Create a Stunning Fall-Color Landscape | Living the Country Life

Create a Stunning Fall-Color Landscape

Inspired by spectacular views of Mount Monadnock bursting with autumn color, a pair of New Hampshire gardeners create an equally stunning fall display on their acreage.
A pair of mountain laurels frame the front of the house, showcasing dramatic blooms in summer. Old granite posts mark the remnants of a former garden bed.
A gently curved bed brings dazzling color and texture to the property's western border. Hydrangea 'Limelight,' variegated iris, and cleome enhance seasonal interest, while 'Degroot's Spire' provides year-round structure.
Laura (with a bouquet of bronze fennel) and Pip bask in the golden evening light.
'Tropicanna Gold,' 'Mystic illusion,' 'Orange Profusion,' 'Grace,' and 'Nana' emblazon hills surrounding the property.
The western border and surrounding trees offer a stunning view from the master bedroom window.
The perennial Gastache "Black Adder" adds colorful pops of purple.
Another perennial, "Ingwersen's Variety" of Geranium, provides more autumn sizzle.

Laura and Jamie Trowbridge were sold on the 7-acre property when they stepped into the backyard. The 1763 house on the Peterborough, New Hampshire, property was okay at first sight, but the view was a showstopper during their initial house-hunting visit. And it went from impressive to breathtaking in the November when they moved in. Although figuring out how to best frame the layers of distant hills that surround the yard posed a garden-design quandry, Laura and Jamie were up to the challenge.

Given 7 acres with extended views, Laura was initially stymied by her new canvas. Instinct led her to line the stone wall along the property's crest with a 2-foot flower border, but it seemed trivial in relation to the masterpiece in the distance. Not only was the balance baffking for a border dwarfed by its larger-than-life backdrop, but Laura's garden wasn't quite her own creation. When she moved in, she brought plants from their previous house. Her entire extended family of garden relatives sent over divisions from their own gardens. 

"It was a hodgepodge," Laura says. "It wasn't well designed. I just couln't grasp the secret to achieving harmony." Dealing with the perspective between the big yonder view and the close encounter with her border was flummoxing, but even worse was the formula for sustaining the flow beyond spring when most perennials perform. The last thing Laura wanted was a garden that would deflate come fall when the hills were hitting crescendo.

Two milestones came together to change the fate of fall for Laura's garden: First, the Trowbridges installed a kitcheen addition, skirted by a new stone patio, that faces the view with a bank of windows. Suddenly, all eyes were on the garden - underscoring its inadequacies. Then, in 2002, she signed up with a group of dedicated volunteers to care for the Peterborough town parks. Insight was on the way. Under the tutelage of public-space visionary Michael Gordon, the team sprinkled a heavy dose of annuals into the Peterborough parks. Finally, Laura saw the solution to her autumn conundrum: harnessing the power of annuals.

But first, she beefed up the borders. They still spanned the full 200 feet that followed the ridge, but she expanded their width to undulate between 3 and 25 feet. The addition gave her an opportunity to bulk up the proportions and height to complement the background. It also allowed her to work an artistic palette that relates to the distant sparks of color. Rather than one thin line, she could ocmpose a condensed version of the color scheme happening on the mountain, adding accents of blue, pink, copper, and burgundy to make the dialogue even more meaningful.

Laura was also inspired by the hosta leaves that slip into their golden phase in fall. "I realized that yellow foliage - like the yellow in the golden smokebush (Cotinus coggygria 'Golden Spirit') and Spiraea japonica 'Goldmound' - is really important." She selected trees such as katsura, knowing that its leaves would turn radiant as the days shortened. But what she didn't know previously is that annuals have a huge last hurrah. Volunteer work exposed her to connoisseur annuals that reach heroic proportions while pumping out colorful blossoms until hard frost nips them in the bud. That was exactly what she needed for her garden.

Laura goes on an annual search for the sort of pizzazz necessary to make the garden come alive. She seeks pops of color. "I love color - and not subtle pastels," she says. "It has to be really bold." Annuals pack in the spectrum and keep pumping it out. And she's learned that extending her palette into hotter oranges, seething magentas, and periwinkle blues makes the view more meaningful. Laura estimates that a third of her garden is now composed of annuals. Because "the garden has to work as one big unit," she peppers in five or more plants of each accent annual. "It's like a giant jigsaw puzzle."

Now the entire property is a major ode to autumn. The growing season climaxes in a panorama that draws the eye outward. Meanwhile, the exchange between all the property's components is part of the dialogue. "The patio echoes what's happening in the border, and vice versa," she says. And she extends the display to surround the house and bring foundation plantings into the conversation. Harmony has been achieved. 

On any given autumn evening, Jamie comes home to a garden that is on fire, illuminated by "to die for" sunsets. Fittingly, Adirondack chairs sit poised on the back lawn facing the border that celebrates the outbursts on distant slopes. In fall, the Trowbridges spend their evenings looking west, watching the fireworks both near and far. 

Secrets to Year-Round Color

Orchestrating a garden that pops in autumn but looks swell for the rest of the growing season is a challenge for sure. But Laura Trwobridge has it figured out. 

Go-Anywhere Annuals: Annuals are critical to Laura's formula, and she spends early spring dashing around to nursuries to find the latest - as well as old faithfuls, such as Salvia "Indigo Spires," Zinnia "Profusion Orange," Verbena bonariensis, Browallia speciosa "Silver Bells," and Canna "Tropicanna Gold." 

Steadfast Perennials: GerLaura uses perennials like Sedum "Autumn Joy," Heuchera Veronicastrum virginicum "Lavender Towers," Crocosmia "Lucifer," Anemone tomentosa "Robustissima," and Persicaria amplexicaulis "Firetail" to add autumn sizzle. 

Evergreen Interest: For year-round foliage, Laura includes shrubs such as Cotinus coggygria "Golden Spirit," Spiraea japonica "Goldmound," Continus coggygria "Royal Purple," and cotnius coggygria x obovata "Grace." 

Native Helpers: There's a lull in late spring when Laura is adding the annuals to her Zone 5 garden, but self-sown poppies help fill the hiatus. After planting the annuals, Laura applies a thick layer of compst or mulch to help them fill the gaps quickly.


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