Fall Containers

Heuchera, viola and dusty miller

There’s such a difference between container gardening in spring and in the fall–at least in my climate.

And yes, there are perfectly lovely combinations that are possible with cabbages, ornamental kale, asters and mums–but somehow, I just can’t bring myself to do those. I am not quite sure why. I like asters and the ornamental cruciferous stuff. But I think that they all (with the exception of asters) seem to have too short a season.

Autumn (or fall, if you prefer) can be very finicky in New England. This year it has been long and lovely–so much so that our impatiens and geraniums (pelargoniums) are blooming with the pumpkins!

But many years, I remember frosts and even freezes by this time. And I am not one to go running out with bedsheets or towels to cover up everything. When things are done, they’re done. We move on–isn’t that why we have seasons?

So if I am asked to give a container garden lecture–as I have been the last two falls –it’s a challenge to decide what to bring. First of all, as in any garden club, not everyone has a garden (something that has always amused me, but of course, there are flower arrangers and conservationists, and people who have been members since they once had gardens–you get the idea). So I try to bring something that appeals to those who may have smaller gardens or indoor gardens or patio gardens as well.

Golden sage, silver thyme, rosemary

And while it’s not immediately intuitive, fall is a great time for an herb planter, because this is something that can be moved closer to the house for soups and stews and roasts–or perhaps even brought indoors.

Begonia, croton, ornamental pepper
Alocasia, calathea, anthurium

Fall is also a great time for house plant planters, whether you are just refreshing your own planters, combining plants to save space on your windowsills, or trying out new combinations. Just try to ensure that whatever you plant together needs the same cultural requirements of sun and water.

Notice also in my first photo, above, that I tucked an annual–or maybe you’d consider it an edible–into that “house plant” container. Those small “ornamental” peppers that are sold this time of year grow quite nicely indoors–just be sure to watch them later in the season for insects–as you should with all house plants!

A Garden Conference With Something for Almost Everyone

The Trustees of Reservations, a non-profit group in Massachusetts that is both a preservation and conservation group, is holding its 45th annual Gardeners’ Gathering (virtually, of course) from March 20-22, 2021. The event is free so all my readers may find it accessible and of interest. To register, please use this link: http://www.thetrustees.org/gathering

Michael W. Twitty

This year, its featured speaker will be Michael W. Twitty, shown above. Mr. Twitty is a noted chef and author of The Cooking Gene. He will speak about “culinary justice, sharing knowledge around crops, and practicing integrated learning across intergenerational linguistic and ethnic spaces…. [Mr.] Twitty will deliver his special presentation on Saturday at 11 am. A two-time James Beard award winning author, chef from Washington, D.C., and also a culinary historian, he draws on his African-American and Jewish cultural backgrounds to explore the ways that recipes, heirloom crops, and food shape and evolve with our identities and our history. He will speak about gardens as healing spaces and places to work through the issues of living in a multicultural democracy.”

This presentation sounds amazing and could not be more culturally relevant right now.

Because the Trustees Community Gardens in Boston and the City of Boston are the co-hosts of the event, the Boston Mayor will be the Keynote Speaker and will present several Community Garden awards for “Most Valuable Gardener,” “Rookie Garden of the Year” and “Hall of Fame Garden.”

The Trustees have designed the program to be interesting to novice and seasoned gardeners alike. For newer gardeners, there are workshops on things like seed saving, seed starting and composting.

For the more advanced gardener, there are programs on building raised beds, no-till gardening (one of my personal favorites!) and growing medicinal herbs. There’s lots more on offer as well–check out this amazing 3-day program!

Bamboo Stakes as Pollinator Hotels

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It’s been a disappointing couple of days with my tomato plants, although this photo doesn’t really indicate that.

The tomatoes were coming along nicely when something–probably a squirrel– completely stripped one plant of all the green tomatoes, doing a fair amount of damage to the stems in the process.

It tried to do the same thing to this plant but the stems weren’t quite as sturdy. So after breaking 2 off, it gave up and went away.

I think that’s a partial win for me. Hard to say.

So in the process of pruning back all the damage and broken stems, all of a sudden I noticed a smallish black and yellow bee hovering.

I stepped back a moment and it landed on the top of the bamboo stake and entered.

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Unlike most other people, I cannot get good photos of bees. All I have here is “bee butt.”

A little sleuthing determined that it’s a type of sweat bee–not the cool metallic green one, but a black one with yellow stripes.

And it’s a tomato pollinator. So, if I can keep the squirrels away, I should have a nice crop with this plant.

Where’s my pesky barking dog when I need her? I thought that no squirrel moved on this property without her knowledge. Apparently I am mistaken.

