At A Glance: A Collection Of Fall Containers

pumpkins and gourds 2013 (39)bok choy, violas and pansies

October container 2eucalyptus, broom corn, cabbage, and kale

fall containers 019bleached sticks, eucalyptus, green and white pumpkins and gourds

Oct 11 2013 (3)chrysanthemums and pansies

burlap-sack-pot.jpgstriped gourds

white-pumpkin.jpgwhite pumpkin with white cabbage in a bushel basket

flame-willow.jpgflame willow

fall window boxa mix of fall materials

Oct 11 2013 (17)striped pumpkins and squash on grapevine

Oct 11a 021fall pots with big pumpkins and gourds

Oct 14 2011 023burdock seed heads, bleached plastic grass and peacock kale

October 19a 2013 (10)Rob’s grow-sphere with yellow pumpkins and pansies

fall-container.jpgrosemary and alyssum

variegated-basil.jpgpair of fall pots with variegated basil

planters-for-fall.jpgfall containers

fall-container-with-broomcorn.jpgfall container with broom corn, black eucalyptus, and ornamental kale

pumpkins and gourds 2013 (15)The fall season provides an embarrassment of riches in materials great for fall containers. In a pinch, faux materials can provide just what a container needs in form or color. That material may be fake, but I am a real person putting the whole thing together.  As for you-plant for fall in a way that expresses your take on the season.  I try to exercise a little good sense.  If I put the stems of weeds in containers, I try to put every last seed in the trash, first.  Dry thistle stems are gorgeous in fall pots, but those seeds will spread a terrible weed that is tough to eradicate. That said, I use the intact seed pods of butterfly weed everywhere I can, in hopes it will seed with abandon. If weed seeds must be part of the display, I will encase them on the stem with floral sealer.  I wait until the weather gets good and cool to pile pumpkins and gourds in pots.  Set in place too early in the fall, they will rot.  Outside of that, I’ll stuff pots with anything that looks good.  It makes no sense to exercise restraint at the time of the harvest, does it?


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


A Case For Planting Containers For Fall



Our summer season has not been so friendly to those of us who garden in containers.  All of the tropical plants in the containers despised the cold, and the relentless rain.  Why do I even plant tropical plants in my containers?  Annual plants bloom, set seed, and die, over the course of one season.  If I remove the dead flower from an annual plant, I am thwarting its natural instinct to reproduce itself via the act of setting seed. This annual plant will bloom again, hoping to set seed, the next time.  This means there are flowers coming on all season long.  Some hybrid annual plants are sterile-they do not set seed.  They will continue to bloom over the warm months in spite of this.


Warm months is the operative phrase here.  Many of our common annual plants are native to climates much warmer than the midwest.  They dislike being planted in cold soil in our spring, and they faint dead away with the first frost.  Why do I put up with this?  I like that group of annual flowers that grow larger and bloom with abandon all summer long.  Those plants with oversized tropical leaves-as in alocasias, calocasias, cannas, tree ferns and the like-are equally as pleasing.  They represent lush in a way that few plants hardy in my zone can match.  Container plantings help make my landscape feel like summer.


I admire those gardeners that plant hostas in pots-bravo.  However, I like my hostas best, in ground. I have tried lots of perennial and shrubby plants in containers-by this I mean lavender, hydrangeas, hyssop, buddleia, gloriosa daisies, boxwood-I could go on, but won’t.  The only perennial plant I really value in containers is strawberries.  The leaves are large and beautifully serrated.  The unripe fruit is a beautiful color.  The ripe fruit is irresistible.  Some gardeners are attracted to the idea that their containers full of hostas could be brought out of the garage in the spring, and put in place-as usual.  Other gardeners are determined to keep boxwood, boxwood topiaries, junipers and their topiary variants alive in containers, season after season, year after year.  One of the things I value the most about the planting seasonal containers is how a fresh start energetically engages the imagination.  Last year’s containers-more about history than the moment.  I am not enchanted by my containers being over and done with.  Done-I dread both the adjective, and the noun.  So does nature, by the way.


The prospect of my containers being filled with the same plants year after year would bore me beyond all belief. I would not care if the boxwood sphere put on another six inches in height and girth.  I value the change up pitch better than a fast ball down the middle.  My landscape has taken many years to bring to a level that pleases me.  Any major change would be a major upheaval.  Not that I adverse to some upheaval.  A landscape is a big fluid situation that evolves over a period of years.  There is no fast forward.  No matter how loud you are able to snap your fingers, the landscape will take years to really respond.  But my summer containers reward my efforts relatively quickly.


