Come on…how about a little imagination? There’s more to fall container gardening than a pot of mums which are already on display at the supermarket entrance. I can allow that some folks love their tidy appearance and that these almost perfect balls provide an immediate color fix, but really, do we all have to be that predictable? Of course not.
Here in Massachusetts, I like to pot up end of summer/fall containers in late August to give plants a chance to kick in with some growth before cooler temperatures and shorter days slow things down. I had this lovely turquoise pot begging me to fill it, so I selected colors that would sing, still nodding to late summer, but with approaching autumn hues.
The winter hardy perennials used here include: Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ and Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’. The Hedera ‘Amber Waves’ and the Coprosma repens ‘Tequila Sunrise’ can take temperatures in the 20’s without being fazed, and the Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis’ with its dark green/purple foliage will star as the flowers begin to show off in September and October. Yes it could get frosted on a really chilly night, but should one be forecasted while it is still showing off, cover the planter with a large tarp or move inside for the night.
Just took a break from fall cleanup chores and went to grab my camera to capture a few images. I went to upload into my November 2012 image folder, and noticed the November 2011 folder right next to it, so I had to look. Same day, same garden, different year. Yes, we did some garden editing this spring, but what struck me is the dramatic color difference in the Japanese Maple Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’.
Outside my office door, Nov. 11, 2012
Outside my office door, Nov. 11th, 2011.
It would be a difficult choice, but if I had to select one deciduous tree for my garden, it would have to be the Korean form of Stewartia pseudocamellia, and this is why: here is a small tree (25-30′) with striking interest in all 4 seasons. In winter, a mature Stewartia pseudocamellia var koreana shows off its handsome narrow pyramidal shape, which broadens a bit with age, and lovely exfoliating bark, exposing shades of tan, pink and gray. In spring, it breaks anew with fresh dark green elliptical leaves, arranged alternately along its branches. In early summer, lovely 3″ white camellia like flowers are displayed. Each blossom only lasts a short time, but there are so many produced over several weeks that you never feel it is not performing. In autumn, Stewartia pseudocamellia is truly mesmerizing, flashing you with foliage in shades of brilliant red, orange, gold and green.
Stewartia pseudocamellia is native to Japan and Korea, and the Korean form is generally considered a bit hardier. The Korean form tends to have a more narrow pyramidal shape than the species found in Japan. In its native habitat, it is found growing with Clethra barbinervis and Enkianthus campanulatus, both exceptional large shrubs or small trees, with multi season interest. Stewartia pseudacamellia var. koreana grows best in sun or partial shade in a humus rich but well drained soil, out of strong wind. It is hardy to minus 20F and grows well in zones 5-8.
Here is a little plant that is versatile, super hardy and foolproof (as long as you grow it in sun and well drained soil). It hasn’t been in the US very long, but already has acquired the common names of “Chinese Stonecrop”, as it hails from Asia, and “Coral Reef” , (still not sure what the Coral Reef reference is). Sedum tetractinum grows only 1-2″ tall, and spreads modestly, rooting into the soil as it creeps along. It is especially dramatic spilling over edges: retaining walls, pottery, troughs, you name it.
Sedum tetractinum is also lovely enough to use in mixed succulent planters. Its rounded olive green leaves turn a lovely copper bronze shade in the autumn, and this color change contrasts well with other shades of succulent foliage. In the planter you see here it is paired with tender Sedum adophii and Euphorbia tirucalli, but it could easily accent hardy Sedum ‘Angelina‘ and Sempervivum. Pale yellow flowers appear in summer, but the blossoms are not the highlight. “Chinese Stonecrop” takes temperatures as cold as minus 30F (zones 4-9).
Viburnum dilatatum ‘Michael Dodge’
Meet ‘Michael Dodge‘, a golden berried hybrid of Linden Viburnum. He is a cheerful fellow, who shows off in late spring with a bevy of white lacey flowers and then later develops clusters of showy yellow fruit, which is a sight in our garden right now. The birds are leaving the fruit alone, but that is fine with me because the fruit bearing stems are perfect additions to autumn floral arrangements.
I received a nice note from the plant’s breeder, Mr. Michael Dodge himself. He informed me that he made a deliberate cross between V. dilatatum and V. d. Xanthocarpum in hopes of getting a larger fruited yellow form in his days working at Wintherthur in Delaware. Mr. Dodge left Winterthur not long after, but was notified that there were some very nice clones from the seedlings he planted. Harold Bruce, the garden curator at that time, named the best yellow fruited clone after him.
Viburnun dilatatum is of Asian ancestry and although it looks perfectly at home in a naturalistic border, it is not as favored by birds and wildlife (plant V. dentatum and other native viburnum species). What it does do is provide dramatic color in the autumn landscape. Something you should note is that in order for a good berry set you need another cultivar of V. dilatatum nearby. This may sound confusing, so I should clarify. You should plant a different clone for good cross pollination, and Mr Dodge specifically recommends Viburnum dilatatum ‘Cardinal Candy‘, who will put on a show of its own with bright red fruit.
Viburnum dilatatum ‘Michael Dodge‘ will grow 8-10′ tall and wide. He is not fussy about soil, but will certainly appreciate a fertile loam and grows best in full sun or partial shade. ‘Michael Dodge is hardy through zone 5.
The longer we garden the more we appreciate both subtlety and contrast… especially when a plant makes you do a double take because of some extraordinary features. Boehmeria platanifolia is one of these plants: unique foliage, size, with late summer pale green flowers. This species of Boehmeria has large sycamore shaped green leaves (up to 5″) with serrated edges and covered with tiny hairs giving the plant a soft glow. The leaves attach to the sturdy stems with contrasting red petioles. Green tassel flowers emerge from the branch tips in August and continue to droop into the fall.
