I’ve often wandered through gardens in November thinking, ugh, it’s all dying! There is nothing beautiful left as the cold and the rains disassemble the plants, breaking them down and washing away the vibrant color and energy of spring and summer. At first glance it seems to be true. What is special about November? A birthday, Thanksgiving, maybe the first snowfall? But on closer inspection the changes happening in the garden are filled with color and life. Here are just a few of the reasons why I love November.
Color! Contrast! Life! October is such a great time to visit the nursery. Fall is ripe and seasoned. The plants are mature, having reached a level of sophistication unknown in spring. Spring is a baby. Wet and new, simple and filled with potential. Summer is a carefree youth, mellow. The bright sun covering every living thing with a joyful facade. Just hinting at the complexity to come. Then autumn arrives with a push and a thrill. It wakes us up from our summer nap with a zap. Something is going on here. Why do so many people love the fall? Why is it a favorite season? We love the sweet baby tunes of spring, like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. But then Autumn arrives as a complex symphony. The colors blow in like a strong gust of wind and create a lasting impression. Summer has a lovely apple red, but fall has a screaming crimson red. Flames, fire, it’s almost painful. The leaves mature and change, and just before they drop to the ground they show us what’s really inside. All of their potential. The culmination of all seasons. The piece de resistance. The last lecture. The final symphony. In autumn there is a depth to the landscape. A thoughtfulness. A consideration. Spring is looking ahead, but Fall is looking back. This is where I’ve been and what I’ve done. My pollen has traveled the world, my roots have pushed deep into the soil, I have figured out how to take sunlight and change it into food! Fall has wisdom. Autumn has earned my respect. I enjoy this time for I know that within every leaf and inside each bud there is a story.
Here is the story this October at my favorite nursery, the Gray Barn Nursery in Redmond,WA:
Burning Bush (Euonymous alata ‘Compactus’) A plain green deciduous shrub all year turns into an electric red that pops in the landscape in October. Looks really good contrasted against the various greens of dwarf conifers, like the beautiful curls of Mini Twists Pine. This smaller variety gets 6-8 feet tall.
Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) Leaves transform through yellow, orange and red for a spectacular show. The laceleaf variety ‘Laciniata’ has soft fern-like foliage and Tiger Eyes has chartreuse new foliage.
Sourwood Tree (Oxydendron arboreum) The white summer flowers form capsules that are persistent through the winter, turning from yellow to brown. The leaves change from yellow red to purple and are often described as ‘brilliant’.
Maple (Acer) What can I say about this group? Most have excellent color in the fall. Everyone should have at least five Japanese Maples in their yard for year round interest. Coral Bark Japanese Maples are one of my favorites for fall color.
Beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’) Hands down the best color purple in the entire universe is on this berry. Buy it just for this color, number across the Milky Way. This rather unremarkable shrub otherwise produces clumps of berries in the Fall, a great contrast to an orange pumpkin in your Autumn display.
Smokebush (Cotinus coggrygria) There are lots of varieties, but my favorite is ‘Grace’ which shimmers irridescent in the spring and goes red/orange/yellow in the Fall. ‘Royal Purple’ has a rich red/purple foliage in the Fall, another great plant to contrast with conifers.
Witchhazel (Hamamelis mollis) I love this plant for it’s unbelievable fragrance in February, but the leaves are fantastic. Beautifully shaped and rich with colors of yellow/orange/red in Fall.
Annuals and Perennials such as the ever-lovable pansy, winter-long ornamental cabbage, colorful Heuchera and Carex are indispensable in the Fall/Winter garden.
What’s appearing in your local nursery this Fall? It’s time to go out and see!
It’s time to refresh those containers full of leggy petunias and wilting zinnias. Luckily we don’t have to toss our tired pots into the shed for the winter, we can grow plants here in the Pacific Northwest year round. A winter container might not have the summer zing or the bright excitement of annuals, but we can show off engaging evergreens and subtle shades of color with cool season flowers. Gardening can continue from autumn into winter, and here are just a few plant possibilities for containers during the colder months of the year.
For trailing: english ivy, vinca minor, boxleaf honeysuckle
For color: pansy, heather, cyclamen, chrysanthemums, hellebore, heuchera, ornamental cabbage and kale, euphorbia
For height: sedge grasses like Carex morrowii or Carex buchanii or small conifers such as Chamaecyparis ‘blue surprise’ or Juniper ‘Gold Cone’, nandina (heavenly bamboo), Ilex ‘sky pencil’ holly
For evergreen foliage: autumn fern, sword fern, deer fern, salal, wintergreen, bergenia, lonicera, azalea, ivy, heather, small juniper, spruce, pine or cypress trees, grasses, blue lily turf, euonymous