Recent Work

fall container plantingsThough we were focused on finishing a landscape project last week, we did manage to get some of our fall container plantings done. Though I have said it before, I will say it again. A celebration of the season at hand in containers is an opportunity to make an expression of the garden that is no only personal, it is immediate. The daffodils I planted yesterday are months away from their spring flowering. The trees I planted a month ago will take 10 years to get hefty. The vision I have for my landscape may be many years away from that perfect moment. I can be patient. But I can be road ready, too. Fall container plantings are a delight the minute they get finished.  They do not need to much in the way of water or deadheading.

fall container plantingThey celebrate the materials of the harvest. My trip to my local farmer’s market this morning was an education in what is available for containers for fall.  Chrysanthemums, asters, and grasses seeding were abundant.  Ornamental cabbage and kale-they are so beautiful right now. Cut broom corn, millet and sorghum-how I love how our history of agriculture informs and enriches the garden. Rob’s pumpkin collection on display at the shop right now is a delight to the eye. George is 2 hours away from us. But his breeding for tall and thin pumpkins with beautiful stems is a look we admire. The summation of  Rob’s relationship with George is a collection of pumpkins that speaks to any gardener’s love of anything garden.  Rob’s collection of pumpkins and gourds-don’t miss it.Tomorrow is the second day of our pumpkin fest.  If you are a gardener who delights in the garden, come if you can.


We have had a very hot and very dry summer. The watering was endless. The coming of the fall, with cooler temperatures and torrential rains is a relief. Planting seasonal containers is a lesson about how the seasons change, and that joy that is all about a gardener’s participation. I would encourage every gardener to participate in the seasons.  I do. That seasonal work enriches my gardening life.


fall containers with broom corn and cabbage

fall-container-deborah-silverfall container with a centerpiece, purple cabbage, and creeping jenny

2016-fall-containers-3fall containers

2016-fall-containers-2fall pot with a hydrangea on standard, white ornamental cabbage and creeping jenny

fall container arrangement
fall container with dried ladder branches, preserved eucalyptus and peacock kale

Detroit Garden Worksfall container in front of Detroit Garden Works that includes an elegant feather grass at the center

fall planting Deborah Silverfall in the round


fall container

2016-fall-containers-1fall container arrangement

fall containersdeck pot planted for fall


The fall season in Michigan – sublime.




In Anticipation


This client has a very distinct point of view about what she likes, and a sincere interest in the landscape.  She is a young person with a flock of young kids-how she manages to even think about it surprises me.  What we do for her is very low key and simple.  The hydrangeas on standard in her summer pots we winter over in the ground.  Most times we plant white, sometimes there is a little lavender or purple.   

A few years ago we made these steel boxes for her; they sit on the ground, as her windows are very low.  I took this picture of one of those boxes September 5-this was the first time I had seen it since it was planted.  The white non-stop begonias were thriving; I was impressed.  They are not the easiest plant to grow. The heliotrope has faded from the picture, but the box by and large looked great.  June Bride caladiums, euphorbia Diamond Frost, cirrus dusty miller and variegated licorice have all grown together quite companionably.    

All good things must come to an end-I wonder if Chaucer’s summer pots were waning when he wrote this.  Can you hear me sighing?  Steve cleared out all but one of my deck pots yesterday-I cannot bear that look of decline.  I should do like this client.  When summer comes to an end, she moves on to the next season.  Having kids, she was interested in a containers that would look just right for Halloween. 

I like Halloween.  The best are all the kids that come to the door in costume.  Next best, I love any holiday that depends greatly on the plants and props native to the season, presented in a suitably holiday way. I could not engineer anything as horrifying as what the average 10 year old could dream up, so I focus on the plant part.  First up for these pots, a centerpiece of broomcorn, and 3 colors of amaranthus, zip tied to a stake that goes most of the way to the bottom of the box.  A good deal of the soil had been removed as part of the rootball of the hydrangea on standard.  We topped up the boxes with new soil. 

The cabbages and kales I have written about before.  There color only gets better, as fall progresses.  But when I am thinking Halloween, my kale of choice is Redbor.  Redbor kale is stalky growing, and krinkly leaved.   

