Fall Containers Boot Camp

IMG_7558Are you ready to refresh your containers for fall? When your coleus turns to mush you know it's time!

Yet many of us have a complete brain freeze at the start of a new season and can't remember what fun things we have used in the past to create the 'wow' factor. I call it seasonal denial – we are still in a geranium mentality. So consider this your Fall Container Boot Camp.  Enjoy these three colorful designs to remind you just how exciting cool season pots can be.

1. Swiss Family Chard (see photo above)

A fun medley focused around the edible Bright Lights Swiss chard. Yes you can use edibles in your ornamental containers! The chard keeps company with two conifers (Blue Star juniper at the front and the mounding Rheingold arborvitae on the right). A dwarf New Zealand flax (Tom Thumb) adds a strappy texture in the middle and the gorgeous big rosy leaves are from Fire Alarm Heuchera. The bright pink berries are Olivia St. John's wort (Hypericum sp.) and add the finishing touch.


All day sun or half day sun. (There isn't much difference in Seattle between sun and shade during fall and winter! As long as the container isn't in a lot of shade it will be fine).

How long will it last?

The chard will get eaten and St. John's wort will lose its leaves. No problem! Take them both out and add curly willow twigs for height and tuck dwarf spring bulbs where the berries were e.g.  Tete a Tete daffodils or purple crocus. The bare soil could be disguised with some pine cones, beach glass or holiday accents.

2. Fall Fiesta


Celebrate fall with this colorful combo featuring evergreens, perennials and annuals. This was designed for a fall party so I was less concerned about individual plants going through winter.

Height was provided by the tall purple millet (an annual) – don't you just love those fuzzy heads?! The variegated spurge, Euphorbia 'Ascot Rainbow' set the color palette of lemon, lime and rosy-orange. This is an evergreen perennial so can be left in the container. The vibrant orange Sombrero coneflowers have great party attitude and although these will die down in winter they can be used in the garden next year. A rust colored chrysanthemum and two Limelight licorice plants (annuals) round out the scheme.

Incidentally this design is featured on the cover of the current issue of Gardens West magazine, Prairie Edition!


Full sun

How long will it last?

Just until a hard freeze so enjoy the fiesta while you can.

3. Four Seasons Concerto

IMG_0541Who doesn't love Japanese maples? Did you know that there are many which are suitable for containers? This beauty is Acer palmatum Beni-ubi-gohon, which means 'five long red fingers'. Summer color is a rich wine red, fading to bronze and then lighting up the garden with shades of crimson in fall. It tolerates sun well (this location is tricky because the front of the container gets sun while the back is shaded) and grows to 4-6' tall and 3-4' wide. In fact I would love two more for other clients!

Such delicate foliage needs to be kept free from competition so the other plants are lower; evergreen Japanese sweet flag (grass), Blackcurrant Heuchera and a dwarf spurge called Tiny Tim circle the trunk while the woody, evergreen groundcover bearberry cotoneaster trails to the ground. Its winter berries work nicely with the scheme.


This pot gets full sun at the front and shade at the back so plants have to be adaptable!

How long will it last?

Year round! Everything here can stay. However the homeowner and I both love to switch a few things out for a splash of summer color but that is just our preference.

Fall Round Up

So what have we included in just these three designs? Conifers, deciduous trees, shrubs, groundcovers, vegetables, evergreen perennials, herbaceous perennials, grasses and annuals! So what exactly are you doing dithering between an orange pansy and a pink one? There's a whole WORLD of plants out there to explore. Go and celebrate fall!

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  1. debsgarden on September 29, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    Hi Karen, your post is timely! I have a 12' stone planter across the front of my house, currently filled with annual foliage and summer bloomers that are beginning to look ratty. I usually fill the planter with pumpkins and gourds for fall with some sort of greenery as a filler. When I saw your blue star juniper with the gold arborvitae, I thought how nice the colors would compliment my fall arrangement. I also love the berries of the St. John's Wort. What are the gorgeous leaves beneath the berries? And why not add the swiss chard? All of these could go into my garden when their time in the planter ends, but I also think the juniper and arborvitae could stay there through the seasons. I will try it!

  2. Carolyn @ Carolyn's Shade Gardens on October 1, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Really lovely color combinations and plant choices. I need to refresh my containers, you have inspired me.