Boehemeria platanifolia performs best in partial shade, in a soil that is evenly moist. Established plants can grow to 5′ tall and 4′ wide. It is a Japanese member of the Nettle family, Urticaceae, and this particular species is quite hardy…reports say to zone 4, but we’ll play it safe in saying it will grow well in zones 5-8.
Combines well with Tricyrtis (toadliles), Begonia grandis (Hardy Begonia) and Leucoseptrum (Japanese Wood Mint) in the fall shade garden.
Caryopteris ‘White Surprise’
What’s not to love? For three years now, this white variegated form of Blue Mist Shrub has been a stunning plant in one of our sunny raised beds, providing great form, foliage and easy performance despite dry conditions and humid heat. ‘White Surprise’, a sport of Caryopteris ‘Heavenly Blue’, becomes a handsome 3′ x 3′ mound of aromatic white edged foliage, topped with contrasting medium blue flowers from mid-summer through September. Of particular note is how well the white edged foliage resists leaf scorch. Bees and butterflies flock to the whorled clusters of blossoms. It pairs well with so many other long season interest plants, such as Echinacea ‘Virgin’, Alstroemeria ‘Mauve Majesty and Sedum ‘Maestro’ .
Grow Caryopteris ‘White Surprise’ in well drained soil in full. It is hardy in zones 5-9, although there may be more winter die back in colder climates. Not a problem though: just cut it back hard in mid spring. Caryopteris is deer resistant, and it’s lovely white/green/blue coloring is a cooling sight in the hot summer garden.
As I get older I am so appreciative of all the trees Chris and I have planted over the years, often as little twigs which we acquired from specialty mail order nurseries or the Arboretum Plant Sale. One that has become our favorite is Cornus kousa ‘Wolf Eyes’, a variegated form of Chinese or Japanese Dogwood.
‘Wolf Eye’s‘ was selected at Manor View Farm in Monkton MD, and has been declared by plant expert Paul Capiello to be one of the best variegated forms of Cornus kousa. Eventual height depends on siting and hardiness zone (hardy in zones 5-9), but reports range from 10-20′ with equal spread. Our ‘Wolf Eyes’ is a now 12′ x 10′ specimen. The gray green leaves are delicately rimmed with white, and will curl slightly as protective measure when cited in hot sun. What we find remarkable is how well the white “flowers” (really showy bracts) stand out against the white variegation, when it “blooms” in June. As the flowers fade, curious edible fruit begin to form. They look like red raspberries on short sticks when they ripen in early fall. Fall foliage color takes on pinkish red tints.
Site ‘Wolf Eyes’ in full or half day sun, and, no surprise, in a rich well drained but adequately moist soil. Water well in dry spells., but excessive overhead watering from a sprinkler or irrigation system can cause spotting of the foliage. C. kousa is resistant to Anthracnose, but too much exposure to wetness for extended periods will cause fungal problems.
Those of us in northern climates are suspicious when we’re told showy evergreen Euphorbia are hardy for us (zone 6), with good reason. Arctic winds and lack of snow cover often dessicate the foliage and those the early blooms. Well we’ve had mixed results with the fabulous Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’, and what we’ve learned is it’s all about siting. That being said, we’d grow this plant regardless of winter hardiness because it looks good for the entire growing season, from early spring into December.
Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ is a selection of E. x martinii. It boasts beautiful gold and green variegated foliage tinged with coral red, especially on the new growth and when temps are cooler. Multiple red stemmed branches form 18-24″ mounds. Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’ blooms on new and old growth, with adorable variegated bracts exposing tiny red flowers. I’ll say this again, this plant looks fabulous the entire growing season here in New England, and because of this it is equally as wonderful in containers as it is in open ground.
Now in regards to siting: we used Ascot Rainbow in container plantings at an urban restaurant, where they looked so fabulous at the end of the winter that we left them in for the spring display. Really! In this protected spot, surrounded by buildings radiating heat, the Euphorbs were quite happy. In open ground we’ve had mixed results. In a raised bed with good drainage the plants came through, although we had to cut back the sad looking evergreen foliage after the winter. Snow covered much of the ground during the winter of 2010 and 2012 and our plantings came through unscathed. The recommendation: good drainage, protection from wind, in sun or partial shade.
Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’, in fall
Had to include this plant portrait now because this baby’s fall color is on fire! We had wanted to portray Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon‘ (a.k.a ‘Mellow Yellow’) in a blog post last spring, but there are always so many plants vying for our attention at that time of year. Not that this Spirea doesn’t. As a matter of fact, it is one plant we never tire of, and include it in many of our landscape installation projects.
Unlike most Spirea, this species has narrow willow like foliage that emerges a bright lemon yellow in early mid spring. White flowers adorn the arching branches just prior, and as the leaves unfurl. Although they are sweet enough, they aren’t why you should grow this shrub. Grow this Spirea for the texture and color the foliage provides year round, and which as you can see here, is an especially grand finale of volatile color in November.
Spirea thunbergii ‘Ogon’ is hardy to minus 20F (zone 5), and grows quickly to a height and width of 4-5′. It’s very happy in full sun, but grows well in partial shade, and seems to withstand poor dry soil conditions without hindering its performance. Like all Spirea it can be cut back hard in the spring if you choose to keep it shorter, but you’ll sacrifice the flowers. We could go on and on about which plants to use in combination with ‘Ogon’, but the list is practically endless. May we suggest Acanthus spinosus, Fothergilla ‘Blue Shadow’, Japanese maples of any form, Geranium ‘Rozanne’.…..(we could go on and on).