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.

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? 

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.