Creative Fall Containers Start With Foliage Plants

Three creative fall containers by Marion of Mullan Nursery Company
Three creative fall containers by Marion of Mullan Nursery Company
Creative Fall Containers photogrpahed by Marion of Mullan Nursery
Creative Fall Display photographed by Marion of Mullan Nursery


Fall is probably my favorite season for creating great container combos. I love the colors, richer and more textural than spring containers, and enjoy pulling in some fun accessories such as gourds, pumpkins, grasses, and curly willow. Go to the garden center in October and November, and shrubs are there for the taking at give away prices. Shrubs are a great starting point for an all season container.

Fall container with pumpkin and grass
Fall container with pumpkin and grass

When I put a fall combination together, I tend to work with “blocks” of solid colors, like the mum, or green autumn fern above. Using perennials such as ferns, ivy, grasses, mums, coral bells, bergenia, violas, lamium, etc., means that I can have a long-lasting container or all season arrangement that will have a new life in the spring. When the weather warms up after a long winter, I simply pull out the dead annual plants,  groom the perennials that are left, and add a blooming annual to spruce the entire container up with little fuss or cost.

Bergenia with its large leaves has burgundy highlights in the Winter. Lamium is hanging down the side and 'Southern Comfort' Heuchera is on the right.
Bergenia with its large leaves has burgundy highlights in the Winter. Lamium is hanging down the side and ‘Southern Comfort’ Heuchera is on the right.

The all season container above looked like this in January.  The Heuchera was a little wilted, but it remarkably stands up to all weather as well as the Bergenia and Lamium. The bonus is that the Bergenia turns a wonderful russet color in the cold weather.

The graceful lines of the evergreen Carex 'Evergold' looks good all the time
The graceful lines of the evergreen Carex ‘Evergold’ looks good all the time

Carex is also one of my go-to plants for winter. In the spring, I plant Caladiums to give a punch of color in this container with the Carex, and it sits in full shade with little care.


Fall containers depend on some work horses – namely grasses, cabbages, evergreens, heucheras, euphorbias, ferns, pansies, dusty miller, and mums. I feel that by designing and planting a good all season container in the fall, I am setting the stage for next year’s plantings, which saves me a lot of work and cost in the busy spring season.

Most of the plants I have mentioned are foliage plants. The selling point for me when choosing a plant, is the beauty and lasting power of the foliage. Budget conscious consumers are picking up on this and investing in beautiful foliage plants, and not concentrating on just the flowers. Flowers are fleeting, foliage is long-lasting.

These Zinnias are showcased by the foliage
These Zinnias are showcased by the foliage
Fall containers by Leigh Barnes of Companion Plantings
Fall containers by Leigh Barnes of Companion Plantings
Fall container with kale, cabbage, mums, ivy, and dusty miller- courtesy of Leigh Barnes of Companion Plantings
Fall container with kale, cabbage, mums, ivy, and dusty miller- courtesy of Leigh Barnes of Companion Plantings
Fall container at Ladew Topiary Gardens
Fall container at Ladew Topiary Gardens

Outdoor Fairy Garden- Go Wild!

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Fairy Garden-A stream running through it

At a recent Decorator Show House, I had the task of designing a space in a courtyard area that was a perfect location for a fairy garden. Fairy or miniature gardens have become an immensely popular gardening trend and I thought this would really draw attention to my area.

The centerpiece was going to be my fairy house that I made on an earlier post out of bark, branches, and antlers. Go to to see how to make this. But first, I had to prepare the site for the house by creating a small contained garden in the landscape with fencing, hills, plants, and moss.

A fairy house under construction
A fairy house under construction

Construction Schedule

  • Site

    I found the perfect spot under a large Chamaecyparis tree that had no lower limbs. The upper limbs would hang over and shelter the area and create a ‘ceiling’.  There was a straggly yew that had to go.  It was chain sawed down and the leaves cleaned up. The drain pipe was relocated and the wheel stayed as a great visual element.

    Selected site with a scraggly yew off to the right and backed by a great iron wheel
    Selected site with a scraggly yew off to the right and backed by a great iron wheel
  • Fence

    A fence had to be added to delineate the space.  My curly pussy willow was looking good so I cut a bunch and wired it together. I kept it in a round tote for a week to keep that nice rounded shape.

