is the first All America plant selection in 78 years- the first new kale introduction since 1932.  This is a detail that suggests this is a plant worth planting.  Sometimes construction details can tell whether an idea will work, or not.  I like my fall pots to look lush and sumptuous-after all, this is the season we associate with the harvest.  The construction of a strong and sturdy fall container involves much more than the planting.     

We may assemble a centerpiece of twigs and dried seed pods. That centerpiece gets zip tied together over a stout bamboo stake.  A fall container centerpiece listing out of vertical detracts from the overall effect.  Our bamboo stakes go way down into a container.  The soil around that centerpiece gets compacted-with a mallet.  Straight up and down-a detail that makes for a good result. We spotted a clump of green milkweed pods on the side of the road-they would make a great addition to this container arrangement. 

A centerpiece may need lots of elements-especially if you are going for that sumptuous look.  I like fall pots with loads of visual detail.   Dried or preserved materials surrounding that centerpiece need a construction detail that enables you to place them wherever they look good.  And most of all, a detail that helps them to stay put throughout the season.  

The eucalyptus and butterfly weed seed pods-we attached each stem to a bamboo stake with a pair of zip ties.  Natural materials are beautiful, but their stems do not have near the strength of a stake.  Attaching natural stems to bamboo stakes is time consuming-but this construction detail makes the end result look more natural, and last longer.  The frilly cabbage leaves cover the working part of the arrangement.

Preserved eucalyptus does have very strong stems.  Should I strip off the lower leaves, I have a stem that I can stick into the the soil, at the angle that seems best.  A detail worth noting here- preserved eucalyptus will keep its shape and color a very long time-even outdoors.  The variety of colors and textures available can add so much to a fall arrangement.

Faux fall grasses-I will confess that I buy them and have them available.  The palette of plants that thrive in cool fall temperatures is somewhat limited.  Adding roadside weeds, pumpkins and gourds, preserved materials, dried sticks and seed pods, and even plastic grass stems in a fall pot is much like adding a little jewelry to a black dress.     

I looked over this fall planting a number of times.  I kept coming back to it.  Is this the best I could do?  The best always involves attention to the details.  Finally, I decided the faux grass seemed a little to heavy.  A container planting should never drag the eye down. It did give a sense of warmth and drama to the arrangement, but would something else be better? 

Individual stems of ting with capiz shell circles-not a choice that would instantly come to mind.  But why not try it?  The stems have the grace and texture of grass.  The whole arrangement looks looser, more airy.  The green of the capiz shell discs brings out that luscious green in the kale. 

Any move made by a gardener is all about the details.  Personal details.  This gesture, or that-very personal.  The little details can transform an idea into a party.  From a distance, the overall impression is generous in scale and harmonious in color.

At this point in the making of a fall arrangement, a single detail added or subtracted can dramatically change the visual effect of the whole.  A detailed construction means the pot will look good throught the fall.  A visual detail says much about what you personally think is good looking.


I am sure that the other member of the Garden Designers Roundtable have interesting and individual ideas about the role that detail plays in good design-check them out! 


Susan Cohan : Miss Rumphius’ Rules : Chatham, NJ

Lesley Hegarty & Robert Webber : Hegarty Webber Partnership : Bristol, UK

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

Christina Salwitz : Personal Garden Coach : Renton, WA

Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT

Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In The Garden : Los Altos, CA