Fall Leaves Cover Garden Beds

Athyrium 'Ghost' (ghost fern) Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley)
Athyrium 'Ghost' and Convallaria berry

The garden beds are slowly disappearing under the fall leaves. The yellow, orange and brown blanket provided by the trees will protect the perennials as the cold deepens. In the Spring, the leaves will decompose, adding their nutrients to the soil, and nourishing the plants. The tree leaves and mulches are the fertilizer for my plants.

Here is Athyrium ‘Ghost’ (ghost fern) with a red berry from Convallaria majalis (lily of the valley) in the shade. Many of the the ghost fern’s fronds have died down already. I like the feathery texture and silver colour of this fern, and have added more around the garden. The remaining silver fronds look good rising up through the maple leaves, behind the lily of the valley. Two ferns have made a substantial clump about 0.6 m (2 feet) tall and 1 m (3 feet) across. Athyrium ‘Ghost’ seems to have inherited its vigour from one of its parents, Athyrium filix-femina (lady fern). Its other parent, Athyrium niponicum (Japanese painted fern) is much shorter and narrower in my garden, with fewer fronds.

Campanula poscharskyana 'Camgood' (blue waterfall bellflower)
Campanula poscharskyana 'Camgood' (blue waterfall bellflower)

Campanula poscharskyana ‘Camgood’ (blue waterfall Serbian bellflower) continues to impress me with its extended blooming period, and the sheer number of blooms. Here it is, a third of the way through October in zone 3, and this group of three plants is having a bloomfest. Despite the competition from the iris behind, and the pine above, these stars are still shining bright. I will have to cut back the iris foliage, since it does not age as gracefully in the fall, as the pretty Campanula does. Both pine needles and deciduous leaves are sprinkled between these plants in the garden.

Campanula portenschlagiana 'Hoffmans Blue' (Dalmation bellflower)
Campanula portenschlagiana (Dalmatian bellflower)

These are the flowers of Campanula portenschlagiana ‘Hoffman’s Blue’ (Dalmatian bellflower) in October. This perennial was covered in blooms in the summer, but now there are just a few scattered flowers. The foliage of this plant is fresh and green as soon as the snow has melted in spring. With a short garden season, this is an admirable trait. The leaves continue to form a healthy carpet until the snow falls again. A ground cover with unmarked leaves and pretty purple flowers is a winning combination. I have it in a long narrow section under the roof overhang, and rarely water it, yet it never droops. In the plants that have knit together there are very few weeds.

Impatiens October 9
Impatiens 'Fiesta White' doubles October 9

This must be the latest I have ever had tender plants such as impatiens still blooming in the garden. The little rose-like blooms of these doubles are appreciated so late in the year, and look very pretty in the shade. We just got frost last night, so they can’t last much longer, and will soon turn to mush. I will plant new impatiens next year when all danger of frost has passed.

fall leaves over garden bed
fall leaves over garden bed

Here the Linum perenne (flax) and lobelia are covered with falling leaves. The blue lobelia flowers are swimming just above the cover. The lobelia should have no problem with light frosts, and I expect they will bloom for a while.

Lobelia and fall leaves
Lobelia and fall leaves

This is another section of lobelia and Dianthus caryophylus (carnations) with crisp brown maple leaves. The lobelia has formed a river of blue through this bed since the end of May. I think this annual blends well with the perennials in the garden. It enjoys our cooler summers, so the blooms never falter for five months. It is so easy care that I do nothing to it after planting, except give it a spray when I have the hose out.

Pulmonaria Athyrium Brunnera Asarum and fall leaves
Pulmonaria, Athyrium, Brunnera, Asarum and fall leaves

With the exception of the yellowing ferns and fallen leaves, this little shade bed looks much like summer. The Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian bugloss) and Pulmonaria (lungwort) have no trouble lifting above the rising pile of maple leaves, but the little Asarum europaeum (ginger) groundcover are barely level with the top.

