Garden Design Details: Fall Beyond Foliage

I had some rare time in between landscape design projects and clients last week and as I’ve been meaning to take my new camera lens out for a spin, I stopped by Frelinghuysen Arboretum in Morristown to search out some of the details of the season.  The focus of this public park is plants…not necessarily design although it has its designer-y moments.  I go here when I need a plant fix.  I send my landscape design students here to photograph and learn about plants just as I did years ago when I was learning.

Winding path Frelinghuysen Arboretum

Grasses, asters, Japanese anemones and Monkshood were at their peak and the large swaths of hardwood foliage astound, but there are many other details that can make a landscape’s planting design special in the waning warmth and long low light of autumn. Sometimes they are stalwart summer hanger’s on and sometimes they are plants whose season is now.

Semi spent bloom Heptacodium

The almost spent bloom structure of a Heptacodium miconoidies (Seven Sun Flower) has beautiful open structure and pale pink color.

Branches Acer japonica

I’m a sucker for contorted branches of a Japanese maple silhouetted against some foliage ‘stained glass’…

Autumn fern

The gold and russet fronds of Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern) in a woodland setting adds some unexpected living color to the ground plane. Mostly the oranges of fall are fallen from above.

Nicotiana sylvestris

The late blooming native Nicotiana sylvestris (Woodland tobacco) is a giant in most gardens but so worth it in terms of drama.  One of my personal favorites, and easily raised from seed, it takes forever for this plant to appear, and does smell a bit like an ashtray…remember those?

Pinus bungeana

Pinus bungeana‘s (Lacebark Pine) exfoliating camo bark.  Who wouldn’t want this in their garden?  I don’t see this tree in commonly in the trade or used enough in gardens.  In fact, I’ve only ever seen one once in a residential garden where I kept it from being cut down!

Aconitum and Anemone japonica

Lastly, as I said in the beginning the Aconitum and Anemones were at their peak.  So pretty reaching for the light.


Fashion in the Garden…Plaid!

The fashionista in me goes into full swing in late August.  The big fall magazines are released and I’m all in.  My work as a co-founder of Leaf magazine has made this annual ritual of mine have broader meaning, but that doesn’t mean I don’t focus on what I think is fun either.  So without delay, one of the single biggest trends for fall is Plaid…the resurgence of Red is a secondary story.  Most of the time they play well together.

Here’s how I interpret them from a garden-y perspective…

In the beginning there was the big outdoors where plaid has always been a player…

Flyfishing from a vintage issue of Life Magazine

Then there was the plaid we took to school that could easily go out in to the garden today.  Remember the ubiquitous plaid thermos?

Plaid lunch box

Now things have been slightly updated. The fall cover of Wool People magazine.

Cover of Wool People Magazine

But plaid is still plaid and can work while we work in the garden.  Pruners and plaid can play together…

Woolrich Acorn Hill Vest
Vintage Plaid Shirts from Urban Outfitters
Plaid Welllies

And just in case you have to pick up a call…

Plaid iPhone case from Abercrombie

And if you’re like me…you need your glasses to see who’s calling…

Vintage plaid eyeglass frames

So put on some plaid and head out into the cool morning and enjoy the coming fall!

My New Jersey…not Reality TV

Well I finally, by mistake, saw five minutes of the MTV hit Jersey Shore.

For much of my life, in three separate stints, I have lived in the Garden State by choice.  I am not of Italian descent, don’t call anyone by a stereotypical slur and definitely have more than two brain cells to rub together…even when drunk.

Go ahead, believe what you see on TV.  Sure the Sopranos also live here…and their ancestors in Atlantic City too. By all means believe.  There are too many people here anyway.

Let me show you a little secret though…get off  the highway and travel west, all over the state you will see this…

Protected open farmland

But don’t believe me, believe the Jersey Shore, because TV tells the truth–after all isn’t it reality?

Monday 35 | A Year of Mondays

October is precious.  The finest weather time of the year–cool crisp mornings and warm golden afternoons.  Why am I always surprised when the leaves are suddenly glorious in their fall color?  It sneaks up on me every year.    Autumn seems more fleeting than spring– as if the cold heart of winter is pounding at the church door.

No. 35

August | Lazy Days of Summer

A Cercis canadensis leaf on the ground yesterday
A Cercis canadensis leaf on the ground yesterday

Allen Lacy, in his wonderful book, The Garden in Autumn describes the beginning of the fall garden season as starting mid-August in his New Jersey garden.  Bit by bit, the days are starting a little later and ending a little earlier, the fall’s coming show of color is appearing early on some trees and on the ground in random richly hued leaves.

August is when I really start to think (the operative word there is think) about next spring.  Landscape designs (of significant size) that are started now won’t likely be constructed until after next winter’s thaw, spring blooming bulb offerings are sent to clients,  plants that need to be moved or divided are mulled over, but not much gets physically done–it’s too hot, too muggy, or too many people are on vacation–take your pick.  Since the abundance of the late summer harvest isn’t a factor–no veggies here–in my garden and that of my clients, time slows down now  in anticipation of  the coming cooler mornings and evenings.

I’m not really sure of why, but August reminds me of  Aesop’s fable about the grasshopper and the ants.  I wonder if  unlike the end that befell the unprepared grasshopper, this month of comparative idleness is part of the antlike preparation that will end happily with a burst of energy and renewal once the weather cools down and the garden bekons once again.