The color of redbor is an amalgamation of grey, turquoise, purple and black.  As the night temperatures decline, that color gets a little more emphatically black.  Black for Halloween?  Perfect.

I planted the kales in the outermost corners of the box, and angled them out.  Tied around the bottom of the centerpiece-2 bunches of molten orange dyed eucalyptus. We like a little fire going on at the center.  The turquoise and cerise cabbage front and center is a little tame and off color,  but it will keep the planting looking great and full until Halloween.      

The orange eucalyptus appears to have pushed to redbor kale outwards.  This is a very easy way to be spooky-plant the plants out of kilter.  What might take the place of that cabbage in the front?  A lit pumpkin?  A skull?  A giant spider?  A skeleton hung over the side? A mummified hand dripping in plastic blood?    No doubt I will consult the kids about that.  In the meantime, my client is happy to have a lively planting in her boxes at the front door.   

Every nursery, farmer’s market, roadside stand, grocery store, garden and vacant land has materials that look great in fall pots.  As for the spiders, skulls and skeletons that need to be added that one night, any kid can help you get ghoulish.

Constructing The Centerpiece

No matter what season is in question, a centerpiece in a container planting can organize the planting, and enrich the visual experience.  Fall in my zone means a limited selection of plants grow at a vastly reduced rate.  My summer pots have nicotiana mutabilis topping 6 feet now-none of my fall plants will grow like this.  I have no objection to creating a centerpiece in a fall pot from natural materials that have already grown up, and been harvested.  A case of really beautiful bittersweet arrived a few days ago-I could not wait to use it in some fall container plantings. 

Other natural materials are from places far from my home.  Bahia spears-I have not the faintest idea what plant produced these stems.  They are stiff and woody; these chocolate and gold stems look just like fall.  Dried natural materials are an element that can spice up a fall planting. I love each and every one of my living plants, but the ability to create a shape from natural materials, and integrate that into a planting is great fun-try it!      

The base of this centerpiece-a pair of broomcorn shocks.  Broomcorn-yes, this plant has been widely grown for for brooms.  This means the stalks are stiff and weather impervious.  The seed heads come in a range of colors from cream to red to black.  I zip tie several bunches around a stout bamboo stake.  That stake will keep my centerpiece straight up and down, no matter the weather.  Zip ties-love them.  They hold the heaviest centerpiece together.  I use lots of them, in the early stages of construction.This centerpiece is ready; there are three layers- all zip tied to a stake.  The lower tier-10 faux grass stems.  Fault me if you will for the fake statement, but anything that pleases my eye is ok.  The long portion of this stake will be set way down into to soil of a pot.  This stake is an anchor, and a rudder.  A centerpiece gone out of level is not a good look.  The centerpieces need to stand up straight.  The beauty of any design depends on what your eye can believe.  This centerpiece has a ways to go, before I would call it finished.    

This three tiered centerpiece gets some air from the bittersweet vine sections, and a welcome shot of fall color. I cut the stems on an extreme angle, and work them under the zip tie.  These wild and curving stems will start to loosen up that strictly zip tied affair.  I use lots of zip ties in the construction of a centerpiece, as it will need to travel to the job.  Should you be constructing a fall centerpiece for a treasured pair of pots-go large, go tall-be loose. The ties you do not really need once the entire container is finished can be cut off, for a looser yet effect. 

My centerpiece made the trip to the job without any damage.  It is very heavy, but easy to handle.  My crews handle anything I send their way with aplomb.  The fabric you see draped over the edge of a pot keeps the pot from getting dirty on the rim.  The tarp on the ground is there for the same reason.  A little care keeps the cleanup part fast and easy.  The Redbor kale are the center plants.  These we plant first, so its easy to tell exactly where the centerpiece goes.  Getting the centerpiece in the center is as important as making sure it is perfectly upright.         

Levelling the centerpiece takes some time-and at least four hands.  Once that centerpiece is set, level, and solid, we tweak.  The top most zip tie-we cut that off.  We move this element up, we move that element down.  We deconstruct what we constructed. This is the most important part.  A centerpiece has to be strong and securely made.  But how it gets loosened up is what creates a very natural look.   

