The Garden Life: Fall planting is time to meditate on hopes for future



This year, I am planting less than in past years.

Several factors are in play: I bought fewer plants this summer, so I don’t have my usual stockpile waiting to be put in the ground before winter’s approach. My garden has reached a state of maturity and I no longer have room for innumerable new introductions. Time available and the current economy also played into this year’s equation.

Still, my idea of less is not always less than the rest of the world. As I reviewed the list of plants I do have to put in the ground, I see that it includes eleven Hick’s Yew (Taxus x media “Hicksii”), nine Gold Dust Aucuba (Aucuba japonica “Variegata”), several shrubby spireas and a selection of dwarf conifers. Pinus parviflora “Miyajima” is a wonderful, dense blue pyramid with corky bark, perfect for a large planter on the entry deck.

Any planting at this time of year should be limited to plants hardy in your growing zone.

This summer, I was able to add Kristin Lipka’s Variegated Weeper to my garden. This small dogwood tree is the only variegated weeping kousa dogwood on the market. It features a compact silhouette and a proliferation of large white blooms in spring, coveted attributes for any specimen planting. My dear friend Cathy Garrett came for a short visit this summer and offered to buy me a plant to celebrate my birthday. Little did she know just what I had in mind at the time.

Until last winter, I had no place to really show this tree off, but the unanticipated death of a mature Japanese Black Pine, Pinus thunbergii “Thundercloud,” opened up a new planting space by the bog garden and stream bed. Bob Lipka named Cornus kousa “Kristin Lipka” after his daughter, who is now in remission from lymphoma. Portions of the plant patent proceeds go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Research Center. Thank you, Cathy.

Carefree vine maple

Even the smallest garden benefits from the stature of a tree. Trees offer height and a leaf canopy that rises above all other plants in the garden. The vine maple (Acer circinatum) is high on my list of choice Northwest garden plants. The vine maple is carefree, with a delicate charm that fits into a natural, formal or plant collector garden. In full sun, this tree will be shrubby, but like any ornamental maple it responds well to pruning for shape. If planted in shade, it will grow leggier than in full sun.

I have three distinct cultivars of Acer circinatum that I bought from Leonard Foltz and Fred Weisensee of Dancing Oaks Nursery in Monmouth, Ore. “Pacific Fire” is an elegant highlight in a large planting bed on the sunny side of my barn. “Burgundy Jewel” is the centerpiece of a new planting area featuring shades of red foliage and flowers.

For an incredible selection of trees, shrubs and garden plants, visit Leonard and Fred’s website at, and schedule a visit to their demonstration gardens and nursery in early spring. Please, give them my regards.

Autumn is the time of year to choose any tree that is cherished for its fall color. Despite the general plant dictionary description of a plant family’s color, autumn color will vary from plant to plant.

Even though the vine maple is often described as a small tree, it’s imperative to place this and any other tree correctly in the garden. “Small” does not mean it can be planted against the wall of a house or too near a door or window. Give all plants the space they need to grow to maturity.

With so many choices, the hardest decision for most of us is where to start and when to stop when adding plants to the garden. Start by choosing a selection of plants that include trees, shrubs, vines and groundcovers. Mix evergreens and deciduous plants into the garden. Think of perennials as points of seasonal interest with flowers and foliage that will mix with your established plant palette. When you see a plant you love, write down the name. Talk to other gardeners and ask for their suggestions.

Include the spring blooming bulbs that we plant now for early spring bloom.

Go out on a limb and grow the plants that inspire you to garden.

Robb Rosser is a WSU-certified master gardener. Reach him at