Fall may be the best time for gardening – period.
In fall, the days are cooler but the sun still shines. The ground is warm while the air has that crisp little nip in it. It’s the perfect time to get out into your garden and enjoy the new season.
Whether you’re designing a porch display, planting a flowerbed, or redesigning an entire yard, you can create that cozy autumn feel.
What makes a landscape feel like autumn? The warm, earthy tones, the changing textures as trees shed their leaves, or the gentle light as the sun makes its way south.
When planning your garden design, choosing plant combinations in terms of color, shape, texture, and light will help contribute to a cozy and inviting vibe.
What colors do you associate with the harvest season? Bright pumpkin orange? Deep scarlet red? Cheery yellow? Wheat glinting golden in the late afternoon light?
Bronze and copper foliage, making its way down to the earth from the upper branches of trees?
The world is awash with warm hues and vibrant tones at this time of year. You’ll find these colors in all sorts of plants, ranging from single-season annuals to long-lived trees.
Want brightly colored berries? American bittersweet or winterberry will be sure to delight.
And while nature certainly hands us lots of yellows, oranges, and reds at this time of year, this is also when the natural world is preparing to take a break.
As summer’s flowers fade, we are left with more muted tones, and earthy hues.
You may want to hint at this transition by including a palette of soft colors including tan, mauve, and lavender. You can find these colors in chrysanthemums, heathers, stonecrops, purple coneflowers, and asters.
And don’t forget to include some green for contrast. Ornamental kale is a good annual for this purpose.
If you want longer-lasting plants, use conifers such as the low-growing mugo pine. Or choose arborvitaes as a backdrop for your more colorful plant choices.
Shape and Texture
In autumn, we see deciduous trees suddenly jump out of a solid green mass as they transition to their very own fall colors.
The particular shapes and textures of trees and shrubs make themselves very apparent in these new colors.
Think about the shapes and textures of the plants you want to use in your garden. Do your plants form round mounds, or are they wispy and misty?
What about the leaves? Are they wide and flat, smooth, or spiky?
Place your low, mounding plantings – like mums or sedums – with some taller, wispier plants behind them – such as annual heather or ornamental grass.
The contrasting textures and shapes will create interest. Pots, containers, and garden ornaments can help set the mood.
Low, mounding plants for this season include chrysanthemums, stonecrops, and ornamental kale.
Good wispy choices for this season include heathers and ornamental grasses.
Plant these among your foundational bushes and trees for a lovely layered effect.
The sun is lower in the sky at this time of year, highlighting your plants with the warm, golden glow of beautiful autumnal sunlight – if you put them in the right place!
When the golden hour arrives, think about how your plants are going to look when the sun is hitting them from the west – the direction where the sun sets – at a low angle.
Look at where you plan to plant and ask yourself, is the sun going to enhance the colors and textures of this plant when I want it to, or not?
By now you should have some ideas about how to use color, shape, texture, and light in your garden this autumn.
Maybe now you could use just a bit more inspiration. I love getting ideas from books for landscape design. Here are a few which might help you make your fall garden daydreams a reality:
Autumn Gardens by Ethne Clarke
This helpful guide to gardening after summer ends will teach you about plants that are useful not only for leaf color, but also for colorful decorative fruit.
It offers plenty of design advice, including guidance on using lighting and garden structure to your advantage.
Fallscaping by Nancy J. Ondra and Stephanie Cohen
This book encourages the reader to think of autumn as a new growing season instead of just a time for putting your garden to bed.
It comes with complete garden plans and plant suggestions, and is filled with beautiful photos. Find it on Amazon.
The Garden in Autumn by Allen Lacy
Are you an avid gardener in an area with a short growing season, like I am? This book is for us.
It contains advice for northern gardeners and includes tips to bring color to your fall garden even after the first frost. Find this book on Amazon now.
Fall in Love with Gardening Again
Your very own lovely autumn landscape will help brighten your spirits as the days get shorter and the weather less inviting. So don’t overlook this chance to get outside and create some autumnal attractions in your yard.
What colors and textures are you putting into your fall garden this year? Have you found the perfect spot in your yard to let golden afternoon sunlight shine some magic on your new plantings? Tell us about it in the comments.
Admit it, you can’t get enough of fall gardening, can you? If you find this to be true, read on:
- 11 of the Best Cold Temperature Ornamental Plants for the Fall Garden
- The 15 Best Perennials for Fall Color
- How to Choose Flowering Annuals for Cold Climates
- The 19 Best Cool-Weather Crops for a Productive Fall Garden
Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Atlantic Monthly Press, Storey Publishing LLC, and Soma Books. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Clare Groom and Allison Sidhu.
About Kristina Hicks-Hamblin
Kristina Hicks-Hamblin lives on a dryland permaculture homestead in the high desert of Utah. Originally from the temperate suburbs of North Carolina, she enjoys discovering ways to meet a climate challenge. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer and a Building Biology Environmental Consultant, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kristina loves the challenges of dryland gardening and teaching others to use climate compatible gardening techniques, and she strives towards creating gardens where there are as many birds and bees as there are edibles. Kristina considers it a point of pride that she spends more money on seeds each year than she does on clothes.