Wiring curly pussy willow together to make a fence
Wiring curly pussy willow together to make a fence
Keep the fence in a round tote for a week to keep the rounded shape
Keep the fence in a round tote for a week to keep the rounded shape

To keep the fence firmly in place, I took short pieces of wire stakes and drove them into the ground at the perimeter of the fence and inserted the bundled pussy willow onto it. This will keep the fence from moving when I fill the interior space with plants and moss. I made an arbor out of the same material and placed that at the entrance, inserting the ends into the soil.

Little stake holding the fence in place
Little stake holding the fence in place
Pussy willow fence in place
Pussy willow fence in place

I experimented with different positionings of the pathway and house and once satisfied, I remove everything to start placing the accessories. Once I knew where the pathway would go, everything else fell into place.

Getting the layout right
Getting the layout right

Mounding up soil and pressing it firmly in place to mimic hills and valleys made the space more interesting.

Then, I placed the largest items, like the houses – the bark and a gourd house, and the bridge. Once situated, I started with the plants. I chose plants that were colorful enough to contrast with the moss covering that was planned to top everything off. I planted my plants both inside the fence and outside. I used a couple a miniature conifers, violas, polka dot plants, ivy, ferns,  armeria, and saxifrages.

  • Stream

    To construct the stream, I first placed a strip of landscape cloth on the ground as the base for the stream bed. This prevents the gravel and stones from washing into the underlying soil and keeping it clean.

Laying a strip of landscape cloth, a base of clean gravel on top
Laying a strip of landscape cloth, a base of clean gravel on top
  • Mood Moss

I added my pathway and topped everything off with a layer of mood moss.  Mood moss is a moundy, springy moss, much nicer than regular sheet moss. It gave dimension to the whole garden. Moss also gives the garden a finished look and a good backdrop for all the accessories and plants. I bought a case of this from a local wholesale florist.

  • Final Touches

To the stream, I added colored gravel and small boulders. Colorful glass balls were pressed into the moss to add color. Wheelbarrows, chairs, and various other fairy accessories were added on top of the moss.

Outdoor fairy garden
Outdoor fairy garden
  • Upkeep

To keep this garden going, I will spray it with a fine mist attachment of the hose to keep it moist, once every couple of days depending on rainfall. The garden is in the shade so it will not dry out quickly.  It is important to keep the moss moist but not drenched. The plants need to be pruned and groomed every few weeks to keep them small.  The garden should last the entire season and will need renovation next spring.

Setting up the arbor at the entrance
Setting up the arbor at the entrance

Transforming a Patio – An Outdoor Living Space That Looks Like Home

The Challenge

I was asked to decorate the bluestone patio space for the Baltimore Symphony’s Decorator Show House this spring. Normally I ‘decorate’ gardens, not patios, but I was up to the challenge!  The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra chooses a house every year that is usually vacant and/or for sale, and invites interior and exterior decorators to design their own unique space. It is an honor to be asked and always a great deal of work! The houses that are picked are very different and have their own unique idiosyncrasies.

The 36th annual Show House is a fundraiser for the Baltimore Symphony Associates and gives decorators the chance to promote their businesses while helping out a great cause.

Information flyer for BSO Showhouse

Laying the Groundwork

I visited the Eck House at Cromwell Farm, in February, to look it over and see what the house and grounds looked like. As usual at that time of year, it was a dreary day and the surrounding fields were barren looking but I could see the possibilities.  The patio was a great size, 14′ x 22′, and in decent shape.  It was very dirty and needed to be power washed, but that is easily remedied. The view off the patio was wonderful! In the distance were fields dotted with large trees and a distant stream bed which I could see would be beautiful in the spring. So, the bones were good –  I just needed to dress it up! So, I looked around for sponsors to help me out with the larger items that I needed to make an impact.

