All Fall Down
As Autumn's last leaves drift earthwards, they might inspire new garden compositions. They do for me. At the least, you might think about allowing a scuffle-deep layer of brightly colored leaves to carpet a section of garden or woodland edge for a week or two. But you can also coax more rarefied charms from fallen foliage or flowers. Yesterday I saw this vivid red Japanese maple leaf had tumbled, just so, onto one of the branches of a 'Blue Princess' holly to make a vividly colorful pairing. Such happy accidents are a delight to discover, but you can also encourage them. Really, it's planning in three dimensions--you think about what's in the ground, and about what may, at some time of the year, fall down upon whatever is groundbound, uniting, however briefly, earth and sky. I once saw a spectacular crimson carpet of fallen maple leaves, punctuated by mounds of deep green hellebores; the combination provides exuberant testimony to the beauty of late fall and to the value hellebores play in the garden's shoulder seasons.
Such unions of sky and soil needn't be limited to fall. Think of the potential for making use of the ephemeral carpet created by, say, spent magnolia blooms or the fallen flowers of many spring blooming trees and shrubs. You can even do something in summer, as designer Wesley Rouse has in his Southbury CT garden. (Yes, I know I've already posted this picture, but hey--it's too perfect an illustration to pass up for the point I'm trying to make.) Wesley created a beautiful ground layer of golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechola macra 'Aurea', and green on green spurflower (Plectranthus forsteri 'Green on Green'). Above them he placed a large princess flower (Tibouchina urvilleana) planted in pot, to give it extra height. The princess flower's blooms are fragile as glass, so any time it rains the blooms shatter and their petals rain down to lend their exquisite color to the complementary gold and chartreuse hues of the grass and spurflower. There's such a Zenlike, ephemeral artistry to this scene, that there ought to be some specific word to describe it. The Japanese, who revere the achingly brief loveliness of cherry blossoms, cherish such moments of transitory beauty. So do I.