Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
October, 2003
Regional Report

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With fall approaching, mum's the word. Thanks to this ancient Chinese and Japanese flower, gardens can end their year in a blaze of color rivaling the autumn glory of the leaves above.

Basking in Autumn's Rich Glow

As summer ends and garden colors start to fade, many of us begin to think about putting our gardens to rest. This time of year doesn't have to symbolize the end; think of it instead as a new beginning. Autumn gardening is challenging, but it is also rewarding. It takes forethought and planning, but gardens can and do survive well into the fall.

Form and Structure
Choosing plants that add winter interest is vital to the structure of the autumn garden. Once summer blooms fade, the strong lines of deciduous and evergreen plantings become the focal points of the garden. I'm always on the lookout for plants with interesting shapes and intriguing bark patterns. In our zone, there are many hardy species with good structure. Rhododendrons, maple, beech, willow, yew, holly, juniper, and pine are a few that add structure and shape to the late-season garden. Some cultivars of these species display amazing color in the fall. The vibrant foliage acts as a backdrop to annual displays. Often adding just one specimen, like a maple, can bring color and attention to your garden space.

Playing with Color
Once you have structure and interest, you can add color. Planting perennials that bloom during late September and into October is paramount to extending the life of your garden. Some late bloomers I love are the new species of perennial mums. They are hardy and grow in size and bloom each year. Another favorite of mine is blue mist spirea (Caryopteris x clandonensis). The flowers are a wonderful blue-violet, and it's at its showiest in early fall. Others renowned for color and design are the sedums, fall chrysanthemums, ornamental cabbages and kale, and asters. Although a bit overused, they remain a favorite in autumn gardens.

I rely on asters, snowball viburnum (Viburnum opulus), and violas for fall color. Violas are often used in spring, but when the heat of summer rolls around, they fade. I prefer to plant them in the fall when temperatures are cooler, which is much more to their liking. They respond by adding spice to the garden in an otherwise dreary season.

Don't Forget Garden Art!
Garden ornaments add whimsy and fun to summer plantings. In the fall they can become focal points in the bed. A carefully placed birdbath, statue, or garden stone will only add to the ambiance. But be particular about your art. Choose wisely and tastefully, and think about placement. You want to draw the eye to the garden, not overwhelm it. I've noticed that under a blanket of snow even an old worn bench can have a wonderful presence.

If you use concrete ornaments, be sure to seal them before leaving them out during the winter. Wooden ornaments also need some protection. Check with your local garden center or hardware store for the appropriate products.

Having a garden that is enjoyable and pleasing throughout the four seasons is not impossible. It just takes a little thought, a touch of inspiration, and a dash of whimsy. Enjoy!

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