Join Me For An Autumn Stroll


Rich autumnal tones play off this hand made rustic urn

Rich autumnal tones play off this hand made rustic urn

If you had told me four years ago that I would have my garden would be published in national magazines (or at last discreet parts of it), that garden clubs would ask to visit, that photographs of it on Facebook would be so popular or that I would even have anything worth showing you here on my blog – I would have laughed. It seemed both improbable and impossible. Yet your response to our progress has been so encouraging that I though I'd take this post to show you a few fall highlights.  Now whether I show you the garden in January is another matter!

My favorite border is the one that took the most work to create! Every day we enjoy this ever-changing view and it truly has something to offer throughout the year. We refer to this as the 'island border' as it is a 150' x 50' border carved out of the middle of a very swampy part of the field. If you are new to my blog you can read more about the 'Once upon a time' here.

Here is the September view

Here is the September view

The photograph above was taken in September and planting details can be read here. Now just a few weeks later the black eyed Susan's (Rudbeckia) and Coreopsis have finished blooming but there is still plenty of color.


Taken October 21st, I'm surprised and pleased at how lush this still looks

It's all about the foliage – shades of green, gold and purple with a little blue, tan and silvery-grey for contrast. the cabin and huge, sculptural big leaf maple provide anchor points while the custom metal and wood arbor we designed invites you to explore within. I'm experimenting with a Northwind switch grass (Panicum virgatum 'Northwind') in the tall brown container. I'd rather have a mounding shape there but I wanted to test this grass somewhere visible and this was the best spot. I've found that my Karl Foerster feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora 'Karl Foerster') is very prone to the fungal disease rust so I'm looking for an alternative.

There are many trees and shrubs which are waiting in the wings to take over the colorful foliage display from the golden locust trees (Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia') that you can see shining here.

Ruby Vase Persian ironwood goes through multiple color changes

Ruby Vase Persian ironwood goes through multiple color changes

One of my favorite trees in this border is the columnar Ruby Vase Persian ironwood (Parrotia persica 'Ruby Vase'). Green leaves take on purple tints, adding in orange and crimson as seen above before turning delicious shades of coral and orange. This is just to the side of the arbor which forms the main entrance into the border (and beneath which our daughter got married this summer!)

At the far end of the border is a vignette that I have found myself photographing all year

At the far end of the border is a vignette that I have found myself photographing all year

There is a second entrance into this border at the far end, marked by this big mossy boulder. Beyond is a teak bench which has become a perfect spot for our evening glass of wine and where we can enjoy the fragrance of the summer lilies (seen here fading to their autumnal gold) and watch the hummingbirds fight over the tall Lucifer crocosmia. Today the star of the vignette is the feathery Arkansas blue star (Amsonia hubrechtii). Although this does have small blue flowers in spring they don't interest me and have little impact in a border of this size. I grow it for its beautiful feathery foliage which transitions from a fresh summer green to gold then rich orange in fall. Every day it is different. It is also drought tolerant and deer resistant – important especially for this location. From this perspective you can enjoy it with Grace smoke bush (Cotinus x 'Grace') which is beginning to put on her fall fashion show. Grace foliage will move drift from this rich purple to bright crimson. To see this combination from a different vantage point you may enjoy my recent post on my other blog which is a companion to my book Fine Foliage, co-authored with Christina Salwitz.

Our woodland garden is very much under development not least of all because the trees need to get big enough to cast shade for the shade loving plants which are fighting for survival beneath them! Hopefully everything will reach an equilibrium without too many casualties. Again this garden has to be drought tolerant and deer resistant. It's not quite there yet but considering this was once a dumping site for asphalt from a construction site in town, dozens of beer cans and mosquitoes  it's definitely better than it was! I showed you some photos in spring but here are a few in its autumn colors.

This gives you a sense of where it is in relation to the island border

This gives you a sense of where it is in relation to the island border

The photo above was taken a couple of weeks ago when the Armstrong maple (Acer rubrum 'Armstrong') was just turning to these glorious shades of red and orange. This maple takes wet soil with ease, which is one of the reasons we chose it. We bought two and they were both 'rejects' but since we knew they would grow quickly we hoped they would get out of their gawky teenager phase within a year or two. I love the contrast with the golden locust tree. The Swedish aspen (Populus tremula 'Erecta') in the foreground begin to change a little later as can be seen in the photo below.

