Archives for October 2011

Letter From Cice

Cice comments on my blog posts now and again.  The day she decides to write is always a good day.  Her latest in response to my post “Fall Color” is too good not to publish.  I think she expressed far better than I about the gift that is the fall.

“deb……i too would love the day off sitting right there enjoying the day as the ginko leaves fall down around……glistening yellow, and gleaming in the bright warm sunlight. sounds like heaven!! Ahhhhhhh…….listening to them fall and collect like that photo of the table and chairs you showed…..the gift of shedding.. i get that.
A Fall day what a joy, letting all the work of summer go and not clinging………..just like the leaves. we share the same love of all things natural and the older I get the simpler those pleasures get. thanks for always pointing us back to the natural incredible beauty that is everywhere around us. yours respectfully, cice”

The gift of shedding.  I have never heard it described better.  Thanks, Cice.

Fall Color

It interests me that the phrase “fall color” brings such specific color to mind.  The color I associate with spring-the yellows of daffodils, and the blues so specific to pansies is quite unlike the color I see in the landscape this time of year.  I got to work just before dawn this morning; the sky at 7:10 am was spectacularly fall-like.  Fall color often refers to the changing of the color of the tree leaves-that final super nova of color before the leaves drop.  Our fall tree leaf color has been next to non-existent this year.  With only 6 days to go to Halloween, we have not yet had a frost.  But there is still plenty of fall color out there. 

There is plenty of fall color in the landscape.  Every bin of gourds, and every stack of pumpkins at market is brimming with the ripe fruits of the fall harvest.  The creams, yellows, oranges and dark greens are the signature colors of our fall. 

The leaves of my Princeton Gold Maples are still as green as can be.  I took this picture last year, on today’s date.  The fall weather largely initiates and dictates the turning of the leaves.  The leaves on my trees are that special shade of lukewarm faded green that occurs when the fall temperatures stay warm.  It is possible the leaves will brown and drop this year without fanfare.

The kales and cabbages have colored up-our night temperatures have been just low enough to have produced this vivid cerise pink.  Fall color is very much influenced by the night temperatures, and the quality of light at this time of year.  That low in the sky light that casts long shadows bring the colors of fall to life. I rarely take photographs in full sun during the summer.  That sun washes out any color.  The fall sun enriches the color of anything it touches.  

Every year in the fall we get a shipment of flame willow branch bunches.  Their arrival is a sure sign of fall; their fall color is brilliant.  This color mix of orange, yellow and brown turns heads-that includes mine.  It could not be more different than the color of branches in the spring.  I am very glad that I garden in a zone with four distinct seasons.  The change of seasons is a pleasure to this gardener.       

The best fall color I have seen yet-a client with gingkos underplanted with limelight hydrangeas.  The hydrangeas have gone rose pink; the gingko leaves are in that electirc lime green stage just before they yellow, and drop. A gingko drops all of its leaves on the same day.  I am sure this synchronized leaf drop is somewhere on the list of the top 100,000 natural phenomena worth experiencing.  My idea of a perfect day off-a chair waiting for me in the garden, the day the gingko leaves decide to drop.  

These clients have a big love for that mid century modern aesthetic.  I did their fall pots in black and white-stalky redbor kale, with a top dressing of big and tiny white pumpkins.  This is a most minimal version of our range of fall colors.   

The Himalayan white barked birch-betulus Jacquemontii-is best known for its white bark that emerges and represents at a very early age.  The tawny yellow fall color is equally as beautiful.  Choosing plants for the landscape that have something to say in all of our seasons is a great goal for any gardener.  

It is not enough to be a gardener. It matters-the appreciation and understanding of the process we call fall- the process we know to be nature’s doing. Great gardeners are naturalists-observers of the natural world.  Fall color is so much more than a well known phrase.  It is one briefly seen phase in the process we gardeners call living.  Luckily, we get some version of it every year around this time.  This bistro table and chairs covered with the falling leaves of the lindens-an eloquent statement about the end of the gardening season.


