At A Glance: The Super-Nova Stage

Does it not seem like the colors of all the annual flowers intensify with their first brush with cooler weather? 

Fall Is For Planting

Our fall plantings have begun in earnest this week; very cool night temperatures are a sure sign that fall is underway. My boston ivy wall has three distinctly dark red streaks in evidence in an ocean of green. More to follow on that story.   A maple down the street is emphatically turning color. Speaking of emphatic, I like to plant big plants in the fall.  The cool soil means that growth will be slow, especially in an exposed location.  Scale is so important in any seasonal planting; in a good year, we have two months of fall.  Start big; make yourself happy.   Fall plantings do several things for the gardening psyche.  When summer plantings get to looking like they are infected and going down from the cold, a fall planting can be robust and cheery.  Fall pots can stretch and test your ingenuity, as the palette of suitable plants is vastly less than one’s spring choices. The cool weather means all of us are more energetic, enterprising, and tuned in. The mix-much like a cool jazz inprovization.  

Ornamental kale can be found in large sizes, and shrugs off the cold.  The color only gets better as the temperatures decline. The tuscan kale I have had in the shop pots all summer will go on until very late in the fall.  Good deal. If you are new to a planting that will span our fall,  galvanized steel and steel wire buckets make great fall planters.  They are relatively inexpensive, and they have that bushel basket look about them.  Who can resist a bushel basket of apples, or a quarter bushel of new potatoes?   These wire containers are particularly attractive; the moss sides makes this planting green from top to bottom. How the kale spills abundantly over the edge speaks to the time of the harvest. Lush in a different way than spring.  A lush finish-the harvest ripening, maturing-the best part of the summer season. 

I think there is a gene that makes it a snap for some gardeners to expertly moss a basket.  Others of us struggle with this job-me included. At Detroit Garden Works, we now use a florist’s moss mounted on a netted backing.  This makes mossing very quick, and easy. This moss comes in a roll; drape the basket, and fill.  Fill any number of  bushel baskets with kales, pansies, twigs, grasses-whatever seems to be maturing in your garden or available at your farmer’s market.   My most favorite stems of this season-the maturing pods of asclepias tuberosa-butterfly weed.  Those pods-so beautiful.  

Cirrus dusty miller has large felted silver leaves with great substance.  They tolerate the cold well.  The serrated dusty miller does just as well in fall pots, but looks better paired with cabbages, or bergenia.  Dusty miller takes a long time to grow-should you be interested in cirrus, talk to your greenhouse grower now.  This big leaved dusty miller deserves more attention.  The drapy Angelina stays green all winter; it is a consummate professional of a plant.  Whatever grows and stays green over my winter gets my attention.

Ornamental cabbages and kales can be had of considerable size; I like my fall pots stuffed to overflowing.   Buy big.  Stuff as many plants as you can manage into your pots.  The fall is fleeting-do not be late to the concert.
I do not mind the passing of the geraniums, the verbena, the impatiens and the coleus. To everything there is a season, yes?  I am focused now on fall.  What will I do? 

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The hydrangea flowers are pinking from the cold-enjoy this. In much the same way that you reluctantly let go of spring and move into summer-celebrate the fall.  Change is in the air.  What is not to love about this season?  I would advise-wake up and get ready.

If You Must

My first choice of a giant arrangement of flowers and greens is first and foremost about fresh.  I would guess most gardeners would agree with this point of view.  But a big statement in fresh flowers is ephemeral, and incredibly expensive.  A garden that could supply 100 stems of fresh flowers every week-this would be a very large garden.  The time it takes to arrange fresh flowers and keep them looking fresh is considerable. I am happy when Buck just buys me a dozen roses at the grocery.  Fake roses can be fine too, provided they are arranged with style and wit.  This artificial arrangement came to my door just two days ago. 

I have not one problem in the world with artificial flowers and greens.  They are designed by real people, and manufactured by real people who take their jobs seriously.  They are purchased and taken home by real people whose pleasure in the natural world is self evident.  If you cannot do fresh flowers, if you have a spot in your heart and home asking for some evidence of the natural world -if you must go with the faux, I have some ideas.   

No kidding-this is the flip side of the arrangement in need of an overhaul whose front side is my opening photograph.  It looks to have one of everything imaginable. No artificial arrangement benefits from a kitchen sink approach.  What goes in your kitchen sink is about discards.  What goes in your arrangement is about choices.  Choose a few materials that really appeal to you.  Choose a few materials that make a strong statement about volume, color, texture, contrast and mass-as you do not have the fresh card to play.   

I regularly arrange flowers for weddings and events.  I have a gardener’s point of view that governs how and what I put together.   Those natural materials do the lion’s share of the work.  I can bunch 3, 10, or 100 cut stems.  Any three stems fresh cut, any fresh cut fistful of flowers, or truckful of fresh flowers is guaranteed to please.  No matter how badly you arrange them, fresh flowers always look beautiful.      

An artificial arrangement is about a visual feast of a completely different sort.  The fake flowers and stems available today are incredibly good.  However the leaves are incredibly bad-they are a manufacturing afterthought.  Loose all the fake leaves, and arrange each stem so that its given star gets good play, and contrasts in color, texture and volume with its neighbor. 

