Containers are always a great way to display seasonal color and fall is
no exception. Fall is an excellent time for gardening in general and
container gardening in particular since with cooler weather many plants
seem to brighten. We visit Barnsley Gardens and their resident
horticulturist Robert Stoney shares with us his secrets for beautiful
Robert feels that fall is often a forgotten season. Days are getting shorter, the sun isn't as warm, winter is on its' way and many start to shut down their gardens. But this is a terrific time to utilize the color and surroundings of fall. Robert has always been interested in painting, particularly water colors, and feels that a garden landscape is painting even though paints aren't being used, instead flowers and colors substitute for pigment. Containers allow one to bring fall artistry into the landscape. A spot of color in a container draws the eye, it can be considered a miniature garden landscape or can be blended into the landscape as a whole. There are a number of plants ideal for fall containers. Chrysanthemums are the showiest and easiest but there are many others and many combinations of foliage plants that go with Mums to show them off. Robert feels that Americans tend to garden for the benefit of others, a kind of showing to the outside world. He feels this is a hospitable way of gardening, it is directed at the passer-by not just oneself.
We look at the first of Robert's creations. It looks like a witches caldron, simulating the effect of a bubbling stew. It is comprised of Chrysanthemums and Blackie Sweet Potato Vine and Dichondra, which creates the effect of smoke coming out of the caldron. This mix has varied colors and textures with large leaves against small leaves. As
well it has intense colors and muted colors. Additional color can be added to the mix by adding fall decorative elements such as gourds and pumpkins. Swan neck gourds add an interesting twist, they have lovely shapes. Pumpkins add great color contrast against the blue. The fruit of the Osage Orange Tree adds interesting color and fragrance.
Fall is a time of change, of transition, from the hot days of summer to cold winter weather. This container epitomizes the difference. It has plants that tolerate winter conditions as well as summer annuals. It contains permanent plants like Heavenly Bamboo which is placed in the back, along with a Little Spruce and Euonumus; everything else is designed to be changed, a kind of perennial display. It has fall plants now but when it turns colder those can be changed. Dr. Rick, from a frugal standpoint, likes the fact that the Euonymus, the Heavenly Bamboo and the Spruce are permanent, thus saving time and money. As well he likes the purply, pink color in the leaf that is echoed in the container. The container looks like terra-cotta when in fact it's concrete which means it is more solid, durable and frost proof than terra-cotta, but heavy. Concrete pots are designed to stay outdoors year round. This container as well makes good use of different textures. The fine texture of the Blue Spruce versus the larger leaves of the Euonymus provides contrast and drama. Contrast and complimentary are often confusing design terms. Robert says, to him contrast is like black and white. Black and white are at opposite ends of the contrast spectrum. The leaf size mentioned earlier
would be an example. A light leaf versus a dark leaf would be another example. Complimentary is where one color is similar to another, they match. Complimentary variegation colors would be an example. Contrast and complimentary colors gets more complicated. Yellow contrasting against blue is an example because blue is at the opposite end of the color wheel. Reds contrasting against greens is another. Reds bring out the greenness of green and green brings out the redness of red. Hence, the contrast. In a container contrast is needed for drama and complimentary color is needed for harmony. The eye is drawn to contrast, the drama, and when sucked in and one then sees the complimentary colors.
As days get shorter in the fall and temperatures drop many plants mature and the containers look fantastic. Coleus is an example, they seem to come into their own at the end of the season, they get showier. These plants look different in the sunlight versus the shade. In deep shade they are a dark purple, yet a bright red in the sun. In this container Robert utilized Variegated Ginger, Ornamental Ginger and interspersed Impatiens, a lovely scarlet or crimson. This container with its' combinations looks good.
Robert feels that to extend the season, to keep plants looking good into the fall, they need water and food, especially water, particularly in a container. Many of us stop feeding plants mid summer that isn't a good idea, especially if you want to enjoy plants up until frost.
One of the most important qualities of any container is unity or harmony, all elements working together. A simple way to do that is to keep the color scheme simple. Robert has done that with a container that utilizes tints and shades of green. Dramatic textures must then be utilized. In this container Robert used Cardoon, whose texture is dramatically different than that of Joseph's Coat and some of the other plants. Have one dramatically different coarse texture plant in the
middle, keep the color scheme simple and you add a lot of punch to a container.
Many don't consider a hanging basket a container. Robert feels they are and shows us a wonderful example, it contains a nice, harmonious collection of foliages, in this case decorative ferns. It has a monochromatic approach yet has different forms and textures and comes together very well. The light, limey colored Boston fern contrasts with a darker one with a pale stripe up the midrib. The basket is lined with Moss, which is visually pleasing and further lined with a rain matt which is like a diaper in that it will absorb moisture and helps bridge the gap between waterings. Robert has placed some plants inside the Moss, made a hole and planted on the side of the container. The plants then cascade down the side or sometimes will work their way up. If an area starts to look lackluster replant it in sections, the whole container doesn't need to be replanted. The ferns can't be kept in direct sun but will last longer if kept out in the open. After enjoying these plants in the fall if you have a somewhat sunny indoors area bring them inside and enjoy them through the winter, they'll then be ready for next year. It's almost like an evergreen plant.
