Halloween Horticulture

Orange and Black Make the Display

    Somehow, while I was looking the other way, Halloween evolved into a huge decorative special event, second only to Christmas. Halloween, it appears, has now become its own season.
    Where once there was a random carved pumpkin on the front porch and maybe a few cobwebs here and there, we now see dramatic and creative displays taking up entire front gardens, often starting weeks before the big day. As a result, a new tradition has also evolved—that of driving and walking around this wonderful town, checking out all of the wonderfully colorful and scary displays. (For an amazing example of exactly how huge Halloween has become, stop by the Fat Lady Restaurant in Jack London Square to see what Alameda’s own Patricia Rossi creates. You will simply not believe it.)
    You can really have some fun with your garden using the traditional Halloween colors of orange and black. Ornamental grasses, some with soft plumes that wave in the autumn breeze, are at their peak, and while they are not black, their dark purple comes close; the coleus are full and lush right now, and some are truly black, while others are shades of orange, yellow and red; zinnias (especially the Magellan series), with their 3-inch to 4-inch flowers in shades of coral, scarlet, gold, yellow, orange, cherry and pink, add color; ipomoea (sweet potato vine) in bronze, black or lime green; and best of all are the amaranthus. These are the plants that you may have seen in the fall in their full glory—huge plumes up to 5 feet tall in spectacular colors of yellow, orange, red and even magenta.
    Why not try “staging” your entry or front steps to celebrate the season? Try a large grass such as the burgundy pennisetum, the Mexican feather grass or amaranthus tricolor as the tallest anchor; add some zinnias in orange, coral and yellow to tie in, and finish it off with either the black or lime green ipomoea tumbling down. This grouping could all be in one pot or in individual containers with different-sized pumpkins tucked in and around for added interest.
    Did you know that pansies and violas now come in solid black, vivid orange and even a combination of the two colors on the same flower? How about a group of three different-sized pumpkins with three different pots, one with each color of pansy? Or perhaps use the orange grass Libertia as the centerpiece, combined with the black ipomoea spilling down and with clusters of orange pansies on the edges.
    Once you pack away the spider webs, tombstones and skeletons, you will still have lush seasonal color for Thanksgiving. Have some fun with it.
    Just a heads up that September is the month when the spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, irises and others will be coming into the nurseries. Since size does matter in this case, the early bird gets the best bulbs.
—Iris Watson

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