Pulmonaria x 'Samourai' (Samourai lungwort)
Pulmonaria x'Samourai'

Above is a closeup of three Pulmonaria ‘Samourai’ (Samourai lungwort) in a sea of fallen maple leaves. Their silver swords cut their own path above the tree debris.

Here is another post on protecting your perennials in winter by using a mulch of  fall leaves.

As the tree leaves settle in the garden beds, the perennials one by one get ready for winter in my Northern garden. Soon the frosts will send them the signal to dismantle the above ground structures, and the insulating layer will keep the crown and roots safe until next spring. How is your garden getting ready for winter?

40 thoughts on “Fall Leaves Cover Garden Beds”

  1. Do you have any plants that bloom in the winter-like pansies? I am full of questions-I am so interested in your climate compared to ours. Is your fall unseasonably warm this year? Everything always looks so pretty in your garden!

  2. Linda, yes, we have had an unusually warm fall, but now the frost has caught up with us. Soon our temperatures will get too cold, even for pansies. Anything shorter than a half metre (2 feet) will get covered in snow. That’s when I really appreciate my conifers, the spruce, pine and yew. They provide the greenery over the winter, and look beautiful with snow on their branches.
    I also like to plant early spring bloomers and bulbs, to get the garden going again quickly in the spring.

  3. Hello, thank you for visiting my blog. Interesting to see your plants as I have some of them in my garden. I still have some bellflowers blooming as well. Your ferns are great. I only have a very plain kind which I am not to happy about since it seems to spread through my garden like a wildfire which I don’t care much about. Keep coming back – like your blog, very informative. Andrea

  4. Andrea, the Athyrium ‘Ghost’ fern forms a good sized clump, but they don’t take over in my garden. I wouldn’t mind having more of their silver fronds, and have planted a few in a new bed extension. They pair well with other plants.

  5. Thank you for visiting my garden blog. The autumn colurs are fantastic right now. I love autumn colours! The trees you saw in the pictures are all outside my garden, but for me to enjoy!

    The Cimicifuga is such a wonderful plant even without the blooming. Mine has red leaves and the name is Brunette.

    Your blog is very interesting. The climate seems to be similar to the climate where I grew up, in the north of Sweden. And now you reminded me that I really have to have Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’!

  6. Linda V, you have a very nice borrowed view with those trees in their Autumn colours.
    The Cimicifuga does make a good looking background in the shady border. I recently planted a different type, Cimicifuga ramosa ‘Atropurpurea’, which is supposed to bloom earlier. I hope to see the pretty white blooms next year, before the frost.

  7. Your garden is still lovely. I love the blue campanula and flax. I haven’t tried flax in my garden but several people have told me it is a wonderful, no care plant.

    I love the leaves on the brunnera and the pulmoneria. Very elegant.

  8. Marnie, The flax is a very easy plant. It blooms for about two months during the spring and early summer with pretty sky blue flowers. The foliage comes up early in the spring, and is fresh and almost fern-like until the end of fall. If you don’t have mulch around the plants, they reseed, but not in an aggressive or annoying way.

  9. Britt-Arnhild, I love the look of the fall tree leaves in the garden. They make a great mulch. Sometimes I gather armloads of leaves from the lawn and put them in the garden spots that the trees missed. Then I run the mulching lawn mower over the rest of the leaves on the lawn to return them to the soil.

  10. Lovely, lovely, lovely! The blues with all the silvery leaves is a dynamite combination! Your garden is still alive. It is still quite warm in Nashville, but the leaves are turning, hickory nuts and acorns are falling and nights are cooling off. Soon we will be cleaning up the leaves and adding them to the leaf mulch piles!

  11. Thanks Gail, the bellflowers and phlox are the last ones still blooming well. The Russian sage still has some colour to the blooms. The Brunnera and Pulmonaria foliage is still looking fresh, despite the frost. Today I cut back many of the ferns which succumbed to this week’s frost. The Dryopteris expansa fern is evergreen, though, and still looks perky.
    Hickory nuts and acorns remind me of where I grew up in Ontario.

