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Design Ideas for Fall Containers and Gardens

Just because the calendar says its fall doesn’t mean you have to stop gardening. Here are some planting ideas we found on a recent trip to northern Maine. By Doug Jimerson 

American Classic

At a storefront in Camden, Maine, we found this lovely window box still going strong in late September. Packed with red geraniums, ornamental sweet potato vine, and variegated plectranthus, it proves that summer annuals will look great right through the fall if you keep them watered and fertilized.

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Mainely Mums

Across the state of Maine, chrysanthemums are clearly the number one fall flower. We saw them used everywhere including this handsome sidewalk planter where small button mums float over an ocean of dark blue lobelia. Lobelia loves cool weather and will stay in bloom even after a light frost.

Very Vertical

For a bold statement near an entry or gate, use tall, narrow planters packed with a thriller, filler, and spiller. Here, variegated ornamental grass (the thriller), flowering kale (the filler), and trailing petunia (the spiller) make a terrific combination that sets off an entry perfectly.


Fall Finale

Some flowers just seem to shine brighter during the shorter, cooler days of fall. We found this eye-popping border along the waterfront in Bar Harbor, Maine. In late September it was still in top form with pink geraniums, black and blue salvia, tall decorative white dahlia, snapdragons, and hydrangea.

Living Carpet

Annual flowers aren’t just for spring and summer gardens. Many varieties shine when the temperatures cool and the plants put out waves of new flowers. We couldn’t resist this sparkly little rock garden in Maine carpeted with dusty miller, purple sweet alyssum, white begonia, and marigolds. In frost-free gardens, they’ll bloom through winter.

Colorful Foliage

We love geraniums, especially the zonal types with variegated leaves. That’s why we were delighted to see these easy-care plants still looking their best in late September. Outside a store in Camden, Maine, we found this pretty pair in a faux bois tree stump planter. Geraniums love cool weather and will bloom their heads off until frost ends the show.

Bold Combos

Like most tourists we traveled to Maine to eat lobster and see the leaves change color. But, what we hadn’t anticipated were the amazing containers and flower borders that popped up in front of almost every home, hotel, shop, or restaurant. Here, for example, we discovered a tapestry of flowers and foliage in a tiny bed near Acadia National Park. It holds a gorgeous selection of cool-weather annuals such as variegated geranium, calendula, and licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare).

Fall Favorites

When it comes to fall color you really can’t do much better than flowering kale and chrysanthemums. These two easy-care plants are especially appealing when they are grown together in a container or border. In Mount Desert, Maine, we found a series of planter boxes where the chrysanthemums were chosen by how well they matched the color of the leafy center of the kale. In this box, for example, the rich pink chrysanthemum and the kale matched perfectly.

Kale or Cabbage?

It wasn’t a surprise that we found flowering kale and cabbage everywhere we went in Maine. These cold hardy ornamentals add color and texture to any setting. But did you know they are actually the same plant? Those with frilly leaves are called kale and those with flat rounded leaves are sold as cabbage, but because neither plant forms a solid head, they are all technically kale. This box contains both types mixed with chrysanthemums in an autumnal palette.
Note: Flowering cabbage and flowering kale have been bred for their looks, not their taste. They're not recommended for consumption.

Silver Sensation

We had to pull our car off the road to get a better look at this window box on Mount Desert Island, Maine. Sandwiched between glossy black shutters, the combination of silvery dusty Miller, white euphorbia, and rich red begonias with dark bronze leaves, was traffic stopping. And best of all, in late September it was still overflowing with color.

Simply Beautiful

Throughout our tour of Maine we were constantly reminded of how easy it is to have a colorful garden late in the season. Just choose a few of your favorite pots or planters and drop in ready-to-bloom beauties such as flowering kale, cabbage, and chrysanthemum. It’s that simple! Here, a series of red-orange mums were woven through a mixture of purple and green-leaf flowering kale.

Elegance in White

 Growing atop a rock wall in Southwest Harbor, Maine we found this handsome green and white trio of white scaevola, variegated plectranthus, and ivy. We think it's a refreshing change of pace from the traditional autumnal hues of orange, red, and yellow. Plus, all three have trailing habits that gracefully cascade over the edge of the granite wall.

Drive By Color

 After making a quick withdrawal at a nearby bank, we couldn't help but notice that the drive up lane was flanked with a rich assortment of fall bloomers. Autumn Joy sedum, orange chrysanthemum, white begonia, blue miniature petunia, and purple sweet alyssum hugged the curb just beneath the teller window. As bright and charming as the bed was no one would ever accidentally drive over the flowers as they left the building.