Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Growing Up: Enjoying the majestic, eye-catching colors of fall

I have a few art pieces by Brian Andreas' "storypeople" collection. With vibrant colors, abstract line art and always a power-packed sentence that is the "story".

One of my favorites hangs on my bathroom wall. It reads, "He discovered his reset button early on and there were not many things that bothered him all the rest of his days just because of that."

If only it were that easy. I chose that location so that I would see it every morning as a way to remind myself that I really do have a choice to "reset" my thoughts when things have gotten out of balance. Too much work, too little fun, not enough time in the garden all lead to the eventual need for a "reset". Knowing that in advance can sure help.

Nature's time to "reset" is when the seasons change. In my opinion, we are about to embark on one of the most majestic changes. With benefit from four distinct seasons in our zone, we clearly see the life cycle in the plants around us in technicolor. The cool nights, crisp mornings and hot afternoons create an unparalleled show of color.

For the next couple of months we will embark on our Autumn journey and all the fun it includes, such as chilly outside sports, the crunch of leaves underfoot and the smell of homemade soups. Chances are, if your patio pots are anything like mine, they're getting tired. There's only so long that annuals can look good in containers before it's time for them to go.

Yesterday I removed my annuals from four pots even though they looked half way decent.  I know that as the nights continue to cool off, it won't be long until they really start to look bad. I replaced the plants with mums, kale and coral bells -- all plants that can take the roller coaster temperature fluctuations we're about to experience.

They will stay there until close to Thanksgiving when the pine branches, red twig dogwood branches and pine cones replace them for the Christmas season. Yesterday was a lot of work and I did question why I was doing it about half way through. But this morning when I woke up and saw the neatness of freshly potted plants, I felt that "reset" button and everything just looked better.

Extending color throughout our fall season is easy with the wide variety of cool-season crops available. Think of fall garden mums in a rich palette of butterscotch, burgundy, rust and gold. If you have a large flowerbed, a mass planting of mums is a simple, yet striking solution. If you have containers to plant, often one large mum is all you need.

Pansies, one of the heralds of spring, make a comeback in fall. Hardy to 25°F, pansies will put on a show well into the season. You can select the traditional purple and yellow, or the more unique shades of orange and black. Again, a mass planting or containers full of solely pansies are very eye-catching. However, if you like to mix it up, pansies are an excellent accent to mums.

Flower blossoms are not the only means to gain interest in your fall plantings. Think texture, too. Ornamental cabbage and kale with their nested leaves of green, white and purple offer unique textures as well as visual appeal. Ornamental grasses come in a wide variety. Taller specimens can be used as a backdrop or a focal point while the shorter varieties can be used as borders and accents. The reddish plumes of purple fountain grass or the tufts of carex grass will soften and add movement to plantings. Perennials are still available to plant this fall for something new now and a burst of color next spring.


Don't forget the creativity. Here's to the beginning of a remarkable season!