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Japanese maples, burning bush and other autumn wonders should be putting on a show this week and garden centers and nurseries are filled with bargains.
If you want your own view of autumn splendor, consider adding a fall pocket garden to the landscape. As your new plants mature and the fiery autumn colors return year after year from your fiery new fall garden, you’ll remember 2020 with at least a few warm thoughts.
Many fall events may be canceled due to coronavirus, but you’ll have a beautiful homecoming just outside your window and score better yardage if you tackle this design challenge and celebrate that nobody can cancel the beauty of the fall season.
Start with a focal point: Japanese maples for the win
For a small garden or if you have limited space, start your autumn theme garden with one of the Japanese maples or Acer palmatums. The Dissectum types of Japanese maples have finely divided or dissected leaves and this makes them slow growers with a delicate appearance. It also means you won’t need to rake up the leaves once they fall as they quickly decay and improve the soil without smothering the plants below.
Look for varieties with spectacular fall color such as ‘Orgeola’ with fiery orange red foliage on a 6-foot tree or one of the similar varieties offered in Western Washington nurseries this month. Fall is a good time to buy and transplant Japanese maples.
For something different, grow a Sourwood tree
If you want to grow beyond Japanese maples for a small tree with autumn color, search out the sweet color and form of a Sourwood tree or Oxydendrum arboretum. This tree has four seasons of interest with fragrant bell-shaped flowers, seed capsules that hang on the tree all winter, and fall color that may have the neighbors calling the fire department — this tree is that hot.
The only garden gossip on this autumn beauty is that it has shallow roots so it does not like to grow in a lawn or have shrubs planted beneath its graceful branches.
Add more foliage and berries with lower shrubs
I like the brilliant purple berries of Beauty Berry or Calicarpa. The graceful, arching branches show off metallic purple berries in the fall and the colors work well with Japanese maples. You can add the flaming orange or yellow foliage of barberries, scarlet leaves of the Euonymus alatus ‘Burning Bush’ or any of the Nandina ‘Heavenly Bamboo’ that come in various sizes and leaf colors.
Look for fall foliage shrubs turning color in your neighborhood. This will give you more ideas for creating your autumn dream team.
The goal here is to huddle up these complementary team players (the shrubs) around the star of your fall garden (the focal point tree) by arranging them behind or in front of your focal point.
Make a power play with autumn perennials
Go on the offense with a container of fall bloomers or add big sweeps of fall blooming perennials in front of your shrubs to hear the crowd roar. Ornamental grasses will move in the wind and create the frenzy of a crowd by doing the wave.
Local nurseries have winter pansies, hardy asters, ornamental cabbage and kale along with my all-time all star for fall: Sedum Autumn Joy. Many of the hardy sedums and succulents put out a late summer or early fall flower display but none are as dependable as Autumn Joy and her teammates Autumn Charm, Autumn Fire and the shorter Mini Joy.
Just remember that local growers are coming up with new and improved sedums, asters and pansies every year so don’t get slowed down thinking you must find a specific variety. Sometimes you will find a better plant as a substitute for what I suggest simply by asking for a suggestion at the nursery.
Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. Reach her at binettigarden.com.