Perfecting Your Autumn Display

A well-crafted autumn display gives you something beautiful to come home to after a long day at work, says Amy Lang, plant manager at Wolff’s Apple House. It brings “solace at the end of your day,” she says. Adding a touch of autumn beauty means you can sit on your patio with a glass of wine and look at a more “put-together” section of your yard at a time when summer flowers are dying off.

But not all of us are naturals at creating this autumn beauty. So, thankfully, Amy has some suggestions.

Having worked at Wolff’s off and on since 1996, when she was in high school, Amy has had vast experience with plants throughout the seasons. Here are her tips:

  •  For larger displays, start with a straw bale and add a big pumpkin plus a couple small ones. You can stack a little straw bale on top of a bigger one to make it look 3D, or create a “pumpkin snowman,” as Ashley Wolff calls it, by using flat pumpkins that are easy to stack. Add mums around or on one side of the pumpkin.
  • A pumpkin lasts longest if you put some straw under it (just a little, you don’t need a whole bale). Keep it off the pavement where it could get too hot and start to rot.
  • You want a good contrast of colors – no orange mums next to orange pumpkins! Much better to use purple or yellow. “Yellow makes it pop,” says Amy. Avoid reds, too, so you get more contrast (mixing yellow and red mums together is okay).
  • Add height. Corn shocks work well for this. You can also use hay bales for height, or put mums on top of differently sized upside-down flower pots–the largest in the back, the smallest in the front– to create what Amy calls “steps of mums” that go “cascading down” the display. Milk crates and straw bales also work to create this gradation effect.
  • Teeny-tiny mums are good to use on a table or stoop. 
  • In planters, you can transition from a summer planter to a fall one by removing whatever has died and substituting fall ornamental cabbage or small mums. Wolff’s sells small 4-inch mums and 4-inch cabbages. If there is still grass in your planter, the mums and cabbage often look nice tucked around it.

  • Add a touch of whimsy with oddly shaped pumpkins or gourds. If a pumpkin looks like a person, add some glasses! If gourds look like eggs, spray paint them golden and add a goose gourd by the “nest.” (look for this particular display around the market sometime soon!).

  • Choose natural decorations that “meld with the landscape,” says Amy. Avoid “plasticky” decor. That way, the decor not only “flows with your yard,” but is also biodegradable and gentler to the environment.
  • Stay away from symmetry! Displays should have an odd number of pieces–think in threes, fives, or sevens when it comes to the number of mums, gourds or pumpkins.
  • Give the plants and pumpkins a little space to create some airflow, rather than clumping everything together.

Autumn is a rewarding time to be in the garden. Amy appreciates that it is less hot and not as buggy. The cooler weather is also better for planting. She likes that you can plant perennials, like asters, in the fall and then they will pop up again in the spring. You forget about them over the winter, but then in the spring, they come back, adding a surprise splash of color.

That’s the thing about plants. They give you “something nice to care for,” says Amy, noting that other cares fade away as you care for a plant. And then, after you care for the plant, sometimes it will return the favor by bursting out with new blooms, sprouting a whole new volunteer plant, or coming back with new life for a new season.

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Never make an awkward fall arrangement again!