One of the great things about fall is the rich, strong colors. The yellows and strong reds seem to be hot. Marigolds, Coleus and a Scarlet Geranium in the middle of this container provide these colors. An interesting thing about the Coleus is, again, two colors for one. You have the color of the surface of the leaf which when backlit with sunlight lights them up like a light-bulb, making them as bright as any flower. Therefore it is a good idea to plant them in the sun, in the shade and sometimes half and half. Modern Coleuses can take full sun versus the older varieties that needed to remain in the shade. The Marigolds have been planted horizontally. It looks like they're coming out of the side of the container. They could do this even if planted
upright since they often get pushed aside by other foliage and droop downwards. It creates almost a hanging garden effect rather than everything coming out of the top. Marigolds are an excellent plant for a hanging basket and conditions in a basket are suited for Marigolds. This bicolored Marigold, orange and yellow, in this container works well with the Tropical Canna below in the ground. This complimentary combination between hanging containers and plants in the ground was planned, beautiful and a great idea.
Surrounding architecture and a container is often forgotten. Here Robert has taken into account all the different colors of the home, the shrubbery, surroundings and complimented those colors. The dark valued background, a teal-blue, is a nice stage to show off this grouping, all sorts of colors go with it. Robert has a tall element, a tall pot, next to a fallen pot or a pot on its' side with another pot inside. This is a pot in a pot display, an archeological creation. It utilizes Coleuses, bright yellow Chrysanthemums, Zinnia Linearis Gold, then Creeping Jenny or Allysimachia, literally flowing out of the pot. Robert utilized a upright container, then below a broken pot, embedding it in the ground, which creates a spilling effect onto the ground with the Creeping Jenny. It provides a feeling of elegance or ruins. The muted tones, the low intensity of colors - the darker Coleus have low intensity - when used with high intensity plants like Mums - place the higher intensity plants in the middle - (they wouldn't work as well next to other high intensity plants, they would clash) makes a stunning display.
Robert has several containers that are examples of a minimalist approach, they have just one specimen type plant in a container. This is a Trachaecarpus, Hardy Palm or Windmill Palm and this plant has survived temperatures believed to be as low as minus 9 F. It won't survive these temperatures in a container, the root-ball would freeze
in a container and this would kill the plant. The best way of getting this plant hardy in a container is to bring it inside, keeping it away from severe frost. Once it grows to a decent size put in in the garden, in the soil, mulch it with a good thick layer of pine-straw and it will be fine. It will provide a tropical Florida look way inland or further north. By putting the container on the soil it will actually root down into the soil, at least temporarily for the season, and draw moisture and nutrients from the ground. This adds a safety net if worried about under watering.
Even though fall is a fantastic time to enjoy containers in many parts of the country it is the driest time of year, we receive very little rainfall. Therefore it's important to keep containers well irrigated. A good idea is to use a moisture control potting soil, one that includes COIR, a coconut product. It holds water then as the soil dries out it releases moisture into the plants' roots. It is a great way to keep containers well watered without having to add extra water or extra work.
Robert has many nooks and crannies throughout this beautiful property.
He looks upon many areas as being almost like a large container within
a perennial display. In one area the backdrop is a Boxwood hedge, they make a terrific foil for plants in front, particularly this Japanese Anemone which is in its' prime in the fall - September and October. They work well because they are higher and one can see through them providing a contrast between two elements. They seem to dance almost as if they have no stems because the stems fade away into the dark backdrop. Towards the front are Angle Wing Begonias which have a different leaf shape and are slightly less blue green. The seed pods are a great combination, almost a pinkish, orangish color that goes well the purple and other plants in front. Their intriguing shape with wonderful wings, literally reminds one of angel wings. In the front is
Japanese Painted Fern. It has a silvery midrib and in the middle a reddish stripe which compliments the other colors. As the nights get cooler the silver will intensify, creating even more contrast. These little pockets can be expanded as plants start to degrade. As frost hits Robert can continue to build the area, Pansies, Snap Dragons, or others can be used to enlarge these areas. Treat areas like this as an advantage rather than a disadvantage. If you have a patch that doesn't look good, clean it up and add the plants mentioned.
Gravel is a wonderful surface. Robert utilizes Pea Gravel, it is named literally because of its' size, the size of peas, it rolls and tumbles. It is practical, it seems to stay cleaner, it's easier to keep weed free, it seems to be weeded by walking on it. If the pathway needs to be changed it is easy to take up and move around. Leaves can be blown off without disturbing the gravel.
Thank you Robert for sharing with us your fall design ideas for containers, hanging baskets, even pocket containers in the garden. You've opened our eyes to a wide variety of plants that will thrive and look stunning during the fall in our containers.
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