Stop what you're doing for a moment, look out of the window, and take a long, hard look at your fall garden. What do you see? I'm sure there are individual trees or shrubs that are breathtaking, but are they shown off to their best advantage? Do they read as random sparks here and there, or as a full blown bonfire that will burn with ever-increasing intensity for the next month?
Here are a few ideas to help you assess and improve your autumnal display based on my own observations, mistakes, and successes.
If you find yourself always taking close up shots of individual colorful leaves, ask yourself why? Is it perhaps because that red leaved maple doesn't really stand out against the adjacent purple smoke bush for example? Color contrast and careful distribution are essential components of a really eye catching fall display. Our garden (shown above) is surrounded by mixed forest. Those dark green conifers really let the bright colors of the island border pop.
Seen from another angle which again highlights the necessity of a solid green backdrop, the island border is a true four season showcase.
Temper the Heat
Since most autumnal colors are shades of red, orange, and gold it can be fun to shake things up a bit by adding cool blue or silver tones.
Even a simple fallen leaf can create be dramatic.
Playing with Texture
Looking to add something unusual? Sometimes it's just about adding an unexpected texture.
Textural contrast is especially important when there is little color contrast.
Create a Picture Frame
Rather than stopping the eye, try creating a portal through which one looks, framing a more distant multi-layered scene. Mitch Evans is a superb designer in this regard – these images are from a garden he designed a few years ago.
While the Japanese stewartia is eyecatching on its own, look how much it adds to the scene below when used to frame a pathway.
For a more intimate vignette, two maples and a hardy fuchsia were combined in another part of the garden.
Head out into the garden and photograph your favorite fall plants close up, from different angles, and from some distance away. What can you add to make them look even more beautiful next year? I'd love to hear your ideas – leave me a comment below!
You might also enjoy this older post featuring many more stunning images of Mitch's garden in Redmond, WA.
My book Gardening with Foliage First, co-authored with Christina Salwitz includes dozens of ideas for fall combinations, categorized into sun and shade, including the two designs from Mitch's garden shown above.