The second reason I so value tropical plants in my containers?  I can plant something different next year, and the year after that.  I can ditch my failures, and move on.  I can entertain a color scheme on a whim.  A cold and rainy season will not stalk me beyond the frost.  Next year will be different.


As for planting fall pots-let’s agree that this summer was not the best for container plantings.  I have appreciated the summer heat we have gotten in September-all of my containers look much better than they did a month ago.  Most of my containers have dark empty spots.  Those holes are from the begonias that rotted.  What coleus didn’t give up has spots-the tell tale sign of cold.


In late September, there are several options for a container that has unnattractive gaps.  Those tropical plants that have faded away can be replaced with cold hardy plants-as in parsley, 4″ cabbage and kale, pansies, bok choy, Napa lettuce, ivy of every description, chrysanthemums, asters-there are no end of fall hardy and fall blooming plants that could fill your gaps.


Or you could replant you containers for fall. I have lots of containers.  I will stand pat with most of them until the frost takes them down.  But the pots I drive up to every day, I replant them for fall.  I have lots of choices for material.  Broom corn, fresh and preserved eucalyptus, twigs, preserved leptospermum, asters, gourds, dried grasses, cabbage, kale, lettuce, pansies, rosemary, thistles, pumpkins, bittersweet, dried hydrangeas from my yard, twigs from the field, chrysanthemums-you get my drift.  It is entirely possible that my fall containers will be the best of the year.  I have no regrets about the annuals going down.  I have the fall season coming on.


All my driveway pots need is for me to assemble a group of fall materials, and soldier on.  Soldiering on?  This means plant.  Stick.  Arrange.

fall-planting.jpgEnjoy the season.



Fall Pots

fall container planting

Yesterday’s post was much about construction details.  Any arrangement that is not solidly put together, or any planting that is not planted properly, will always have that hasty look.  I am a fan of any big and serious effort.  Lucio and Angie put these centerpieces together.  They have a gift for proportion.  Their construction is stellar.  The centerpieces are individual-as in made by hand.  But they closely match in height and width.     

fall planting

The centerpiece was just the beginning of these fall pots.  I like using cabbages and kales, as they represent the harvest season with great enthusiasm.  But the placement to create a harmonious overall look takes some doing.  Be advised that ornamental cabbages and kales can be set below or above soil level.  They don’t mind a rootball that is tilted out, such that the backside of their rootball  is out of the ground.  They are amiable and forgiving of your design.

These containers have their tallest element-the redbor kales-planted in the corners of the boxes.  This may be a counter intuitive placement, but a tall centerpiece asks for width at the bottom.  This plant placement is about balance, and proportion.  Our fall season may be short.  This means I like the fall pots to have a sumptuous look from the start.  The black eucalyptus and black plastic grasses at the corners-a dramatic detail.

Not all fall pots need to be so involved.  This ornamental kale set in a pot full of thyme celebrates color, texture, and form.  Both of these plants shrug off the fall cold.  I plant seasonal pots for my own pleasure.  Every season shines in its own way.  I like the idea of gardening all year round, in spite of the weather.    

Nothing looks more forlorn than pots or boxes at the front door, full of summer annuals that are fading.  Even worse, empty pots at the door.  Containers at the front door should always welcome family and friends.  Containers at the front door is a gift to the community that is a neighborhood. Plant these pots, year round.

Every fall Rob orders up fresh cut bittersweet stems from one of our suppliers.  Though I would not want to grow this plant in my own yard, those cut stems add graceful element to fall pots.  The cabbages and kales are rather stodgy-they benefit from the sparkly color and naturally curving forms of these cut vines.

Simple fall pots-charming.  Bleached stick stacks, white pansies, and variegated ivy go well together.  The addition of a bunch of lavender preserved eucalyptus adds an element of color that is welcome, and visually striking.

Big doorways ask for big pots.  Big pots ask for an equally big planting.  The street is fully 45 feet away from this front door.  A big planting makes an adequate statement from that distance.  The doorway has company from this generous fall planting that creates a frame.  Truly, a beautiful landscape frames a home, a property, a point of view. The landscape includes the pots.

The fall may be long.  Into December.  The fall may be short-I have seen the ground freeze solid in mid November.  I am not so good at predicting.  But I do know that I treasure every moment a season has to offer.  Should you plant some pots in celebration of the fall season-oh yes.