THE AUTUMN CONTAINER GARDEN
Autumn in New England brings bright blue skies, amazing sunsets, and of course, fall foliage. The temperature fluctuates between 40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Lettuces, chard, carrots, and cabbage are happy in the garden with the cooler evenings and the sun’s harsh rays moving toward the southern hemisphere. However, as soon as the temperature drops below 55 degrees in the evenings, the summer container gardens wane. The sunshine loving annuals droop and the flowers drop. It is time for a change. Autumn pot plantings should last from late September until the second week of November, and they certainly perk up the landscape when the deciduous trees stand naked and gnarly and the grass begins to lose its deep emerald green sheen.
My favorite fall pot is an inexpensive combination of flowering kale and cabbage with autumn pink sedum. The sedum adds height and plays off the depth of color combinations in the kale with its deep pink center rings. The tiny sedum draping over the side adds to the lush texture variation and its lime tinted green foliage creates a feeling that for the moment gray and muddy landscape is at bay. Just before the first expected frost, nab the sedum (it is a perennial), and plant in the ground. The kale likes the cold and looks quite cheerful through December, when they are swapped out for holiday greens.
Another lovely combination includes Autumn Red and Sweet Autumn Pink fall flowering sedum for a splash of color, Kent oregano for draping, and spiky Hidcote and Sweet Romance blue hardy lavender. Hardy English lavender grows spectacularly in pots. They are a drought tolerant herb perennial that smells divine and the purple flowers can be dried and used in the kitchen. The grey-green foliage looks fabulous as a scented border in a dry, hot sunny area of the garden. The dwarf varieties stay compact and rarely exceed 12 inches tall.
Rarely does only one pot end up on a porch or patio. Usually, a variety of complementary pots make sense. For me, each year I add a different shape, or replace a broken container, but they are always blue. As clay pots can be an investment, pick a theme and stick with it. Like with most plantings, groupings of the same color planted in repetition have a greater impact than a huge variety that seems to lack definition and planning. Even our chicken coop door is painted the same blue as the pots found on my patio, porch and dispersed among the flower beds. The pop of French blue creates a bit of magic and surprise.
The large rectangular pot remains the favorite. Several surround the patio and are home to my herbs from April to November. The one above combines Munstead hardy lavender, dwarf variegated creeping euonymus, and lobelia. A perennial, Munstead gets about six inches taller than the Hidcote, does not mind cold nights, and is the perfect canopy for shorter fall flowering annuals such as techno heat blue lobelia.
Some perennials inevitably do find there way into my summer pots—ajuga, Russian sage, Golden Hakone grass, and sedum, among others —for leaf, color, flower, and variety. When changing out the summer containers, first transplant any perennials to the garden. Either weave them in among the landscape, or reserve an area to keep them safe over the winter and add to pots the following summer.