The Garden In Fall | By Garden Party
Garden Party is a garden design and maintenance company co-owned by us: Amber Stafford and Courtney-Anne Craft, two plant-loving freaks of nature. Between the two of us, we’ve had just about every job related to plants: from private golf courses to San Franciscan flower farms, gardeners for private residences to running the grocery store floral department. The recent cold(er) weather in Toronto has got us thinking about the garden in Fall: the beautiful plants that flower in autumn, shutting down the garden for winter, and the planting you can do now to prepare a spectacular Spring display.
Autumn is a time of reflection and winding on down. There are so many rewards to this season, from enjoying the late bloomers that ensure lasting memories of more colourful times, to working with nature in support of smaller creatures and keeping, deep in the protective earth, the promise of abundant new beginnings to come. Our top 3 favourite Fall perennials are the Peegee Hydrangea, Purple Moor grass, and Japanese Anemones.
Hydrangea Paniculata ‘Grandiflora’, aka the Peegee Hydrangea, is the queen of late blooming shrubs. Each conical flower head gently nestles together dozens of clover-shaped florets that start white then turn, as if by magic or the lure of the lengthening nights, to a blushing pink.
The fronds of Moor Grass grow to about 3 feet high, however in late summer, it sends up delicate, smokey panicles to a soaring 7 feet high. Its texture is fine, flower colour is a swoon-worthy aubergine and as Autumn sweeps its way through the lofty plumes, they and the foliage turn to a warm gold.
‘September Charm’ Japanese Anemones are a whimsical flower that has the ability to capture the admiration of both person and pollinator. On a sunny day in early Fall, in the middle of the delicate, pink, five-petaled cups, a crown of yellow anthers beckons winged beasts of all sorts. Also known as Windflowers, these nodding stellate blooms stand at a welcoming 4 feet tall and are certain to blow you away.
Fall flowers are definitely more than just Mums! But even these late bloomers are a signal that winter is, in fact, coming. Our best advice to gardeners looking to close down their gardens for the season is actually to do less in the Autumn. It seems counter-intuitive to most practices that have become common in this season: bags and bags of leaves, completely razed garden beds, there is busyness to be had in Autumn but when it comes to gardens you can, and should, take a break! Let us explain...
Leaving leaves! Instead of seeing a bunch of back-breaking work, look at fallen leaves as refuge for beneficial insects looking to find coverage over winter. Many butterflies find thick piles of leaf litter to nestle into - some will remain in their chrysalis through winter. Leaving leaves in place allows for the emergent butterfly to find that it is amongst a familiar habitat. Leaving leaves on the ground or gently raking them into garden beds also provides mulch that helps to protect the roots of perennials, shrubs, and trees from the freezing and thawing of seasonal changes in the Autumn and the Spring.
Cutting back and pruning - keep it light! Continuing with our ethos of doing less in the Fall, we recommend the same for cutting back seedheads and pruning trees and shrubs. First of all, it allows for better odds at survival through winter.
Once spring has sprung, you can assess what made it through and cut back what didn’t. Furthermore, leaving behind the seedheads, pods, berries and branches provides food and shelter for both migrating and wintering birds.
But Fall gardening isn’t just about preparing for a gloomy, plant-less Winter. You can still get your hands dirty in Fall by planting bulbs for Spring! All the beautiful bulb bloomers that herald Spring and the lifting of gardeners hearts can be planted in the Fall: Daffodils, Tulips, Hyacinth, Crocus, Scilla, and Snowdrops to name a few. Planting bulbs in Fall allows a jumpstart to Spring growth, not to mention the Fall weather is far more pleasant planting conditions than sloppy, muddy Spring is.
Keep in mind that your bulbs will need to be planted at least 6-8 weeks before the ground is frozen. Bigger bulbs can be planted about 8 inches down, while smaller bulbs can be planted about 5 inches into the soil.
Autumn signals the winding down of Summer, but that doesn’t mean that your garden need fade away so soon. There are many beautiful plants that display their flowers this time of year and can be enjoyed during the cooler days. When thinking about closing down your garden this year, consider saving yourself some labour by leaving a natural leaf mulch in your beds, and keeping the pruning light. Save your energy instead for planting bulbs for Spring that will fuel your garden dreams in the dreary Winter.
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