  12. Chloe M., the Ghost fern does a good job of haunting the shadows in the garden, adding a little light to the shade. There are still quite a few lily of the valley berries hanging on, mixed among the other plants.

  13. Really like the ‘Camgood’ – did you grow it from seed? I’m a big fan of ‘Ghost’ as well – even in years when it has a lot of die-back, it always seems to rally.

  14. Barbarapc, I planted the Camgood bellflower mostly as small plants. They grow quickly. I have read that in the right soil, and zone, it might spread more than you want, but I have had no problems with that. I find it makes a good underplanting for shrubs, tolerating the shade and competition well. It is often marketed as ‘Blue Waterfall’, which I guess they thought had better imagery.

  15. Thank you…. I was delighted to receive your comment on my recent post and I was equally keen to pay a visit to you at Northern Shade.

    What severe gardening conditions you are confined to with temperatures dropping to -31 F and so many months of snow covered ground. However, I am really interested to see that despite your harsh winters you have cultivated many beautiful plants. I too have developed a fernery in a shady part of my garden…. I do agree, ferns are so beautiful….. I do like the colour of your Ghost Fern…. what a great contrast this will be against the others. I must look out for one.

    I admire your organised record keeping. I am not so efficient, however, I do make notes of the date I obtained my plants and where they grow… I am more specific with notes about growing vegetables.

    Like you, I don’t consider deadheading a chore…… its a task I can do whilst enjoying time with my plants.

    Your Peony Sarah Bernhardt is a beauty…. seeing yours reminded me that I planted one in March ‘07, for some strange reason, it has disappeared….. I must investigate!

    Have a good weekend. Marion

  16. Marion, the Ghost fern is a real delight, hardy and with shadings just a little different from the other ferns. It’s fronds stay lush until the first frosts.

    When the snow comes, and I can’t garden outdoors, I like to look over the garden records. They help me with planning for the next season, or maybe that’s dreaming of the next gardening season. With perennials, one of the fun parts is anticipating, going around the garden looking for the next one in bloom. I like to jot down the dates, and keep track on the bloom chart. Again, it’s fun looking over the chart in the winter, remembering the bloom sequence, and planning combinations.

    Sarah Bernhardt is my favourite peony, a little prone to arching over too much when heavy with blooms, but oh what beautiful blooms. It’s almost an endearing trait now.

  17. I’m still amazed about how many plants we share NS ! … I see you have lots of fallen leaves already .. and yes .. I leave my leaves on the garden as well .. although this year I seem to be battling a “blight” of some kind .. so I am thinking garden sulpher sprinkling on the affected areas but on the ground as the leaves fall it might help curb this darn thing.
    Pretty pictures of an Autumn garden !

  18. I’ve made a note to look for the Ghost fern and those Campanulas….all so lovely in your garden. I enjoy the 2 campanulas I have, but you’ve really sold me on adding more.
    I’ve noticed just recently how well Lobelia stands up to the frost and will grow more of it in the garden next year. I love those gorgeous blues!
    Knowing how susceptible impatiens are to frost, it’s truly amazing that your beautiful double whites have lasted so well.
    For the past 3 years I’ve had bad luck with impatiens. In ’06 and ’07 they were stunted or killed by something mysterious (spider mites was the most probable cause I could come up with). This year I grew them from seed and they grew tall and leggy but hardly bloomed at all, even though I pinched them back. Perhaps next year I’ll have better luck. I hope so because I love them!
    Like you, I enjoy the crunch as I walk on the fallen leaves. They do make a lovely mulch, don’t they?
    Thanks for stopping by. I always appreciate your thoughtful comments :)

  19. Hello Northern Shade, It’s nice to come to you for inspiration, especially in fall, when I start planning my next garden…I love what you do with foliage textures and colors, and you’re introducing this campanula freak to varieties I didn’t know.

    I was interested in your comment about Sarah Bernhardt peony. I’ve been thinking of investing in a big poufy peony, and SB was in the running–but there’s also Festiva Maxima and one or two others. What do you especially like about SB? And is it better at blooming in semishade than other peonies?

