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 Busy Week

We had gusty winds today, sun and stormy clouds alternating, and cool temperatures.  It seems like it rains every fifteen minutes-for days on end.  Our weather is beginning to act like fall.  I am not sorry for this really.  It makes all of the plantings I did this week seem appropriate to the season. 

Rob found these great bleached sticks and branches with bleached leaves from a company in Canada-I was keen to try them out.  I was pleasantly surprised by the contrast of light and dark in these planters.  The blond leaves highlight the complex and moody color and texture of these redbor kale.  That tall centerpiece will go on to provide the foundation for an arrangement that will last the winter. 

It may be hard to see exactly what materials are in this trio of pots, but how the low in the sky fall light illuminates plants is one of the best parts of fall.  As thick as cabbage and kale leaves are, those leaves transmit light.  There are times when a fall planting captures that light in a beautiful way.  No summer container planting ever has this look.  The long low slanting shadows-a sure sign of fall. 

The creeping jenny from a summer planting was left in this pair of pots.  It will brave the cold until very late. The color is not quite so lime like as it is in the summer, but it still is as green as green can be.  Any summer plant that can handle what fall dishes out, we leave in.  I try to handle the transition from one season to the next as gracefully and simply as possible-why not? 

Most pennisetum plumes have lost their their color, and some of their bulk by now, but that feathery texture is a great foil for those giant, silent, and unmoving kale leaves.  This planting has a lot of movement, in spite of those kales and cabbages.  Interesting relationships are vital in creating lively compositions.  This robustly trailing vinca maculatum thrives on this cold; it has been in this planter since May.       

A garden terrace now is much more about the look from inside, than a place to be.  I try to go out every night that I can, and I am not afraid to bundle up. Winter will wander in soon enough.  But I do like a planting that looks great from the street, or the kitchen window.  Some nights now are just too cold for a stay.   I would guess this client has moved inside, but that does not mean they do not want a good view of the out of doors.

The centerpiece of this rectangular planter is dried bahia spears, and preserved eucalyptus dyed a color I call butterscotch.  The cabbages front and center have turned quite pink, given the cooler weather.  The angelina trailing in the front would easy survive the winter in this planter, were it left there.  Placed just next to the front door, this planting gives a cheery fall hello to anyone who comes to the door.   

The chocolate centerpiece in this planter is comprised of many stems of a tall weed gone to seed.  I am sorry, but I do not know the name.  Is it dock?  I only know they look sensational in the fall.  Were I interested in having them long term in a pot, I would spray them with Dri-Seal.  But for the fall season, I just bunch them up around a bamboo stake, and set them at a height that looks good to me.  The loose creamy grass-plastic.  They add just enough adrenalin to this planting to make you come back, at the very least, for a second look.

The Community House in Birmingham Michigan hosts an art show and sale for local artists every October.  I may be wrong, but it seems like the Our Town event has gone on 25 years now.  The past two years, we have placed fall pots at the entrance in celebration of their event.  I like how local artists have a yearly chance to show and sell their work.  The intent here is to welcome visitors to the exhibition.   

These contemporary beehive pots from Francesca del Re look great planted for fall.  The theme of their show this year-the garden.  I plan to get there this weekend to see how some 200 artists have interpreted that idea. 

We were busy this week, planting.  We also were making the rounds to all of those clients who have topiaries or tender plants they want wintered in the greenhouse space we have on reserve.  The installation of a landscape for a new house-we are fighting the rain, the mud, the carpenters, plumbers, and  masons.  Business as usual-a very busy week.

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.