See how to showcase fall’s burnished colors with great ideas from two Western landscapes

Jim McCausland  – September 11, 2007

Nothing says autumn like the scent of woodsmoke and the gold and red hues of tree leaves, ornamental grasses, and late flowers. Leigh Anne and Mark Yuhasz know this better than most: They’ve combined these elements in their Gig Harbor, Washington, garden with the help of color-savvy landscape designer Scott Junge.

Junge loves color and makes all his design decisions with that in mind. The couple called him to replace their backyard lawn―which was adjacent to an unfenced cliff overlooking Puget Sound―and make it a place where their 8-year-old son, Trent, could safely play.

In creating a more child-friendly garden, Junge added plants whose colors and textures are as well orchestrated as a symphony. He installed a broad stone path that winds downslope from the house, ending at the top of a staircase to the beach where the family keeps their kayaks. Then, to block access to the cliff, he edged it on the water side with big, flat-topped boulders, thorny Flower Carpet roses, and native shrubs such as huckleberry and salal. Afterward, he planted for color.

Use blues and greens as backdrop

Junge’s palette started with the hardscape. “Blue settles into the landscape really well and makes the garden’s greens stand out,” he says. So he chose bluish stone from Lynch Creek Quarry for pavers and boulders. He planted weeping blue spruce trees (Picea pungens glauca ‘Pendula’) for their frosty blue foliage, and blue star creeper (Pratia pedunculata) and woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) as groundcovers between the bluish stones.

Since blue also has an intensifying effect that makes oranges and gold really stand out, Junge played up this “frost meets fire” palette. He planted a screen of Leyland cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii), then added coral bark maples (Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’) in front, near a few existing vine maples. “The Leylands’ green really makes the colors of the maples pop,” Junge says. Near the plants that turn gold and red in fall, Junge added weeping blue spruce and licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare) as foils.

Add seasonal color as accents

“In any landscape, your eye goes to color first,” Junge says. “So it makes sense to put it at the garden’s focal points―places where you want people to look.” Along the path, Junge planted twinspur, vine maples, and coral bark maples that are cloaked in fall with leaves of yellow, gold, and apricot. Rusty orange mums here and there shine in the late-afternoon sun.

Now the journey down the path is especially inviting; its well-placed color beckons visitors to follow it to the top of the beach staircase, where there’s a sweeping view of south Puget Sound. And the best part? Trent Yuhasz can run here freely. Some of the maples are still small, but they will eventually arch over the path, forming cathedrals of leaves that glow in autumn light.

“I chose the maples with that in mind because they’re easier to control,” Junge says. “With good pruning, we can hold them to the height we want, so they won’t block the neighbor’s view of the water, and we can keep them open.”

When a fire crackles in the fireplace on a patio near the house and family and friends gather on chilly evenings to grill steaks or make s’mores, they can also savor the views and autumn hues.

Design: Scott Junge, Rosedale Gardens, Gig Harbor, WA (253/851-7333).

Pruning: James Moore, Heron Landscape and Design, Gig Harbor (253/225-8785).


Shimmery golds, rich plums, and sunset corals are the hues of autumn in the Southwest. Two Santa Fe designers share their secrets for brightening a yard with this palette.

Soft light and still-warm air can make your backyard the place to be in fall. But if those colorful flowers that brightened the garden in spring look burned out by the time autumn arrives, there may be little incentive to head outdoors this time of year. Fall gardens don’t have to be that way, say Monika Hellwegen and Azul Cobb, who designed an autumnal garden for homeowners Barney Cohen and Joan McCoy. Their secret? Showcase plants that celebrate the season’s burnished palette.

On the property, tucked into a sunny hillside spot near downtown Santa Fe, the designers created a natural-looking landscape using grasses, perennials, and shrubs. “There’s something of interest going on here 10 months of the year, from February to November,” Cohen says. The terraced garden―which includes a large patio and raised fireplace off the back of the house; a stream, waterfall, and pond just beyond; and a wisteria-covered pergola and dining patio farther uphill―is inviting to wildlife as well as people.

Contrast gold and wine hues

Tawny tones tell us fall has arrived, say Hellwegen and Cobb. They evoke harvest, bales of hay, raked leaves, and other irresistible seasonal images. Ornamental grasses provide these colors. Their seed heads exhibit buff tones at first; then, as the plants go dormant, they turn blond. “In fall’s low light, grasses glow like lanterns when the sun shines through them,” Hellwegen says. The designers also love the golden browns that deciduous trees such as catalpa contribute to the palette, and the way deciduous vines such as wisteria shimmer like gold.

Few deciduous trees in the Southwest’s high deserts (and in Southern California) develop the red leaves you see on the East Coast. So Hellwegen and Cobb turned to purple-leaf plum, ‘Royal Purple’ smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria), and ‘Gulf Stream’ heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) for contrast with gold-toned foliage.

Add late-blooming beauties

Many shrubs and perennials bloom in summer, then continue their show well into fall. In Cohen and McCoy’s garden, these late bloomers include ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum, chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus), coreopsis, hummingbird mint (Agastache aurantiaca), ‘Moonbeam‘ yarrow, Russian sage, Salvia nemerosa, sunset hyssop (A. rupestris), and veronica.

Decorative seedpods also liven up the fall garden; the catalpa tree’s long, brown, bean-shaped seed capsules are Cobb’s favorites. “I love the way they look dangling from the trees and the rattling sound they make in the wind,” she says. She also likes the papery capsules of goldenrain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata).

Ornamental grasses turn up the volume now too, Cobb says. “When they go dry and brittle, they rustle when they sway.”

The colors of fall may not blaze like fire here as they do in New England―our deciduous foliage is mostly paper-bag brown or peachy-beige. But throw into the mix some plum or burgundy leaves, add blond grasses, make use of the many blue-violet perennials that bloom now, and sprinkle in splashes of apricot and pink. Then watch your garden come to life. It’s a subtler palette than crimson and gold, but it’s equally irresistible. Replicate this color scheme in your yard, and you’ll want to linger outdoors. –Sharon Cohoon

Design: Monika Hellwegen and Azul Cobb, Carlotta from Paradise, Santa Fe (505/983-1109)



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