Barnsley Gardens is one of the great historic treasures of antebellum America. When Godfrey Barnsley built this fabulous estate in the 1800's he wanted a home in the cooler climate of North Georgia. He purchased thousands of acres of land and lavished a fortune building this vast estate and garden. He was intrigued by Andrew Jackson Downing, the premier landscape architect of this nation during this time. Downing insisted on something interesting in the garden every season of the year. Downing believed in a natural setting and he liked gardens that were symmetrical. This garden, as with others Downing designed, has serpentine walks, ovals and water cascades. This garden was one of the few in the south during this time that adhered to his principles. The fall in north Georgia is beautiful, the trees and fall color are spectacular, very relaxing; this garden highlights the season. Everyone at Barnsley Gardens strives to keep Downings' concepts alive today.
Many think that fall is a time to stop gardening, that it is a time to ready the garden for winter. If this concept is followed one of the best seasons of the year will be missed. With proper planning, color in the garden can be maintained through Christmas. This can be accomplished two ways. One, extend summer plantings to go through fall, or two, deliberately plant display beds that provide fall color from September through December. At Barnsley they try to create a style of garden which is first and foremost pleasing and relaxing, not necessarily dazzling or impressive. And that is an extension of how Andrew Downing wanted gardens to be. He called these type grounds-pleasure grounds because they were there to please. Robert Stoney is the horticulturist at Barnsley Gardens and thinks fall is a wonderful time to garden. There are a variety of things that can be planted now that will come into bloom this time of year. They could have been planted either the previous fall or in the spring, all with the intention of extending the summer display. One can plant things that will bloom from September until either the first hard frost or well into early December. This means a period of about 3 months where it is possible to have some pretty, stunning displays. This time of year the soil temperatures tend to stay warm, yet air temperatures are cooling, thus this is a great time to be in the garden. Robert likes things that are showy but aren't going to upstage the natural fall colors. A garden may be in transition this time of year, it may look disheveled, thus one needs to look beyond showy flowers. For example, with cool nights lawns are starting to experience re-growth, trees and shrubs are looking good. Some may be planted specifically for their foliage, form, color or ripening fruit.
Mum's come in almost every color, although Dr. Rick hasn't seen a blue or pure red. They are available in beautiful yellows, oranges and bronzes even a Lilac color variety, all came from the original plant brought from China several centuries ago. The varieties we view are Belgian hybrids, called the Prophet Hybrid. They were specifically developed in the 1980's and don't need pinching. They form a little mound, a cushion of flowers and don't need pruning.
Mum's like free draining soil, high organic matter with lots of fertility and should be watered when needed. Almost let them wilt, if growing in a container, before watering. In the past many thought that Mums were always bothered by bugs, today the stalk from the breeder is disease free - verticilum wilt free and virus free - and those are the only things traditionally a problem with Chrysanthemums.
Robert refers to Cosmos as "emergency annuals." If there is a spot, particularly in the fall, that needs to be filled, if one needs instant flowers, Cosmos is the thing to grow. Cosmos must be direct sowed, but sow them thinly. This can be done from the early part of August through the early part of September to get the full show. They are so fast growing that they will flower with 4-5 weeks. Simply broadcast the seeds, till them in, water and get out of the way. They will grow to 5-6 feet tall in an area that's already fertile, if not fertile, feed them. If a shorter plant is desired, fertilize less. The height can be determined by fertilization. Get them in the ground when the soil is warm. Transplanting won't afford the same success.
Common garden Zinnia is another good fall choice. It has nice pom-pom flowers and different colors. It is fast growing and can have a nice stand within 6-8 weeks.
Ants can be a common fall problem. There are many strategies for dealing with them but probably the most effective and surest would be a liquid or dust type insecticide. Mix either with water and apply close to the mound. The ants get the mixture on their feet or body and take it back to the mound. It is a quick and efficient way to solve ant problems. But remember fall is the best time to deal with ant problems.
Another way to get fall color is to extend the season, take that summer plant and bring it into fall, then fall into winter. We've talked about the quick, easy fix for fall color now we address the slow, planned fix for fall color. Perennials go on producing a show reliably year after year. Many ask why plant Herbaceous Perennials in the fall when one would think - wait until spring? Fall is a good time to get these plants established, they need time to build up root growth. This can best be done over the course of a long slow winter and spring. The more they can be established before Christmas, the better they'll do. After that they'll take care of themselves.
The Wind Flower or Japanese Anemone is in fact not Japanese but instead came from China. It is a wonderful mainstay this time of year. It grows tall, thus shows very well and is a lovely white, but is also offered in shades of pink, some varieties even have double flowers. At the base it may look bare but about half way up it fills out, almost a palmate set. It is a cross between the Vine Leafed Anemone, the one brought from China, with leaves that look like grape leaves or vine leaves.
