Planting Fall Containers

Our summer gardening season begins to wind down in September. Come Labor Day, change in the air. That change is refreshing and energizing. Towards the end of the month, the watering on the summer containers becomes a full time job. All of the soil in the containers is shot through and thoroughly congested with roots. Those abundant roots can absorb water as fast as it can be supplied. They invariably want more. A gardener has to have a big love for their summer containers to keep them thriving throughout September. By the time that fall sees fit to arrive, this gardener is ready.

Last week and the first of this was remarkable for its blistering and record setting heat. All the more effort was required to keep the summer pots going. Added to that, the care of first plants for the fall kept us really busy. Keeping up with the watering on our first shipments of fall cabbages, kales, pansies, lavender, thyme, lemon cypress and other fall friendly plants was not easy.  It was 92 degrees, the first day we planted a collection of containers for fall. Fortunately for me, my crews are utterly professional and focused. They came to work with coolers filled with bottles of water that had spent the previous night in the freezer. They soaked every plant before it was loaded. They were dressed for the occasion. They sweated it out with aplomb. We had set a date to plant containers for fall for this client, and we honored that commitment. All of the pots had been emptied of the summer plants, and the fall centerpieces constructed the day before.

I have a special affection for pots planted for the fall season. Even when my first taste of fall is hot as blazes. The summer is that time when every gardener has the opportunity to enjoy the work they put in place in the spring. The fall brings all of those efforts to fruition, and then to a close. Fall pots stuffed with the moments and memory of the harvest are enchanting. The colors, textures and shapes are specific to the season. The low in the sky slanting light saturates everything it strikes, producing what we know as “fall color”.

Tall elements for fall containers can come from a lot of places. Ornamental grasses come immediately to mind. Rob makes sure we have plenty of natural dried sticks, stems, and seed pods available. I am fortunate to have preserved and dyed eucalyptus in every color imaginable to place in fall pots. The cut stems of eucalyptus are able to absorb preservative and color up through the stems and into the leaves. As the color is absorbed and not applied, the stems are color fast outdoors, and are remarkably resistant to degradation from sun and rain.

But no material is as important as the plants. This year’s crop of custom grown kale and cabbage are the best it has ever been my pleasure to plant. The container above on the left is planted with redbor kale grown to an astonishing size. The companion planter features 3 Purple Queen cabbage, an edible red cabbage. It did not take many plants to create a fall container scene that will last well into November.

Coral Queen ornamental cabbage leaves are a beautiful shade of bluish green.  The centers of the plants will color up a deep magenta purple as the temperatures drop.

Tuscan kale, also known as dinosaur kale, has large, strappy and highly textured leaves. The nutritional value of kale is legendary, but it is also beautiful to look at.  Individual leaves may grow to 3 feet long.

fall container with Tuscan kale

fall container with millet and lavender eucalyptus

containers with Ruby Queen cabbage

kale and cabbage crop

the kale and cabbage from the roof

Let the festivities begin.









Fall Fun

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The better part of fall is the harvest from the garden.  The pumpkins, the brussel sprouts and cabbage, the Romanesco broccoli, and the squashes are as delightful to look at as eat.  The gourds in irresistible shapes and intense colors make you want to decorate something.  I am glad to have something celebratory for the season.  As I mentioned before, the cabbages and kales top my list of great fall  plants.  The centerpiece in the above pictured pot is unabashedly fake-just a little fall fun.  This client owns a business set back quite some distance from the road.  These tall and brightly colored picks, wired into a post of  natural cedar whips, get some attention.  The store looks dressed for fall. 

2007 Payne Fall (17)Window boxes of size permit expression of size.  These boxes are viewed primarily from a garden room indoors, so big and striking, and not too tall,  is the order of the day.  As they face the south, and are somewhat protected from freezing winds and cold temperatures, these boxes prosper late into the fall season and through Thanksgiving.

DSC_0005Whomever it was who invented stick stacks, I thank them.  These 6 foot stacks comprised of wood cut into quarter inch by quarter inch squares are uniformly vertical when they go in a pot.  A piece of steel rebar is driven deep into the pots, and the stack wired to it.  This keeps the centerpiece from tilting.  Funny how an element askew has that air of neglect about it.  I like to see people keeping up the appearance of their homes from the street.  Stick stacks change in appearance with exposure to weather.  As the wood absorbs moisture from the air, they curve away from the center in a very graceful way.  The preserved green eucalyptus weathers just about anything.

Tender #2 (1)Tender is a fabulous dress shop that is known for its cutting edge fashion.  Their fall pots are dressy.  Maple leaves coated in copper shine, as do the pumpkins with a dusting of gold. Integrifolia dyed an intense shade of fall orange compliment the dyed pencil thin willow sticks.  Orange and white pansies complete the ensemble.

Dunker 2006 (1)This narrow courtyard, part of a condominium, is organized around four very large white concrete pots inlaid with bands of curved stainless steel wire.  Fiber pots painted white in galvanized steel stands are home to my client’s tomato plants in the summer; the tall kale, pansies, and creeping jenny compliment the cabbages and ivy in the concrete pots in both form and feeling. 

2005 Wasserman1005 (1)Lime integrifolia and diamond shaped moss pillows help create a clean and more modern look; not every client is enamoured of pumpkins and the like.  Bleached sticks and pods complete the look.

Seed pods from tropical countries have an exotic look that adds a lot of interest to a planting of pansies.  These stems are ruggedly weather resistant.  I am not really sure from what plant they come, but the stringy leaf stalks cannot be torn-they must be cut. 

payne halloween 2006 (6)
There are lots of materials available to spice up a fall planting. Any farmer’s market is a great place to find something that might suit you.  Bittersweet, rose hips, dried hydrangea, money plants, thistles and cattails from the roadside-nature provides plenty of bounty at harvest time.