My first look at the patio in February
Patio in February

Walpole Wood Accents

The first thing that I noticed was the very high stone wall facing the patio and I knew exactly what I wanted to put there –  a Cameo trellis from Walpole Woodworkers. I have worked with Walpole Woodworkers in the past on several installation jobs and admired their products.  I had purchased window boxes for my house from Walpole and loved them! So, I called my rep from Walpole, and asked if the company would be interested in providing some pieces to decorate the patio to promote their business. Walpole agreed to provide a trellis, a bird house, an obelisk and two estate planters which I knew would make the patio stand out.

The cameo trellis

Dressing it Up With Furniture

The next item of business was the furniture.  I have always admired Watson’s Fireplace and Patio Furniture in Timonium and after talking to the manager there, she agreed to provide some beautiful furniture. These included a comfy sofa, a glider with an ottoman, and three assorted tables to finish off the ensemble. The coffee table was a stunning mosaic creation that reminded me of crashing waves! The “wicker”  was a resin wicker in a dark pecan color with teal cushions that were designed for outdoor wear. I thought these pieces would be perfect to make the patio a welcoming space.

Furniture from Watson's

Icing on the Cake

The fun began with the accessories! Once I had the framework, I could place unique and funky pieces on the tables and patio.  Succulents are really big this year, so I knew that I wanted to do something with hens and chicks, jade plants, sedums, etc.

I decided to make a succulent sphere from an assortment of the fleshy leaved oddities that would be placed on the large mosaic table as the focal point.

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Succulent Sphere

I picked up a globe-shaped base of coco-fiber with a wire cage at a nearby nursery and filled it with moss.  After wiring it together, I poked holes in the base and inserted my succulent plants into the moss.  To make the job easier, I shaved off most of the soil and the roots from the succulent leaving just enough root to insert into the moss and start growing. To keep the plants firmly attached to the base, I inserted fern pins, U-shaped wire fasteners, into the plants down into the moss. These pins would keep the succulents in the ball until they rooted in and started to grow.  After getting all the succulent plants attached, I covered up the coco-fiber with moss to give it a more uniform look. To finish off the sphere, I elevated the globe by placing it in a terra-cotta pot.

Finished succulent sphere
Succulent Planter

I made a smaller matching succulent ball that I set on wire mesh in a rustic wooden bowl that I had picked up at a flea market.

Smaller succulent sphere in bowl on wire mesh

Herbs and Veggies

I don’t think any patio is complete without planters of herbs and vegetables. Earth Boxes are perfect planting containers for these, as they have a reservoir in the bottom that is filled via a water tube, and the plants wick up the water from the roots. It is a complete self-sustaining system for growing a good amount of edibles without digging in the garden. Go to

Earth boxes with veggies and herbs

I also like the concept of cooking in the kitchen and running out to the patio to grab a handful of lettuce or herbs, rather than traveling out to a distant garden and having the greens at the mercy of bunnies!  So I potted up three of the Earth Boxes with an assortment of greens. Wanting to display them in a unique way, I found an idea on Pinterest. Someone had posted a simple three-tiered plant stand made out of stair risers from the hardware store.

Plant stand Idea from pinterest
My improved version of the stair step plant stand

The picture from Pinterest was a great starting concept.  I improved on it and made it much sturdier by making shelves out of strips of wood that gave it some support, because the shelf would be free-standing on the patio.


I wanted to add some fun items to accessorize the space and found some antique wrought iron plant stands locally. I filled these with containers and flowers.

Antique plant stand
Another plant stand with head planter

Long planters from Watson’s Garden Center  were planted with early spring colors of pastel pink, yellows and blues.  I added the Viola ‘Etain’ to my planters as this is a personal favorite early spring flower.

The estate planters were filled with a golden hued arborvitae surrounded with the Viola.

Viola Etain

Finally, I made up some miniature gardens to sell. The mini gardens were perfect to place on the steps leading down from the patio and on the stone walls surrounding it. Some were made of hypertufa which I explain how to make in

Mini Garden
Hypertufa planters on steps
Funky head planter

Go to,0,1822756.photogallery to see pictures from the whole house.  I think this year’s house is one of the best that I have participated in as the decorating ideas are very do-able. In past years, some of the treatments were over-the-top and just didn’t translate well to your own house.  But this year, the ideas that I took away are definitely going to show up at my house!

Finally done!