  20. Joy, my gardening twin, sorry to hear that your garden has a blight. Most of my trees have lost the majority of their leaves now, except the willow. It holds its leaves for a long time, refusing to give in to Autumn. It usually drops a lot of them after the first snow.

  21. Kerri, the lobelia are still blooming after a number of frosts. If anything, they are an even brighter blue. They stand out well against the Autumn leaves.

    The impatiens have succumbed to the frost this week, and I had to pull them out now. They enjoyed the frost free days of the first third of October, though. It’s too bad your impatiens have not been successful lately, since they are a delightful plant for the shade. I’m very partial to the little doubles.

    I love crunching the leaves, and I take great delight in scuffling little paths through them. I even enjoy picking up armloads of leaves to transfer to the garden beds where needed.

  22. Pomona, I’m thinking of next season too. I’m already imagining the little blue flowers that will be arising in early spring. I couldn’t find a few plants that I wanted, so I’ll probably be doing some spring planting too.

    I love the maximum number of petals that the Sarah Bernhardt peonies manage to pack into each bloom. Their delicate shade of pink is great for blending with the other early season flowers. SB gets a good number of blooms. It does tolerate the semishade well, but I don’t know if it does it better than other peonies. Like all of the double, extra puffy peonies, it definitely needs a ring around it.

  23. Northern Shade, What is your planting zone? Thank you for your visit. We have a lot of the same flowers… but I think you may be just a little ahead in the depth of the fallen leaves! (I’m not far behind, though!) :-) I think you could actually try Japanese Anemone. If you’re further north than I am, perhaps in a protected area with a little more winter mulch?

  24. Shady Gardener, I garden in zone 3. Your Japanese anemone are very pretty, and I’ve been thinking of adding some. I love the lovely white blooms, and the shell pink ones I’ve seen too. It’s good to have some new blooms to look forward to in the fall. I’ve added more borderline perennials this year, so I’ll have to see how they do this winter.
    A few windy days really piled up the leaf mulch.

  25. Loved the ferns and the blue flowers in this post. I have a secret shaded garden and I have been inspired by you to plant some blue amongst my fern!Blues and pinks always a must in my garden.

  26. Naturegirl, the idea of a secret shaded garden is intriguing. The blue and silver coordinate well with ferns. I have a blue and pink section in a semishaded area, and I love how it looks in early summer.

  27. My garden is never ready or prepared for winter, as I do my “autumn work” in Spring ;-) ! Most of the leaves (we have a lot of big trees) stay on the borders as a shelter and the perennials stay like they are for the birds. However I should now finally plant the rest of the newly bought bulbs, as frost is forcasted. My double (also with white flowers) impatiens is still blooming in the pot near the entrance door and I have another one with variegated leaves and a pink flower too. My “blue” plants among all the green ones are some vinca minor which have just restarted to bloom though it is the wrong season for them.

  28. Barbara, I leave some perennials around until next spring, but I take down some like the iris, daylily and peony leaves. I leave the Campanula and evergreen ferns, since they look nice. I also leave up the decorative ones like astilbe and hydrangea flowers. Some plants I just don’t get around to cleaning up until spring.

    This is a time to race to get the bulbs in, before it gets too hard to dig. Mine are dug in, but I am keeping my eye open for a few crocus still.

  29. I like Athryium ‘Ghost’ too but I think ‘Silver Falls” remains my favorite. This time of year I try to be sure I have baited the area where they are planted as the red voles have a liking to them and some springs I find I’ve lost some favorites.

    George Africa
    The Vermont Gardener

  30. George Africa, I will have to check out ‘Silver Falls’. I love silver toned foliage for adding brightness to the shade. I have a smaller Athyrium ‘Ghost’ that has never done well, but my two larger ghost ferns are very robust.
    Losing plants to the rodents is frustrating. I haven’t had too much of a problem with them yet, but I’m in a more suburban area.

    1. Jack, I’m not sure of a good source for them. I grew the double impatiens Fiesta, but don’t have seeds from them. The doubles do look good in the garden, with the flowers looking like miniature roses.

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