For spring, I decided to forgo the usual porch geraniums and go for something a little more interesting: a mixed container planting that would change as it grew, providing a more interesting look for our front steps. The container would be in dappled shade much of the day, and I remembered how much I like the more unusual begonias, so that became the planter’s focus. It worked well.
Now it’s fall, and time for a change. I usually set out pots of mums this time of year, but this time I’ve decided to mix it up. Instead of lots of mums taking the stage solo, I decided to have fewer of those fall cliches, but mix them in with other plants to have more impact. But what other plants?
Dana Stein, Gardens of Babylon’s procurement director, offered this advice in the spring: “Walk around a good garden center and think about what you like. Think about colors, and think about how to put them together for the best look, and what excites you.”
So, on a sunny Sunday afternoon in September, I took a stroll through the Garden Center at Gardens of Babylon to see what I could find.
If you don’t usually see beyond mums for fall, you’d be surprised to find how many different types of plants can be combined to make an interesting container arrangement using annuals and perennials that sport the deep, rich and bright colors of the season. Consider a few that are tender — and therefore temporary, until they succumb to frost — but will brighten up your entry for as long as they can:
- Coleus: The rich colors of the foliage are sumptuous in summer, but really stand out in an arrangement for fall.
- Croton: These bright, multicolor tropical beauties are everywhere now, and provide an instant thriller for the pot. They won’t last through a frost outdoors in a container, but you can easily pot them up and bring them indoors to brighten your rooms, then return them outside next spring.
- Ornamental peppers: The orange or red fruits against their dark foliage are an unexpected touch in a festive fall container.
- Supertunias: You likely can find pots of these petite petunias in a range of fall-appropriate shades in garden centers now.
And of course, the tried-and-true and cold-hardy garden standards are still good for ornamental containers:
- Ornamental cabbage and kale: Tough enough to stand up to the coldest days.
- Pansies and violas: Their bright colors are great in the fall, and still great the following spring.
- Heuchera: This is a standard of spring and summer shade gardens, but it also soldiers on through winter, and does well (with care) in containers. The darker varieties are the most fall-appropriate.
- English ivy: While I don’t advocate its use in a landscape (too invasive!), it does, indeed, make a good, long-lasting “spiller” in a mixed container.
And while they’re not really planted in a container, remember that pine cones, berry sprigs, mini pumpkins, magnolia branches or leaves and other cut greenery can be used as fill-ins for fall-into-winter containers.
A Container of Fall Colors
In my Garden Center wandering, I looked for fall-theme plants that would meet the thriller-filler-spiller rule of container planting (a “thriller” plant that’s tall and bold, a mid-size, eye-catching “filler,” and a “spiller” that trails over the sides of the pot). For my tall, narrow container, which is about a foot wide, I came home with several possibilities: a pot of “Palace Purple’ coral bells (heuchera), yellow pansies, blue violas, a small, a sprawling ‘Blue Rug’ juniper, and two pots of purple-leaf mustard with the charming name ‘Miz America.’ I remembered that the pot already had a thriller plant that still might work – a tall and spiraling Juncus ‘Twisted Arrows, a rush that, unfortunately, never was much of a twister but was striking all summer nonetheless. And later I brought home three small pots of yellow mums, ready to burst into bloom.
This little collection offered several combination options, so after I clipped and repotted the begonias and pulled out the remaining roots of the creeping Jenny (which had succumbed to the digging of squirrels, sadly), I tried the new plants, still in their pots, in a variety of ways: the purple mustard and the bright yellow mums as fillers, the juniper spreading over the side; the heuchera instead of the juniper; three mums instead of one, one little pot of mums and one pot of violas, and so on.
I settled on one dark purple mustard, two yellow mums and the juniper to join the Juncus that I left in the pot.
This is a fall-theme container, but it won’t hold over into and through winter. In some climates, the Juncus (or rush) is semi-evergreen; the mustard can stand some cold weather but probably not prolonged freezing temps, and of course the mums will be brown and gone after the first hard frost. That’s when I can take them out and add yellow pansies.
Meanwhile, I had plants left over, so I created a second combination for another planter that makes use of the coral bells, the second mustard, and the extra little pot of mums.
The front porch now is ready to welcome fall.
Visit the Gardens of Babylon Garden Center to find a selection of fall-appropriate foliage and flowers to combine into a planter. And go here to watch Gardens of Babylon procurement director Dana Stein demonstrate how to plant a container garden.