Great Fall Gardens: How to Get the Look
Great Fall Gardens: How to Get the Look

by Peter Walsh

Get a fantastic fall display from your outdoor garden with these inspirational landscaping ideas and tips

Autumn brings spectacular colors to your landscape, whether it's from the trees turning color, plants blooming in familiar fall colors of yellow and red, ornamental grasses that finish out the season with their feathery tassel-like blooms, or containers planted with frost-tolerant blooms that last well into the end of the year. You can make the most of your fall outdoor home decor with these inspirational ideas and tips.

Field of Dreams

Nothing sets the tone for fall color quite like drifts of native goldenrod (Solidago). Pair it with natural-looking bristle brush ornamental grasses punctuated with a blue-green-hued cedar tree. Plan ahead to achieve this look by planting a large area with perennial goldenrod (Solidago sphacelata 'Golden Fleece', a shorter, fuller version of the wild variety) surrounding a cedar tree -- or, similarly, a blue spruce tree planted in the spring. Edge the area with a large swath of ornamental grasses.

Get the Look

Prepare a sunny site by amending the soil with a rich layer of compost, tilling it in to the existing topsoil to a depth of about 8 to 12 inches. Plant the tree first, then give it a skirt of the goldenrod. Plant an area of at least 10 to 20 feet around the tree with plants closely spaced to about a foot apart for a lush, full look. Plant a large area with the Pennisetum sataceum "Rubrum" grasses nearby, perhaps in groups on either side or behind the goldenrod.

Water well during dry weather and stand back. By early fall, the goldenrod will start sprouting yellow buds, then burst forth with a wash of blooms as the grasses send up their bristle blooms. Leave the plants in place and they'll reward you year after year with their spectacular display.

Mixed Messages

Create a mixed border of small trees such as crab apples, Japanese maples or dogwoods, shrubs such as Berberis and boxwoods, plus perennials such as hardy yuccas, catmint and Heuchera. All of these will lend their colorful fall leaves and textures to the autumn display. Fall-blooming Japanese anemones (Anemone x hybrida) sends up its tall stalks topped with creamy white blooms punctuated with bright yellow centers. If conditions are right, the cool fall air will encourage many perennials to send out a second wave of bloom that lasts well into the fall.

Get the Look

Select a sunny location in your yard, perhaps backed by a wooded area, a stand of taller evergreens or a fence. In the spring, till in lots of rich compost to the area to a depth of about 12 inches. Plant the trees first, giving them plenty of space to grow. Next, plant the shrubs in groups of three or five (odd numbers of plants will give the area a more natural look). Finally, fill in the spaces with odd numbers of perennials in groups, repeating as you go along the length of the border.

Be sure to include plants that drape, stand upright or can be trimmed into globe shapes for architectural interest. Give the plants plenty of water the first year or two until they are established. As the weather cools, the plants will delight with their changing hues.

Instant Gratification

Colorful pots in autumnal hues filled with frost-tolerant plants will add pops of color to your deck or patio. Scour garden centers in the fall for blooming plants such as asters, Montauk daisies, ornamental kale and chrysanthemums that you can plant now for instant blasts of color. Or pull out annuals that have finished blooming at the end of summer and replace them with plants that can take the cooler weather and still provide colorful interest. Create vignettes using pumpkins and squashes readily available at farm stands and garden centers. Group several pots together, then place the fall bounty nearby for a seasonal display.

Get the Look

For this seasonal look, hollow out a large pumpkin that can hold a six- or eight-inch plastic pot. Punch some half-inch wide holes in the bottom of the pumpkin to provide drainage for the plant. Fill the plastic pot with potting soil and plant with frost-tolerant Cool Wave White pansies (wave-rave.com).

Water well and let it drain, then place the pot inside the pumpkin with the top of the pot meeting the top of the pumpkin. You might need to place a brick or some rocks in the bottom of the pumpkin to raise up the pot. Place in a sunny location and keep the pot watered but not wet. Plant yellow pansies in a planter nearby. In the spring, plant the pansies near the edge of your garden beds.

Peter Walsh is a home decor and home improvement expert who has extensively written on the topics since 2004. For two years, she worked with home improvement celebrity Ty Pennington, of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."

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