Garden Variety: Fall– Time to go to pot

By Jennifer E. Beaver

In mid-October, nature sends the signal: Time to swap the front-step pot of summer geraniums for something seasonal in shades of orange, yellow or brown. Those with no front steps wire festive Indian corn to the door. Those with no imagination–and this will surely earn a rebuke from the National Mum Council– put out a stately pot of yellow or copper chrysanthemums. Perhaps we’re hard-wired to make our homes look welcoming as the days get shorter and the nights get long.
In New Jersey, where weather behaved as proper fall weather should and there was no chance of moisture-sucking Santa Ana winds, we put our pumpkins out well before Halloween. Until the year my brother had the great idea, we spent a lot of time looking for the perfect squash– not too big, not too small, smooth and squat with a stem still attached. Then came the epiphany: In decorating for a holiday that celebrated the grotesque, why search for beauty? And so the hunt was on for an odd-shaped pumpkin with scars, warts and nature’s gnarliest imperfections.
Since fresh pumpkins turn quickly to mush in our routinely hot late Octobers, we must turn elsewhere for inspiration. And here it is: Proven Winners is the one of the largest plant propagators in the world. Their website serves up gorgeous, easy-to-achieve instructions for all sorts of container plantings. Click on the green tab labeled Container Recipes and chose Fall from the drop-down menu. See how they combine tall, feathery grasses, petunia-like Superbells and coleus with multi-colored leaves. Mixed in with fragrant nemesia, variegated sage and a lime-green sweet potato vine, even the all-too-common mum (in this case, an osteospemum hybrid) looks unusual and outstanding. Proven Winners offers instructions for all pot sizes and all light conditions. Even if you’ve never planted a container in your life, with these designs you’ll do it easily.
With fall decorating in mind, my friend Shoshanah and I went to Ricardo’s Nursery ( several Saturdays ago. Located in north Long Beach at 6850 Atlantic Ave., Ricardo’s is an extremely friendly, knowledgeable and helpful wholesale nursery that also sells to the public. On weekends, you’ll find many one-gallon plants for only $3. I walked away with several unusual grasses and a snowbush, which at $4 was quite a deal. Ricardo’s will even load the plants into the car for you. Looking for something specific? Check out their convenient online availability list.
Time to decorate the front steps for fall. Make it something different.

Jennifer E. Beaver, a Wrigley resident, is a master gardener and author of Container Gardening for California.

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