GOLD AND JEWEL HUES COME TO THE FOREFRONT AS COOL AUTUMN DAYS SETTLE ON A MIDWESTERN GARDEN.
The robust shades of autumn—golds, garnets, ambers, and amethysts— shimmer through this Illinois garden as the days grow shorter and cooler.
Rich as a pirate’s treasure chest and plush as a Persian carpet,
Barb and Sid Overbey’s Illinois garden is at its most sumptuous in fall: gold and scarlet and amber, with flickers of blue and purple and green.
What makes this autumn opulence possible? Planning. “I’m always thinking about every season,” Barb says. “What will step up when something else isn’t so interesting? What will the foliage be like when this plant is done blooming? When will the berries be ready for the birds?”
To organize the stunning seasonal performance, Barb started with a wide variety of conifers in different forms and sizes planted throughout the garden. Evergreens comprise the rhythm section, providing steady green color while sheltering birds all year. Some blue-green evergreens add a color that Barb considers crucial: blue, to set off the gold that predominates in autumn. “I’m always looking to balance my blues, my reds, my greens and yellows,” she says.
Within a framework of trees, she added shrubs that boast dramatic fall leaf color, interesting winter bark, berries for the birds, bright spring blooms, or all of the above. Tall trees, midsize shrubs, and lower perennials are arranged in layers that establish a handsome structure as seasons change. Combinations of colors, forms, and textures that contrast and complement each other make the landscape interesting year-round.
While colorful leaves play a leading role in her autumn garden, flowers play a strong supporting role. Barb plants
chrysanthemums of varying hues in beds and in containers among the shrubs and grasses. The monkshood continues to bloom into fall, adding spires of blue to contrast with the warmer colors. Asters are another mainstay. “They bloom in late summer and fall,” she says, “and they give me that blue.” An enthusiast for native plants, she likes to use North American species such as the rich purple New England aster, sky blue aster and pale blue Short’s aster, and fluffy white heath aster. Still, these are tall, sometimes-sprawling plants. Barb has places for them—her gardens are part of a 9-acre property—but in tighter spots, such as at the front of a bed, she’ll use a more compact cultivar such as ‘Purple Dome’.
As autumn shifts toward winter, the deep green of evergreens, the copper in the bark of a weeping river birch, and the red and yellow in dogwood stems will step forward to add color to Barb’s garden. “The focus will change,” Barb says, but in every bed, “there’s always something that’s eye-popping.”
‘Pumpkin Igloo’ chrysanthemum (Dendranthema hybrid) ‘Royal Purple’ smoketree (Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’)
What Barb calls “Pine Island”—an island bed in the driveway, anchored by an Eastern white pine(Pinus strobus)—haslayers of autumn color, mainly created with trees and shrubs. A weeping river birch (Betula nigra‘Summer Cascade’) is the big star. In the front row are barberries (Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’), a threadleaf dwarf false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’), and asters in magenta and lilac. Behind them, along with a metal cat birdbath from Indonesia, is Foerster’s feather reedgrass (Calamagrostis × acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’). The catmint in the foreground (Nepeta ×faassenii) is mostly done blooming in autumn, but its green leaves keep going until frost. Purple chrysanthemum (Dendranthema hybrid)