Dreaming of Tuscany

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I have a U-shaped area of bluestone and brownstone that serve as my entryway access. Two steps go up to a bluestone landing, facing a low brownstone wall. At that point, if you turn left, you have a short two steps and a walkway to the front door (which, in typical New England fashion, we don’t use).

If you noticed the second photo on Wednesday, I was taking it in the direction of the enclosed porch, mentioned below. The landing is clearly visible.

Turn left and there are 4 steps, a longer bluestone walk, and there’s an enclosed porch that we use for access to the home.

I like to sit on the steps in early morning or late afternoon and just enjoy the plants.

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This quite often is the view that I have seen in the past. It’s very cooling and soothing so no matter how warm it is out, I have the illusion of coolness, especially if I have just watered the containers.

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This year, I have staged my containers on the steps leading to the front door so that the ferns are far less visible. My view, instead, is of citrus, a fig, an olive tree, and if I turn to look behind me, herbs. It’s much more Tuscan than New England woodland.

We’ll have to see if I get the same cooling effect as summer warms up.

Putting the Container Plants to Bed

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Remember my post about fall container planting? It’s already time to bring those plants inside or to compost them.

Certainly I could have left this lovely grass outside longer. But with containers this time of year, it’s a question of annoyance: do I want to listen to the Spoiler whining about having to blow leaves around them or do I just want to compost a week or two early and not deal with it?

After many years, I just compost early. I have tried other compromises–I would sweep around the containers for example (honestly, the use of a broom in autumn is vastly under-rated. It’s quiet, and environmentally friendly and you get a gentle workout.) But this year, I have too many lectures and articles at the same time. So no time to listen to whining.

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So here are the plants that I saved. I was able to save half of them, so that’s something. The potted ones will go onto my porch, although I think the cordyline has to come in for the winter. Everything else can winter there.

The oregano is going into my edibles garden and the coral bells is going into a container on my stairs with others like it. They do winter over in containers outdoors for me.

And that container is large enough that at least I don’t have to listen to whining from the Spoiler about blowing leaves!

The Good and Bad of Autumn

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I suspect that if you live anywhere where autumn leaves are changing, this is as common a sight for you as it is for me. I can scarcely go anywhere without seeing masses of mums, either for sale or in some display somewhere.

If you have followed me for awhile, you know that I absolutely hate mums. There are just 2 things that I reserve the word “hate” for: winter and mums.

It’s pretty obvious why I hate winter–I won’t waste time on that now. But oddly, even I can’t decide why I hate mums. It may go back to my time in retail gardening (although if that were the case, I should hate violas and pelargonium too and I don’t). So I really am stumped.

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And it’s not a question of hating all things autumn. I am fine with pumpkins and squash. I love these funky pumpkins. I don’t decorate with them. It’s a Spoiler thing. He doesn’t want to have to blow leaves around them.

And I am amazed by gourds and squash. This acorn squash, with its fluted shape, is almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

Does anyone else have an irrational hatred of something that they can’t figure out?

Fall Containers

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In the past, I haven’t done much with containers in the fall. There’s no point, really. “Fall” is a very short season for us. Our first frost comes early in October and much of what goes into a container would be killed by that.

But this year, I have two lectures in October that needed containers. One was a lecture on container gardening itself and the other was a lecture on house plants.

In both my house plants and container lectures, I always like to talk about–and feature–both house plants and succulents. Why? First, because you can’t go anywhere without seeing them. Next, because I like them and I think that, despite the fact that they’re so popular, they are very versatile and great plants for a lot of gardeners in many situations (provided you have sun). So showing them–and talking about how to care for them–is important. Lots of beginning gardeners think that succulents and cactus are the same–because they are sold together. So a little education there is necessary too.

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This is my “house plant” container, where I play off the colors in the croton with the color of the flowers in the kalanchoe and the color of the sedum foliage. This type of planting is called “complementary.” It’s the same design principle as using throw pillows to pick up the color from a painting or a rug, say.

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And this is a late season herb planter with primarily tender perennials. The golden oregano at the front (my “spiller”) is hardy, even in my climate. The tallest plant, the variegated basil is ‘Pesto Perpetuo,’ a tender perennial basil, although I have never successfully over-wintered it without it succumbing to scale. The rosemary (the “filler plant”) will generally winter in my unheated sun porch unless we get a very cold winter–in which case I bring it into the house.

All of these, along with Wednesday’s show stopper ornamental container, will be traveling with me to my lectures in the next few weeks to illustrate some container design principles (as well as some fun fall containers).

I hate the see this year’s gardening season end!