Garden Design

Garden Design Tip: Rethinking the Colors of Fall


When most think of fall gardens, the vibrant yellows and oranges of mums come to mind. While there is much to love about these bright bursts of color, there are many other color options that can set your fall garden ablaze. There are the verdant shades of green blending to purple found on ornamental kale, intense drops of white among a lush leaf background on iberis, and the possibility of a bed of blue with lobelia.

For the fall, many gardeners rely on a color scheme that reflects the season. Orange pumpkins, the changing color of leaves, and ornamental gourds often suggest the color palette for surrounding flowers. Yet colors not in this spectrum can also be a spectacular backdrop for seasonal elements. Consider dabbling in blues, purples, and ambers.

When rethinking a garden color scheme for fall, it is important to consider two other variables in landscape design: that of form and texture. Form is a term used to describe the overall growth pattern of the plant. For example, the miscanthus “Morning Light” grass grows tall and erect, while ajuga ‘Catlin’s Giant’ grows as a low ground cover. Considering the dimensions of a plant are not quite enough to capture the look of a designer garden; one also needs to plan in different textures.

The texture of a plant represents the shape of elements that are found in each plant: the form and petal configuration of flowers and the dimensions of the leaves. When considering how to place plants, variations between plant form and plant texture—alongside choice in color—can provide a dramatic look in your garden.

Here are a few examples of plants that have variable form, texture, and color to help inspire you to create your own new garden look this fall.

Two great fall options are the agastache and the aster. The three-foot tall agastache ‘Purple Haze’ is a wonderful choice, with tall slender stalks of narrow lavender flowers and wide, toothed foliage. ‘Purple Haze’ is a strong paring with a miscanthus grass. The contrast between the slender grass blades and the wider leaves of the agastache can make a wonderful two-tiered backdrop.

Similar in height are the asters. Autumn favorites are ‘Dragon Improved Blue’, ‘Puffy White’, and ‘Hazy Pink’. As one can guess by their names, the round, multi-petal flowers come in many colors. The plant tends to mound well, and the flowers occur against a dense background of small emerald leaves. Aster is ideal for providing different forms and textures while allowing for a range of color options.

Another fall choice with many color variations is heuchera. Standing approximately a foot and a half tall with colorful wide leaves, ‘Autumn Bride’, ‘Amber Lady’, and ‘Melting Fire’ are exemplary choices for texture and color. Looking for a ground cover? Look no further than Ceratostigma plumbaginoides. A low ground cover with little blue flowers, the interest in this plant is its fall foliage.

Let these examples inspire your imagination this fall. Just remember: it is not all color choice, but variations in form and texture that will really make your neighbors envious of your personally designed autumn garden.

Meghan Sarah Fidler of Atlantic Gardening Company received her PhD in Cultural Anthropology, and she now focuses on the relationship between people, technology, and plants. She is currently working on a manuscript for a new book on long-term gardening.

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