Some of the perennials inc;suing astilbe have already been cut down but you can see that there is still plenty of things going on - October 22nd

Some of the perennials inc;suing astilbe have already been cut down but you can see that there is still plenty of things going on – October 22nd

The scene above was taken October 22nd from a little farther back. In the foreground right you can see the large holly-like leaves of Charity Oregon grape (Mahonia x media 'Charity') and to the left the under-utilized Little Henry Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica 'Little Henry'). Notice how this is surrounded by the evergreen, dark foliage of Catlin's Giant bugleweed (Ajuga repens 'Catlin's Giant) – fun color combo. The iris are almost ready to be trimmed but there is still lots to enjoy. To the left of the bridge are two Japanese maples and a mass planting of Ogon spirea (Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon') which will be vibrant next month.

Virginia sweetspire is a great alternative to burning bush (Euonymus alata) which is invasive in some areas

Virginia sweetspire is a great alternative to burning bush (Euonymus alata) which is invasive in some areas

And so in the interest of full disclosure I'll finish with  a shot of the front garden. This needs the most tweaking – some things need moving back and others pulling forward but it is part of the story.

Not as exciting as the other border yet but watch that maple!

Not as exciting as the other borders yet but watch that maple!

The Gaura still has a remarkable number of blooms on it but the height is hiding some smaller barberries which have great color. Look at that Koto-no-ito Japanese maple though. Green in spring and summer it is heading towards its rich red and orange fall tones. Right now it is a wonderful color contrast to the golden locust tree visible in the island border and forms a soft monochromatic moment with the cabin.

There are several other areas of our garden but I'll save those for another day. Designers usually shy away from showing their own gardens – they are never good enough or finished! But then whose garden is ever finished. I don't take myself or my gardens too seriously. They are created for enjoyment; so enjoy.

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  1. Ingrida on October 23, 2013 at 3:41 pm

    Beautiful! Such warm and comforting colors – perfect for the fall!

    • Karen Chapman on October 24, 2013 at 11:00 am

      Thanks Ingrida – I love these sunset tones, especially in fall

  2. jennifer taylor on October 24, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    so lovely!! i love this post Karen. thank you for taking the time to share all this detail with your fans. i especially love the part about how a few years ago you could never have imagined where you would be today. you show us how talent and vision and hard work and generosity can reap unimagined results. sorry for the funky message — i brooke my collar bone last sunday. the good news is that it was the left side that went down when i fell so i can still type with my right hand! all is well.

    • Karen Chapman on October 24, 2013 at 12:32 pm

      Hi Jennifer, so sorry to hear about your injury you poor thing. It may slow you down from gardening for a while I guess.

      I'm so glad you had the chance to visit earlier this fall as this post will help tell the story behind the garden.

  3. Lisa Orgler on October 25, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Karen – Your garden is so lovely. That is my next big challenge…having my garden shine in the fall too. Yours is such wonderful inspiration. Thanks for sharing!

    • Karen Chapman on November 5, 2013 at 10:12 pm

      Thank YOU Lisa

  4. debsgarden on October 28, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    Gorgeous, gorgeous! Your combinations are inspirational, and I actually took some notes as I was reading through your post. I really like the long views, as they give me a sense of how the different parts of your garden flow together. You need not shy from showing your garden. I say, show with pride! Virginia sweet spire and Parrotia are another couple of plants we have in common!

    • Karen Chapman on November 5, 2013 at 10:13 pm

      I do hope we get to visit one another's gardens in person some day!

  5. Carolyn @ Carolyn's Shade Gardens on October 31, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Your garden is absolutely gorgeous and I can't wait to see photos of it in January. The little house is very picturesque and all the various fall leaf colors are magical. The front is very nice too. Since I work all summer removing invasive barberry, I say don't reveal it, remove it :-).

    • Karen Chapman on November 5, 2013 at 10:16 pm

      Hi Carolyn, thanks for stopping by. Yes barberry is a real problem in many areas but not here in the PNW. In fact it is a 'choice' shrub because it comes in so many colors and survives both drought and deer for me. As with so many plants, inexperienced gardeners would do well to check with their local nurseries if they are concerned about potentially invasive species.