Take a cue from this Oregon garden’s mix of vibrant foliage, tawny grasses, and late-blooming flowers for a landscape that comes alive as the weather cools.
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In their 2-acre sloped yard in St. Helens, Oregon, longtime gardeners Tamara Paulat and David Pinson wanted to create a landscape that's every bit as colorful in autumn as it is in spring and summer. "It's easy to relegate the fall season to cleanup, but I wanted more," Paulat says. With that in mind, they chose plants and trees that look their best late in the season, including Japanese maples, golden grasses, and flowering perennials. They take a laissez-faire approach, rarely deadheading or pruning, and leaving most seed heads on into winter to provide food for birds. Evergreen shrubs and large grasses also ensure that planting beds look good all year long.

fall garden walkway to gray houses
Credit: Jacob Fox

Fall Color in Many Forms

Flowers, foliage, fruit, and seed heads all lend color and interest to the fall garden. Here are some of the best late-season performers recommended by Paulat and Pinson.

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shrub rose hip berries
Credit: Jacob Fox

Shrub Rose

In addition to flowers, some rose varieties also offer colorful hips, such as an 8-foot-tall shrub rose in Paulat and Pinson's garden that is covered in red rose hips in fall. Not all varieties have showy hips so be sure to research carefully.

purple dome aster flowers
Credit: Jacob Fox

'Purple Dome' Aster

This compact variety of native New England aster begins blooming in late summer and keeps going until frost. In Paulat and Pinson's garden, the hot pink flowers stand out against bluestar's yellow fall foliage.

matrona sedum red flowers
Credit: Jacob Fox

'Matrona' Sedum

Pink blooms on this upright sedum darken to wine-red from August to October on reddish stems. The dried flower heads also add winter interest to the landscape, so wait to cut this plant back until early spring before new growth appears.

douglas aster purple flowers
Credit: Jacob Fox

Douglas Aster

Like its Eastern cousin, this western native aster blooms from late summer into fall. Its starry flowers attract all sorts of pollinators. This perennial does well in moist areas of the garden, such as along a stream bank or bordering a pond.

anise hyssop grasses
Credit: Jacob Fox

Anise Hyssop

Upright spikes of purple flowers appear on this drought-tolerant, native perennial in summer, continuing into fall. The dried seed heads of anise hyssop last into winter, feeding small birds such as goldfinches with the seeds

grasslike orange sedge
Credit: Jacob Fox

Orange Sedge

The grasslike foliage of this sedge almost seems to glow in autumn. Here, it contrasts with the bright green crocosmia leaves behind it while echoing the leaf shape.

pink flowering baby sage
Credit: Jacob Fox

Baby Sage

The bright pink-lobed flowers of this Southwest native salvia are beloved by bees and hummingbirds. It begins blooming in spring, slows down in summer, and then picks up the flower show again in fall.

Fall Garden Design Tips

In addition to planting for fall color, Paulat and Pinson also pay attention to textures and shapes. Contrasting foliage creates a more interesting mix. And using upright plants with shorter grasses creates varying levels in the garden, which makes for a more dynamic landscape than having everything about the same height. For example, the couple planted low-growing sedums paired with smaller grasses along path edges. Behind these plants, rounded gray-green sage, spiky variegated yucca, and wispy deergrass step up in height.

A yard that's as densely planted as this one needs some structure to break up the foliage. Paulat and Pinson used a series of trellises to do the trick. They also planted in repeating groups to help tie the garden together. In fall, certain plants with brightly colored foliage serve as focal points, leading the eye to destinations in the garden. One of the most eye-catching is the flaming orange foliage of a 'Sango-Kaku' Japanese maple, which highlights the firepit and seating area.

bright orange tree on garden path
david and tamara in garden with chickens
Left: Berms help provide drainage for plants that prefer drier soil, such as the yucca and sedum in the foreground. | Credit: Jacob Fox
Right: David Pinson and Tamara Paulat leave most seed heads standing through winter until they cut everything back in February to make way for new growth. | Credit: Jacob Fox

Garden Design Strategy: Water Smart

Paulat and Pinson don't water often; instead, they've designed the yard to get the most out of rainwater. Berms and swales on their property help direct rainwater to plants that need it.

Berms: These mounded or raised areas of soil provide well-draining planting spaces. They help direct water away from plants that need more drainage.

Swales: Depressed areas of land, swales are strategically worked into the base of slopes to retain water and direct it to plant roots.

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