Rob saw fit to purchase box after box of artificial stems featuring red fuzzy balls. Their color and texture-more than interesting.  My client’s arrangement-I took it apart.   I washed, or otherwise cleaned every stem that I thought might be relevant.  I clipped off every offending fake leaf.  I planned to cover every plastic stem with some shape of interest.   

The group that I would call gardeners needs a very big tent-should they all plan to meet.  Gardening takes many forms, most of which interests me. What interested me here was providing my client with an updated look.   


An artificial arrangement need not be dusty looking or poorly planned. You have no obligation to use a stem as it comes out of the box.  Figure out what part you like the best.  Discard the worst, take apart the rest, and decide what overall shape pleases you.  Arrange each element so it looks like you were having fun.

Dirty Tricks

If you garden long enough, you are bound to have a few dirty tricks up your sleeve.  Little things that solve gardening problems, make the work easier, or more efficient-or more beautiful. So what are we looking at here?   I place galvanized metal washers from the hardware under any pot that sits on a hard surface-whether it be a bluestone terrace, concrete walk, or wood deck.  Pots that stay out all winter in Michigan need to drain. Water trapped in the bottom of a pot expands when it freezes; the force of this expansion can break just about any material. A pot with a very wide base may need a small stack of washers; whatever it takes to keep water draining freely can prevent winter damage or breakage.  Some soil mixes are compost based; that compost can stain a stone or wood deck, if that dirty water is trapped underneath it for any length of time. A deck surface under a pot that never dries out will leave rings that are the devil to get rid of. Elevate your pots-even if that elevation is only 1/4 inch.  

There are many techniques and theories for drying hydrangeas-all of them work, provided you pick the hydrangeas at the right time.  The flowers need to be mature, and on the verge of drying.  You can place them in water, or not.  You can hang them upside down if you are so inclined, but there really isn’t any need. Drying hydrangeas is about timing, not technique. Dry hydrangeas are actually quite beautiful in the house-provided you do not put them in a spot that gets strong light. It is a good trick- having a bouquet of flowers that will last until you tire of it.     

There are several tricks being addressed in this picture. Very shady places in a garden can be gloomy-stay away from dark colors. Light or chartreuse green, and pale colors light up the shade, naturally.  The pale yellow in the Biot pot rim, the yellow impatiens, the yellow in the irisine leaves-monochromatic color schemes are serene.  Plants cost the same-no matter what color they are.  Should you attach value to a planting that accurately reflects the mood you are trying to create, the sum total of the value of your garden can vastly outweigh your capital expenditure.    

I have no interest whatsoever in having plants in my house.  I do not want to recreate the outdoors inside; I am glad they are different places.  But those spots that would so be improved with some green rarely have enough light to sustain life.  Straggly houseplants struggling to survive-depressing.  A preserved eucalyptus topiary can be made by hand from natural materials, and never need any care beyond an occasional dusting.  The dirty trick-use your ingenuity, imagination, and creativity to go around a problem you cannot solve.  As much as you might love to have a green plant flourishing on your fireplace mantle, plants have requirements.  What you require is an entirely different matter. 

I love a rose in bloom as much as the next gardener. Does this make me a rosarian?  No.  I am still nothing more than a girl who loves roses.  If I am not willing or able to devote to a rose garden what a child would require, then I need a trick or two. There are a few roses that ordinary gardeners can keep-this Carefree Beauty is one of them.  I really do nothing except put down a little rose tone in the spring, and water.  My second trick-read and absorb what other people who have devoted there lives to learning about the cultivation of a class of plants.  Thanks, to Julia Hofley, I know about the book  “Right Rose Right Place”-written by rosarian Peter Schneider; he gardens in my zone.  Not in England, or California.    Knowing when and from whom to learn is a good trick.  A one trick gardener limits themselves.   

Intense and jewel like colors look rich and sumptuous.  But the real dirty trick here is the treatment of the coleus.  This gardener has not pinched and pruned as most garden books advise; coleus flowers are nothing much to make over.  In spite of popular gardening sentiment, she let her coleus grow and bloom. The look of those wand like flowers over the bulky foliage is good.  The dirty trick-take no one else’s word for what is beautiful.  Accepted practice is nothing more than accepted practice.  Experiment; your garden is a lab, a vehicle with you at the wheel.  

When your containers are going down in the fall, when you loose a prized stand of delphinium, when a garden fails to please and you are on the verge of paving and grassing over everything-plant. Plant something.  The process of deciding what would be good, choosing the material, digging the hole, and watering it in-that life that goes in the ground that you must look after takes your mind off your own life, and focuses it on another.  You owe it to your garden to allow yourself to be tricked.    

Three little sprigs of coleus with a few roots went into this French pot.  The opening is so small-there was not room for plants of any size.  I just grew them on. A gardener makes things grow.  A seed or a start in the dirt-tended plants grow faster than you think.  If that gingko tree at your local nursery is just too pricey-they do grow from seed. Home grown-the best dirty trick.  

A concrete block wall-not so beautiful.  Paint it a dark and rich color, and plant some parthenocissus tricuspidata.  The wall will look good while that Boston ivy is taking hold.

Transforming tricks work best in the beginning.  Radically pruning an overgrown burning bush planted too close to the sidewalk is a tired trick.  Good gardening tricks need to be fresh. 


These deer statues from the fifties-perhaps you remember them.  This chipped face buried in this mass of juniper-a brilliant dirty trick.  There are so few objects of no interest-just placements lacking invention.  Any garden invention means a dirty trick is on the way.