A customer came in today, faulting me for a lack of materials for the Halloween holiday.  It could be she was right.  I have no materials that are overtly aimed at the Halloween holiday.  But I believe a thrillingly scary Halloween display is more about the presentation, than the materials.  Any material can be scary, given the right environment.  This client has small children, and they like their front door pots planted for fall.  6 stems of the elegant feather grass from my roof garden makes for a wildly hairy pair of centerpieces that will look just right Halloween night.  The cabbage and kale will look good until the weather turns bitterly cold.

I will confess I am a fan of Halloween.  I do not have kids, but I have better than 300 kids who visit my house Halloween night.  I make my front door landscape as spooky as possible that night-this is part of the fun.  Jenny wrapped this serious antique stone bust in the shop in some open weave burlap erosion mat, and added a little flock of birds.  Ghoulish, isn’t it?  None of the materials are particularly scary-what is scary is what Jenny did with them.  

1 spider is tolerable.  3 spiders is manageable.  Hundreds of spiders will elicit dread.  I buy mine by the hundreds from the Oriental Trading Company.  It is the numbers that count.  Whatever you plan for your Halloween display, do lots.  Hundreds of spiders.  A flock of too many blackbirds.  Lots of grinning pumpkins.  Plenty of webs.  These pumpkins have hemp hairdos; packing materials can be a great source for a Halloween display. Should it get wet and soggy, all the better.      

The materials at the farmers market right now are great.  For a Halloween display, I choose the grass, cabbage and cut pods as they look half dead, or from another planet.  This container planting would never satisfy me over the summer, but it is perfectly in tune with the Halloween season.  The plastic skulls are a contribution from the kids.    

Redbor kale is a dark purple that deepens with colder nights.  We plant plenty of these in fall pots.  Looking to introduce some Halloween apprehension to the mix?  Centerpieces out of vertical, pots of plants laying on the ground, displays askew-horrifying.  My landscape installations aim for square and true. Halloween displays should dispute that idea.  No matter what ordinary materials you have to work with, setting them   off center, up side down, or out of kilter will endow them with a little holiday terror.  Though I do plan to plant these kale that the wind blew over, this is a desolate scene, as is.   

Canadian thistles are a vicious weed- so difficult to eradicate.  That said, I love the seed pods in the fall-as do the goldfinches.  This planting has a dead and prickly centerpiece, some very warty gourds, and some black/ purple eucalyptus-very Halloweenish.   

 I stay away from hay bales.  They are messy beyond all belief, unless they are securely bound up.  I like the wood shavings that are known as excelsior for Halloween. These wood shavings stick together.  The look is great. The cleanup is easy.  I like broomcorn much better than cornshocks-their drying seed heads look great on a windy day.   

Pumpkins do not ordinarily scare anyone. The pumpkins and the gourds are the mainstay of the October harvest season, so they are a natural for Halloween.  What makes them creepy is the carving, and the lighting.  I also like long twisting stems.  If I grew my own pumpkins, I would cut them with as much of the vine and dead leaves intact as possible.     

A Halloween display may need a  little structure-these fence panels fashioned from stout branches are a great backdrop, and provide plenty of hanging opportunities. The fence post finials-romanesco broccoli and birdhouse gourds.  I will admit the giant spider, crows and faux webs are especially creepy-these courtesy of my local Halloween store.   

The most ordinary of materials can help bring a Halloween tableau to life.  When it gets dark, the pumpkins and company will appear to be floating-excellent.  A little ghoulishness is great fun.

Mystery Mum

My next door neighbor has the most beautiful pair of chrysanthemums planted around a tree in her tree lawn. Every year, the end of September, it begins to bloom, and goes on blooming for weeks.  I never see it get any care or water, and I am sure it has been there 6 years.  There has been no deadheading, dividing, or weeding.  This plant appearts in the spring, grows all summer long on its own, and blooms like crazy for 4 to 6 weeks.  

It is a beautiful peachy cream color.  The growth is loose and large. The flowers are single-this I like from the start.  The foliage is dark green, and shows no signs of damage from pests or fungus. It has been in bloom since late September.

To my mind, this is a first class perennial-low maintenance, easy to grow, and very long blooming.  Should you know the name of this chrysanthemum, will you write and tell me? Years ago, I remember perennial chrysanthemums in my Mom’s yard that looked very similar to this.  The closest relative I can think of is Clara Curtis.  Help me out please, should you have a mind.