Thinking Outside the Boxwood

Ideas for a Late-Autumn Garden

They's something kindo' harty-like about the atmusfere     
When the heat of summer's over and the coolin' fall is here—     
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossoms on the trees,     
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;     
But the air's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze     
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
--James Whitcomb Riley “When the Frost is on the Punkin’”

Thanksgiving is around the corner, and while we may never see a hard frost we do get cooler days, even colder nights, and maybe a dusting of frost in the Valley.

But that doesn’t mean we should abandon the garden. In fact, my alter ego Marla Stewart says this is a good time to kick things up a notch with projects started now that will transition nicely into Christmas.


First on the to-do list: clip a shrub--preferably Boxwood. With its compact, dark green leaves and thick, yet bendable branches, boxwood is trending again this year. You need only minimal crafting skills to transform the evergreen clippings into a round or square wreath to hang on the front door and can expect it to last into New Year’s.

While formal parterres of boxwood rimmed the grounds of castles and manors, the U.S. brushed aside the hoity toity pretensions, making Buxus sempervirens, the common American boxwood, a favorite of the rising middle class. From farms in the East to West Coast suburbia, boxwood became a stand-in for fences while providing year round greenery.

The shrub fell out of favor in the last two decades. But post-modernists have taken to it again. The comeback kid is used as topiary, centerpieces, and landscape embellishments. If you don’t have any, now is the best time for planting boxwood.

Another shrub to consider in the autumn landscape is Loropetalum. Displaying leaf colors of plum, red, and gold, its thin branches can be clipped just in time to fill windowboxes accented with rust-colored pansies and burgundy-leafed coleus.

In November, branches of Pyracantha display either red, orange, or yellow berries (actually they are pomes) against abundant lustrous leaves. Trim, and use them with gourds for a Thanksgiving accent, and then change out the gourds with red and white ornaments closer to Christmas.


With the flower garden dying back, the front entry is a perfect place to create some pizazz.

Another red-hot trend for autumn is ornamental chili peppers. They’re not just for the Southwest anymore. You’ll find the plants lined up at nurseries for the holidays.

Small, shiny, and in colors of red, yellow gold, orange and black, peppers can be used in unexpected combinations, such as intertwining them on a wreath form with the purple or gold sweet potato vine; or for a striking tableau, the Black Pearl variety (with black leaves and pearl-shaped peppers) can be grouped together in a planter.

Welcome guests with pots or urns filled with Coral bells (Heuchera) in shades of terra cotta, purple, burgundy, and raspberry paired with frosty-colored perennials such as lambs ear or dusty miller. Million Bells (Calibrachoa) adds pops of color and will look lovely in a tall planter trailing under a spiky ornamental grass like purple fountaingrass.

Or take empty hanging baskets line them with sphagnum peat moss and plant hens-and-chicks with colorful pansies.

A zinc tub or cylindrical black planter is a sleek way to display a monochromatic palette of chartreuse greens and creamy whites that can be achieved through using kale, Hellebores and coleus for an uber contemporary look.


Marla Stewart says--

For wreaths, use a grapevine or foam form from craft stores, or clip off the top tier of a tomato cage.

To attach gourds or leaves to a wreath, you’ll need skewers, a hot glue gun, and florist wire on hand. Use straight pins as additional support to secure kale to the inside of a foam base.

Try a vintage fluted metal laundry tub to grow Hellebores.

Prune (before clipping, clean your pruners with camelia oil) and thin existing boxwood. Don’t be shy-- they will thank you for it!

Use a birdbath or fountain as focal point for fall plantings.


If you’ve been considering painting the front door, try black and hang a square boxwood wreath on ribbon. Instant New England!

Resources: Ornamental chili pepper plants at Armstrong Garden Center in Sherman Oaks and Home Depot in North Hollywood and Van Nuys; shrubs at Sego Nursery in North Hollywood; fountains at Garden Temple in Studio City; pansies, hens and chicks, coral bells, shrubbery at Sheridan Gardens in Burbank; florist wire, wreath forms, ribbons at Michaels Arts and Crafts in Encino and JoAnn Fabrics in Sherman Oaks.


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