Tulips, lilacs, forsythia, and crabapples inspire the enthusiastic gardener to become an enthusiastic flower arranger. We then follow the summer blossoms for months on end with bunches of delphinium, daisy, lilium, cosmos and more. Come October, though, we tend to look to pumpkins, gourds, mums, bittersweet and hydrangeas for decoration. I love the oranges, burgundy, and rust of autumn. I wanted to extend my resources for autumn arrangements so I took a walk around the gardens and this is what I came up with.
Pure white blossoms of Anemone x hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’ begin blooming in mid-September and continue into November. Here they are paired with the wine-red foliage of Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’ and the seed pods of a bush clematis. All three plants have seed pods intact which adds texture. Seed heads from a vining clematis would also work and the twining nature would add some movement and interest.
I stumbled upon the material for this arrangement quite by accident. Along our fence, we have an Enkianthius campanulatus ‘Red Bells’ growing amongst spirea and Rose of Sharon. I never really noticed its brilliant leaf color or its delicate seed pods. After clipping a few branches I wandered to the annual display garden and saw the Cuphea ‘Vermillionaire’ in full bloom. The flowers were a perfect compliment to the Enkianthius leaves. A few sprigs of lavender add contrast.
Dahlias are the most anticipated blooms here at the nursery. We plant a long row of them in mid-May and wait and wait and wait until late August when the buds finally start to open. We choose varieties with the shortest planting to blossoming timespan and good, long stems for cutting. Here they are paired with branches from a Red Maple (Acer rubrum). This arrangement has lasted for 2 weeks. Something to know: cutting a dahlia stem halts its growth. Tightly budded flowers will not open any further as other flowers do.
Gladiolus have become a favorite of mine. I especially like to use them as short stems either alone in a bud vase or paired with one other type of flower or stem. Here I chose chocolate cosmos. The flowers are smaller than traditional cosmos and they sprawl rather than grow upright. Plus they have a faint hint of chocolate!
Classic with a twist. Hydrangeas are one of our go-to’s for fall arrangements. They come in varying shades of pink, white and bronze. We have a stunning Hydrangea paniculata ‘Vanilla Strawberry’ shrub growing on the side of our old carriage barn. Next to it is a Seven Son Flower (Heptacodium miconioides) which is a small, multi-branching tree. It has white blossoms in September followed by pinkish-red calyx. Their sort of floppy habit softens the stiffness of the hydrangea stems.
Here the Seven Son Flower branches are paired with a hardy chrysanthemum called ‘Vergennes Pink’ and yellow Profusion Zinnia which, because we faithfully deadheaded all summer, are still going strong. Simple, easy and understated.
This was the quickest arrangement done in my favorite McCoy vase. The green is a perfect foil for the brilliant yellow of the Sugar Maple leaves, bittersweet berries and Red Maple. I found many saplings in our woods and “trimmed” a couple of them. The bittersweet berries will last longer than the leaves.
This arrangement required some inventive scavenging. The deep blue flower is Aconitum ‘Barker’s Variety’ which does not begin blooming until late September to early October and continues into November. White Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ is a good contrast. The pincushion-like seed pods come from a Heliopsis ‘Summer Sun’ perennial that grows with great relish along the greenhouse. (We leave the stems standing all winter to feed the birds).
By October the leaves of Solomon Seal (Polygonatum multiflorum) have begun to turn a gentle shade of golden yellow. While I like their arching nature, they can be hard to corral. Using a tall, wide-mouth vase makes it easier to work with them. Please be aware that the sap from the Aconitum plant is poisonous. Wear gloves when handling cut branches and try not to touch the cut edge.
Finding tall, long-stemmed marigolds use to be quite difficult but with the surge in grow-your-own cut flowers, they are more readily available. We like ‘Golden Guardian, ‘Red Guardian’ and ‘Burning Embers’. The first two are a mass of flowers all summer until frost. ‘Red Embers’ is later to bloom and has more foliage. I think it works well in a vase because the green ferny foliage brightens the yellows, reds, and oranges of the marigolds without needing to add extra foliage. The cobalt blue vase is a good contrast.
This little tiny arrangement is my favorite. The Adams Ware pitcher is only about 3 or 4 inches tall. Into it, I placed some branches of Euomymous vegetus (Big leaf Wintercreeper) Those are the orange and pale pink berries. The pale pink in the berry picks up the pink in the painting on the vase. The flower is that same Cuphea that was used in another arrangement. The Cuphea flower and the inside of the berry are the same shade of orange. This arrangement is still beautiful a full 2 weeks later.
These arrangements are a sort of collection of all the flowers we were considering using. For the one on the left, the tall stems in the back are the flower from Heuchera v. ‘Autumn Bride’ which is a great plant. It is seriously drought tolerant, cold hardy, shade-loving, and late-blooming. In front of it are the leaves of a baptisia plant. They are a nice olive green and are very sturdy in an arrangement. Filling in is hot pink Cockscomb, another of our hardy chrysanthemums, a dahlia, some bittersweet berries, and one branch of Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’. On the right is a simple blue bottle with baptisia leaves, the apricot-colored Dahlia and a sprig of Fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister’. In this little arrangement, the flowers are a similar shade but the shape is very different. Even the underside of the Fuchsia leaf has a splash of pinky-orange. I was surprised to discover that the ‘Gartenmeister flower has a very long vase life.
Years ago we cleared out some invasive honeysuckle to make room for our evergreen display area. Much to our surprise and delight, we unearthed a tree we had never seen before. Its common name is Devil’s Walking Stick due to its massive and very sharp thorns that run up the entire trunk. Toward the end of August it puts forth a huge spray of white flowers towards the top of each branch. These are followed by dark purple berries and pink calyx. While it was a challenge to cut it was worth the effort. (I recommend leather gloves). In this arrangement, it is cascading over the edge of an unusual antique watering can. Standing up behind it are Sugar Maple branches and Chrysanthemum ‘ Vergennes Pink’. This is has made an attractive addition to our front steps.
Last but not least, the ultimate Fall forage arrangement. Branches of crabapple, apple, ilex, hydrangea, bittersweet, coralberry, peony, grapes, ‘Dark American’ Arborvitae, and Aronia with cones, grasses and a bird’s nest (flung to the ground after a wild wind storm). I balled up some chicken wire and shoved it into an old sap bucket. Then I randomly pushed the branches into the bucket using the chicken wire to hold them in place and keep them upright. Ideally, the sap bucket would have holes in the bottom so water will not collect and become rank. The pumpkins tie it all together.
There are still more resources you could make use of in your Autumn garden. I have found parsley, mint, sage, and rue to be very useful fillers. For foliage, the vast array of heuchera foliage is fun to play around with. Calendulas, snapdragons, and osteospermum put out lots of new flowers once the weather cools down. There are many more shrubs that have spectacular fall color including blueberries and viburnums. Foliage that has turned color may not last very long as a cut branch in a vase in a warm house since they are technically shut down for the season and are getting ready to drop. So if you are going to use the arrangement indoors for a specific event, keep them out of sunlight and if possible out of doors until the day you want to display them. Berries, when put in a vase filled with water, tend to last for a very long time without drying out.
So get out into your Autumn garden and think beyond the usual.