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Designing for Fall

November 18, 2012



Fall is a magical time in the DC area. Rock Creek Park, the National Arboretum and the incomparable Dumbarton Oaks put on a new show when the summer days grow shorter and the nights cooler. These glorious Oak trees were photographed early in the morning at a cemetery near my house. The sun rising behind them turned the leaves to flame.

Morning Oak Trees at Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, DC

Morning Oak Trees at Glenwood Cemetery, Washington, DC

Our hardwood forests, comprised of Maple, Tulip Poplar, Oak and Beech, among others are the obvious stars of the show, but they aren’t the only ones that have a sparkling range of color—I found rainbows in the most unlikely places.

Miscanthus sinensis (Maiden Grass)

Miscanthus sinensis (Maiden Grass)

Fall color is a crucial element of design in a residential garden. Whenever I design a garden for a client, I think about what the plant will look like after its flowers have faded. Brilliant foliage color has even more of an impact in Fall, since it contrasts with bare branches and a soft overcast sky. Fall fruits can bring a pop of color to a garden as well. Check out this recent article in the Washington Post about one of my favorite winter color plants, Ilex verticillata or Winterberry Holly. Below are brilliant red rose hips on a neighbor’s plant.

Rosa spp. fruit

Rosa spp. fruit

It is also important to extend the season of bloom in a garden. Think about plants that flower late in the season, like Chrysanthemum “Shepherd’s Pink”*, which starts its blowsy bloom time in late September and will flower until frost.

Chrysanthemum Shepherd's Pink in mid-Fall bloom

Chrysanthemum Shepherd’s Pink in mid-Fall bloom

Designing for Fall color allows you to think about a whole alternative color palette for your garden once the seasons change!

*Many of you have heard me say “I hate Chrysanthemums”. And mostly I do (especially in most floral arrangements). But I like this one—and a couple of others used in the right places. So there.


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