Fall Garden Design Lessons

Your landscape can still look great -- even after a few frosts. This New York garden shows you how.

Denny Schrock


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Cutleaf Japanese maple
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Work with the Light

    Autumn light can be stunning -- so take advantage of its golden glow to create garden art. The cascading cutleaf Japanese maple shown here, for example, glows in the late-season sun. Because the tree matures at 10 feet tall, it won't overpower the vinca groundcover or dwarf evergreens growing nearby.

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Focus on Texture

    Make your garden more impactful by creating contrasts in texture. One easy way to do this is to stick to a limited color palette and choose plants with different kinds of leaves. For example, 'Mellow Yellow' spiraea offers fine-textured foliage set off beautifully by similarly colored zebragrass.

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Use the Views

    Look for spaces in your garden to create a commanding view. For example, create a narrow swath of lawn that leads to a bench and birdbath. Surround the grass with a circus of color with plants such as Chinese chestnut, flowering dogwood, summersweet, and deciduous azaleas.

    Test Garden Tip: In this garden, the path curves out of sight, enticing curious visitors deeper into the landscape.

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Keep it Simple

    Evergreens, such as the Japanese red pine shown here, are stars all year long. This pine features stunning sculptural branching structure and reddish bark. Low plantings of thyme, pinks, oregano, ajuga, and juniper complement the tree without drawing attention away from it. Hardy yellow chrysanthemums dot the landscape, adding pizzazz.

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Mix Shrubs with Perennials

    Shrubs lend structure and year-round interest to a perennial border. Incorporate them among your perennials and use them to play off one another. For example, purple leaves of 'Diablo' ninebark are a darker version of the flower heads on 'Matrona' sedum. Dwarf Alberta spruce backs long-blooming Fireworks goldenrod.

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Add Form to Function

    Take advantage of beautiful autumn days by giving yourself spots to sit outdoors and enjoy the weather. And be sure to dress them up with plants that put on fall finery. This bench, for example, supports hardy kiwi vines, which provide shade for anyone resting a spell. It also screens the view behind the bench.

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Rake Up Savings

    Fall is a great time to scoop up bargains, especially on large plants that would take up too much space at nurseries. Be on the lookout for big, bold plants at clearance-sale prices. This variegated miscanthus, for instance, was acquired as a late-season deal.

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Play Off Water

    Autumn hues are lovely by themselves, but look especially good when reflected in water. Site a favorite Japanese maple (such as 'Beni Kawa', shown here), dogwood, or other reliable variety for a fall show near your water garden.

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Highlight Your Harvest

    Gourds, pumpkins, osage orange fruits, dried hydrangeas, and mums turn a drab setting into a stunning feature. Arrange the bounty into a colorful combination. Add other items, such as cornstalks, wicker baskets, or even old garden implements.

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Work With What You Have

    This stone wall -- nearly obscured by an 'Annabelle' hydrangea -- provides a practical use for all the rocks found on the property. Rusty orange foliage of serviceberry and bald cypress provide a brilliant fall backdrop. The wall takes the stage in winter as it adds structure to the landscape.

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Contrast Colors

    It only takes two plants to make a big impact. Yellow green and reddish purple are perfect mates because they're opposite each other on the color wheel. Bring the combination to life with golden variegated Japanese forestgrass and 'Fens Ruby' spurge.

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Repeat Elements

    Common elements keep a collection of plants from looking random. Here variegated lemon thyme echoes the color of maidengrass, while blue oatgrass matches hues with lavender.

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