All of the elements of the centerpiece gets adjusted after it is installed.  I try to integrate it with the living material in such a way that it all looks lively, and of a piece.

Fall  plantings are all about some cabbages, some mums, some late representing grasses, the pansies-those plants that tolerate cold temperatures.  But fall container plantings are greatly about that gardener that has a mind to represent fall in a way they think is beautiful.    

What is in your yard, drying, now?  Sounds like a centerpiece to be, to me.

If your yard is light on materials that might work in a container, your local nursery or famer’s market is bound to have something. There are lots of possibilities for fall pots- make the most of having a choice.  Your fall pots have lots of possibilities.  Make much of the fall plants that tolerate the cold.  Make more of putting it all together.

Fabulous For Fall


I think my summer may be over.  Though Buck and I are still cruising the garden every night, we have broken out the fleeces, and jackets.  As loathe as I am to give up my summer, the fall season has its charms.  I had best get ready to be charmed-the fall is here.  I am so happy that my local nurseries have seen to supplying replacement plants for those tired spots in my containers.  The petunias are fading fast, and the leaves of the coleus have thinned, and lost color.  Luckily lots of plants are very tolerant of cold-and they are ready to step in wherever you have gaps.

My favorites are the ornamental kale and cabbages.  Available in white, pink, or red, they do not begin to color up until the night temperatures drop.  Cabbage have the big wavy leaves; kale leaves are frilly and lacy.  Both do well and grow until there is a truly hard frost.  An ornamental cabbage grown in a one gallon pot has a huge rosette of leaves, and a relatively small rootball. 

 Just a few of these plants go a very long way.  I love how tolerant they are of a deep planting-I set them at whatever level I want in a container.  I tip the faces forward, so I can see into those rosettes.  They do not mind in the least the back side of their rootball set above grade.  The color and texture is moody and jewel-like-perfect for fall.  Their very thick leaves are very weather resistant -at least that is my theory. 

Persian Queen geraniums that have been in containers over the summer will go on representing well into the fall.  Given that their chartreuse leaves are their big attraction, fewer fall flowers matters not.  Other summer container plants that do well through the fall-vinca maculatum is one of the best.  These long trailing plants are not in the least bit fazed by cold.  Nicotianas can revive and soldier on with the advent of cold weather.  My nicotiana mutabilis is sending out new shoots, and growing like crazy right now. 

If you need your container plantings to thrive on through the fall, choose carefully in the spring.  Impatiens of any sort, and coleus will collapse into a heap of mush given a short string of cold nights.  Tropical plants need to be brought in ahead of any really cold nights.  Trailing verbena is amazingly cold tolerant, as are nasturtiums, dahlias, and ornamental grasses.  But in the event that your containers are full of plants that have little love for cold, you still have choices.   Pansies reappear in the fall-they really do thrive in cooler weather.  The Clear Sky series is actually quite perennial.  Plant them in early fall-they will reward you all fall, and on into the spring to come.Their cheery faces look great in fall containers-try a few.

For years I rolled my eyes whenever I saw a sign for fall mums.  They have a form completely unlike garden chrysanthemums-they are trimmed to within an inch of their lives until it is time for them to set buds.  Mum balls, I call them.  Garden grown mums have a much more natural appearance.  Why I ever had the need to make a comparison, I do not know.  Mums grown for fall planting are just that-fall plants for containers.  I love the giant balls that have been perfectly trimmed all summer.  Thinking of planting on in a pot now?  Pick a plant that is budded up-no flowers.  Once those budded plants are in your containers, you have all fall to watch them develop, and bloom.

Gourds, pumpkins and the like-I am starting to see those shapes and colors at market.  Fall colors are like no other.  A pot full of gourds with sme left over creeping jenny from the summer is a good look.  It will be late Novemeber before I start my winter plantings-that is two months from now.  Too long to have nothing to look at near the front door. 


Bare branches-I have no objection to them in fall pots.  Every shrub and tree reveals a beautiful branch structure, once the leaves fall.  The structure of a garden is never more clear.  Subtract the flowers and the leaves-a gardener is faced with the bones.  I design with the bones in mind. Bare bones-I like that look.  There are enough cold tolerant plants, gourds, pumpkins and squash- and enough bones to make a festival of fall.