Swamp Sunflowers have tall, brilliant flowers, a great looking plant this time of year. The flowers are large, Daisy like with multi-headed sprays which will grow up to 6 feet tall. It is a very reliable flower, a perennial, which can be planted and left alone. It produces a show every year and makes a great cut flower, lasting days in water.
The Confederate Rose Hibiscus looks like a Rose but isn't a member of the Rose family. It isn't hardy outside of zone 8 or 7B. In this climate Robert treats it like a Herbaceous plant. It will grow into a small tree or shrub in warmer parts of the country. It is a perennial but is it a shrub or tree? Robert's definition is if it produces woody tissue that survives from year to year, that is a shrub. If it dies back to the ground and grows fresh each year, then it's a Perennial. It has large leaves and can be an overwhelming presence in the garden. It is nice to have the contrast in leaf forms.
Candlestick Celosia or Wheat Celosia is a real show-stopper, but requires pre-planning. If you have a place in a perennial border sow this plant in late May or early June for a fall display. It is really more of a summer annual that will flower into the fall. It is a great plant for a long period of time. It is easy to grow, grows from seed or can be transplanted, but is much stronger if direct sown from seed.
Ornamental Cotton, Yellow Hibiscus, has a burgundy, bronzy foliage yet has an extraordinary display of fall flowers. It is easy to grow from seed and produces a beautiful, pale yellow flower with a dark, chocolate center eye. Its' seed pods are fascinating and beautiful especially when dew is on them early in the morning.
Berries are always beautiful this time of year. Calacarpa or Beauty Berry is extraordinary. The center is blue indigo, the flower pink. It is a graceful, arching plant with slightly yellow foliage. It produces flowers and berries on new wood. To keep it blooming Robert suggests rather than cutting it all down each year let it regenerate by cutting only a third. That way the shape of the plant isn't lost.
Firethorn or Pyracantha is grown for its' display of large, orange berries. It is unwieldy, not very well behaved but loved by the birds, it is a great food source for them in the fall. Some gardeners will take this unruly plant and train it against a wall or fence, for a more well behaved look.
Oak Leafed Hydrangea is a great looking plant but many don't know when to trim. The dried flowers turn brown but are still beautiful, even architectural. It is a good idea to let the plant go through its' entire growing cycle and enjoy every aspect of the plant. Even if a little unkempt looking it's still fascinating this time of year. The foliage makes a bold and dramatic statement. The great garden designer Russell Page once said he didn't like a garden because the leaves were all the same size. The Oak Leaf Hydrangea will certainly remedy that situation.
Rice Paper Plant, Tetrapannex, is a relative of Ginseng, an import from China. It makes a wonderful statement and comes into its' own this time of year. It gets hit back, in this climate by winter and it takes almost the entire summer for it to recover and produce its' big leaves. It is marginally hardy in this climate. In tropical areas it will grow into a rather large tree. Here the weather does the pruning and it comes back handsome and fresh. Robert believes that mulch, pine straw, applied about one foot deep will act as a wonderful blanket and protects this plant and many plants during winter. Rice Paper Plant is deer proof which is surprising because of its' large leaf, there must be something in it that repels deer.
Fragrance is another consideration when selecting plants. If this is a consideration looks may need to be overlooked. Osmanthis Fragrance has a stunning smell but isn't a great looking plant. Place it behind something more visual but upwind so it can be enjoyed.
Robert says that as a horticulturist he would recommend to any enthusiastic gardener to get out into the garden in the fall and see what can be done. It isn't difficult, try some simple things. There are many plants that can bring color, excitement and interest to the garden this time of year, all this when many are doing nothing more than sweeping leaves.
Many of us this time of year turn to Pansies. There is always that battle- do I pull up plants that are looking good-the fall display and risk not getting Pansies in on time. Often we need to harden our hearts and say it's time and put out the Pansies. Oftentimes Pansies will appear in the garden centers at the end of August, when it's really warm. That is probably not a good time to buy them. It is probably better in this climate to put them in from early to mid October, definitely by November because they need to be established before hard winter arrives. This will increase their chances of surviving the storms and ice of January and February. When purchasing Pansies, take them out of their container, look at their roots closely. The roots should be wide and evenly distributed, not matted and shouldn't go round and round in circles at the bottom of the pot. If that happens it has been in the pot too long and is pot bound. Robert likes Violas better than Pansies. Violas are more compact than Pansies but are hardier and a little tougher for the cold. They don't need to be dead headed, since the old flower will fall off.
Thank you Robert for showing us the many choices we have for fall plants. Fall is a season many of us have written off, we don't need to do that, we can have wonderful color in fall. You've done a wonderful job informing us about fall choices. You've given us some great ideas Robert. Thanks.
Back to Top