Autumnal Container Gardens

Martha Stewart Living, September 2006

The colors of fall vary across the country, but long, cool nights prompt glorious changes everywhere. In the West, the blazing gold of aspens contrasts with the sprawling blue sky. Lush green -- accented by the candy hues of camellia flowers -- returns to the South after a dry spell. And in the Midwest and Northeast, swaths of scarlet, orange, and yellow cut through the landscape. This year, let the brilliant backdrop in your backyard inspire container arrangements in shades that suit the season. For these collections, we relied on a traditional autumn palette, accented with pink and purple. But no matter where you live, you can put together lively container combinations by following a few guidelines. First, think beyond familiar standbys, such as cushion mums, asters, and ornamental cabbage. Instead, consider other vibrant, cool-season annuals (pansies or violas) and unexpected vegetables (chard or kale). Combine these with fall-blooming perennials -- Tricyrtis, Ajania, Sedum -- as well as those with showy foliage, such as Amsonia, which erupts in a shock of yellow leaves. Ornamental grasses, moss, and small trees and shrubs -- look for red osier dogwoods or dwarf varieties of conifers or Japanese maples -- contribute additional color and texture. Caring for container plantings is a breeze. They don't need as much water as summer blooms, and fertilizer is unnecessary. In places where frost is rare or not a concern, leave plants in pots and enjoy them through the winter. If you live in a colder area (generally Zones 2 to 4), move perennials -- and trees and shrubs if you like,to the garden while the soil is still workable, watering thoroughly and adding a good layer of mulch. Next year, when the landscape is bathed in fall's magnificent hues, the plants will again flaunt theirs, putting on a splendid display. Favorite Fall Plants Annuals When days shorten and nights get cool, these plants thrive. Arctotis: Bright, daisylike flowers, silvery foliage, and a neat habit distinguish this plant; also try Osteospermum -- it is similar but has rounded petals and a wider palette. Cabbage, chard, kale, and kohlrabi: These intriguing, richly textured vegetables range from blue-gray to pink and purple. Cardoon: This artichoke relative's large, silvery-blue foliage makes a pretty accent. Perennials Mix these with annuals; they can be replanted in the border before the ground freezes. Ajuga: This slow-to-spread ground cover is a surprising container plant; 'Chocolate Chip' has mounds of shiny purple foliage. Ferns: Choose evergreen or semievergreen varieties of these shade lovers, such as leather wood, Japanese holly, or Christmas. Grasses: There are grasses to suit any style: Festuca glauca 'Elijah Blue' has spiky mounds; Carex testacea boasts burnt-orange foliage. Heuchera: Colorful foliage on these shade plants stays dense in fall; try 'Plum Pudding.' Ivy: Consider yellow 'Gold Heart,' gray-green 'Pedata,' or gold-and-green 'Golden Ingot.' Sedum: Masses of colorful, star-shaped flowers characterize this plant. Woody Plants Keep these in pots year-round or replant in the garden. Dwarf conifers: These lend soft texture. Cryptomeria japonica 'Compressa' has rounded gray foliage that turns golden in fall; chamaecyparis is deliciously fragrant. Japanese maple: This tree has many cultivars: Its fall foliage varies from burgundy to red. Look for Acer palmatum 'Sharp's Pygmy.' Red osier dogwood: Stems on red- and yellow-twig dogwoods are most vivid in fall. Spiraea: Profuse spring blooms give way to red, orange, and yellow leaves in autumn.


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