Harmony in the Garden Blog

Creating harmony in the fall garden

My front doorThere’s something magical about fall colors in the garden, isn’t there?

My favorite time of year is the moment I open my front door and see my Japanese maples and Crepe Myrtle trees have turned their fiery shades of yellow, red and orange.

These colors signal the calm before the storm (the storms from both winter, as well as the holiday crush!)

While it’s easy enough to have a maple tree, burning bush, or viburnum provide fall color, but with a little planning you can create a much longer-lasting effect.

What I’m talking about is creating complex color echoes to help extend your fall garden’s color scheme.

This doesn’t mean using the same plant over and over again throughout your garden, but instead, using the various elements of nearby plants and use those to create a fall-colored thread of unity.

In my book, Refresh Your Garden Design with Color, Texture & Form, I discuss how to create these types of elusive, yet powerful, layers in your garden – and not just in the spring and summer, but throughout the entire year.GreenBar

I often give presentations on this very topic, and I inevitably get asked “but aren’t these color echoes short lived – especially in the fall? Why go through that much trouble” to which I answer ‘EXACTLY!

Gardens aren’t meant to be static, remaining the same day in and day out  – they’re forever changing whether you want them to or not.   And it’s these changes in the garden that make gardening so much fun, allowing you endless opportunities to create momentary, fleeting bursts of beauty.

But why not try and extend this short-lived beauty as long as you can?

It’s easy to do once you start looking at the other aspects of plants in which to pull different echoes.

All you need to do is to re-train your eyes to see beyond a plant’s flowers and foliage.  Instead, pull out color, texture and form in the other, less obvious, parts of a plant – from sources such as seedpods, rose hips, berries, bark and stems.

Here are just a few examples of a plant’s other attributes to highlight in the fall garden:

Rudbeckiarose hipsGooseberriesGreenBarClematis seed headsMahoniaGreenBar

To further illustrate what I’m talking about, I thought I might show you a few garden beds that are especially colorful this fall.

I’ll then break them down by highlighting the various elements in each one that help to tie everything together.

It’s these other sources of color and texture that help extend the seasonal show.GreenBar

1.  Red-Hot Viburnum Bed

In my opinion, the star of this bed is the glowing red foliage of the viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ (upper right corner), with its thick, oversized and deeply veined leaves.

If planted by itself, in the middle of this overly abundant green garden bed, it might stick out like a sore thumb.

But thanks to the crimson color echoes resulting from the groundcover plumbago’s foliage, and the grevillea’s oversized blooms, the viburnum seems perfectly at home.

Subtle color echoes are also emphasized with the manzanita’s dark mahogany stems.

GreenBarGrevillea 'Superb'Arctostaphylos 'Howard McMinn'Viburnum


2.  Late Season Perennial Bed

For me, the beauty of this late season garden bed lies as much in the textural seed heads and spent flowers as it does in the amber shades of fall foliage.

I stumbled upon this garden bed while visiting Lake Tahoe (zone 6).

I was so happy to see the gardener wasn’t in a rush to chop everything down in preparation for winter.

The bees that I saw scrambling around on the last remaining oregano flowers were just as happy, too.


Ratibida columnifera (Mexican Hats)Peony foliageOregano flowersGreenBar

3.  Calming Coprosma Bed

In an effort to highlight the subtle shades of soft pink my coprosma ‘Pink Splendor’ fall foliage, I placed a hydrangea ‘Lady in Red’ in the distance.

The salmon pink colors of the hydrangea’s fall foliage are the perfect color echo, don’t you think?

In addition, I always leave the seed heads of the eupatorium ‘Chocolate’ (upper left) as long as possible.

Not only do I love their creamy, rusty colors, but I think they add textural interest, as well.GreenBarCoprosma 'Pink Splendor'Eupatorium rugosum 'Chocolate'Hebe 'Amy'GreenBar

4.  Glowing Hydrangea Bed

Just outside of my front door is the most beautiful hydrangea that I bought decades ago.  While I don’t know what variety it is, I do know that I love the antique hues of the rosy red blooms.

To emphasize its warm colors, I planted a nearby dwarf nandina at its feet, with similar crimson shades.

Near the nandina is a wax flower (chamelaucium ‘Mathilda’) with rose colored ‘eyes’ in each flower.

In the distance, you’ll notice  a Japanese maple with fall foliage in the same color family. GreenBarChamelaucium 'Mathilda'GreenBar

As fall is winding down and winter is fast approaching, I hope this has given you some inspiration when thinking about your gardening plans for next year.

What are some of your favorite sources of fall color in the garden?

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  • Your thoughts about colors make me think about flavors and seasoning and cooking this time of year. How everything comes together and fulfills the senses to satisfy our hard work and preparation to wait the winter out so to begin the next spring and do it again. Colors, flavors, blustery days and some Streisand. Time to lay a fire too and gather some pomegranates and persimmons for the table. Happy Holidays, Rebecca….

    • Brent, I always love your comments – and especially this one. You’re so right about colors in the garden being similar to fall seasonings and favorite flavors. What a great way to look at it – thank you!


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