Planning and Planting for Fall

The calendar says that the first day of Fall is September 23. But when it comes to Fall planting, the season feels as if it begins in those end-of-summer days immediately following Labor Day! No, you might not be planting just yet, but you should wrapping up most of the planning and decision-making by now.

Maybe you're visiting garden centers or browsing online nurseries from the comfort of your armchair or home office. You're making some final choices as to what is going to look good in your landscape.

Sure, you COULD play it safe and go with the "same old, same old" but you're tempted to try something different.But what?

Of course, you can take a drive around town and see what your neighbors have done. But nothing beats some inspiration from the true professionals when it comes to selecting exciting and spectacular plants.

I'm talking about... botanical gardens and arboretums.

No matter where you live, chances are you're within driving distance of a botanical garden or an arboretum. Even if you don't consider yourself a fanatical landscaper or gardener, I think you'll enjoy a great day out. Make it a romantic getaway with your significant other, or see if the garden will allow you to bring a picnic and make it a fun event for the entire family.

You might be surprised to find just how many botanical gardens there are in North America, from the sub-tropical deep south all the way up to the cooler northern reaches of Canada.

Recently, I was looking through a booklet titled "Directory of Public Gardens 2003" on which some of the information in this column is based. The booklet is published by the National Home Gardening Club and is provided as a member benefit. If you'd like a copy of the booklet you'll need to join their club.

 Visit a botanical garden now and you'll get an excellent preview of how your own landscape could look this time next year! Most arboretums and botanical gardens are open year round, although some – particularly in northern regions – are open to the public on a seasonal basis. It makes sense to visit their gardens at different times of the year so you can soak up some ideas for Spring and Summer as well as Fall.

But Fall is an excellent time to visit for another reason: Advice.

Who better to ask than the men and women who devote their lives to caring for the trees, plants and shrubs in these magnificent gardens. You can bet they really know what works well right in your area, as well as those plants that are a pain the neck to keep alive and thriving!

In common with most people who have a deep love for their craft, the folks at botanical gardens and arboretums are generally happy to take a few moments to answer your questions and offer professional advice.

If you're planning some out of town (or out of state) travel, carry out a little investigation and see which public gardens are on your route, or close enough to warrant a detour of a few very pleasant hours.

For example, if you're heading to St. Louis, be sure to visit the Missouri Botanical Garden that includes a spectacular Japanese Garden which, at 14 acres, is the largest in North America.

In New England, the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, MA, has more than 3,000 species and varieties of plants displayed in an informal style intended to be an inspiration for those of us looking for residential planting ideas.

If you think Arizona isn't much more than a desert, take a trip to the Tucson Botanical Garden. One of their special features is a Children's Discovery Garden that is fun for both kids and adults.

These are just three examples of the hundreds of public gardens that you can visit. An additional benefit is that you can enjoy most of them free of charge or for a nominal entrance fee. If you are unable to locate an arboretum or a botanical garden near you, send me an e-mail and I'll try to help. Spend a relaxing day at a public garden and feel the renewed inspiration and motivation for your Fall planting!