Editing for Autumn


I’ve been spending a good deal of time recently at Wave Hill, the 28-acre horticultural paradise in the Bronx – I’ve been asked to write a book about its garden art.  Wave Hill is famous for many things:  its matchless collection of exquisite plants, its daring color combinations, and its use of plant architecture, among others.  I’m particularly impressed by the craftsmanship of the gardeners.  In particular, I am struck by how they are preparing now for the fall displays.

Exquisite details such as this are the glory of Wave Hill

The fall garden has long been a special focus at Wave Hill.  In large part, this reflects the pattern of its visitorship.  The supporters of the garden (although Wave Hill belongs to the city of New York, the bulk of its funding comes from private sources) are mostly out of town in the summertime, as are many of the residents of Wave Hill’s Riverdale neighborhood.   Besides, whereas packing a garden with bloom in spring or summer is relatively easy, accomplishing the same thing in the fall takes real skill, and these gardeners love a challenge.

Then, too, there is the climatic factor.  Spring is relatively short in New York as the weather transitions from wet and cold to hot and dry in just a few weeks.  Summer can be dauntingly hot and humid, though this creates an opportunity to create displays with tropical plants.  Still, the best season for being outside in New York is autumn; falls are long, typically sunny, and pleasantly cool in the Five Boroughs.

That’s why the Wave Hill gardeners are “editing” their flower beds right now, thinning the foxgloves, aquilegias and larkspurs that self-seed in the garden beds, providing a background for the choice perennials and shrubs that are the stars of the spring and summer displays.  In their place, the gardeners are inserting tender perennials that are usually treated as summer-blooming annuals at this latitude:  dahlias, tender salvias, and gladioli.  Normally planted in late spring for summer bloom, these plants, when their planting is delayed to the beginning of July, instead reach peak bloom in fall, making the autumn landscape glorious with color.

That’s a trick worth trying in your own garden.

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Thomas Christopher

My father was a compulsive tree planter, but it was my mother who taught me the finer points of gardening.

Her homeschooling was followed by two years in the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture, and then ten years as horticulturist at an Olmsted Brothers designed estate on the Hudson River Palisades.

I’ve worked as a horticultural journalist for 35 years, contributing to publications ranging from Martha Stewart Living to the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society and The New York Times.  My most recent book is Nature Into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill, which is a tour of the lessons to be learned from that great public garden.  I’m currently focusing on my new podcast (at thomaschristophergardens.com) which features weekly interviews with leaders of environmentally-informed gardening.

My special enthusiasms include sustainable gardening, especially sustainable lawns;  heirloom chicken breeds; and recreating vintage New England hard ciders.


Contact Tom by email


  1. Summer “drop-ins” that will reach a peak in fall make the difference between a nice fall garden and a spectacular one: salvias, cannas, and dahlias especially.

    Every year I hope this will be the season where my garden makes that jump. But the resources and energy spent on spring planting/early summer cutback/ midsummer watering, and the deficiencies of infrastructure for overwintering, have combined yet again to postpone the glorious autumn of my dreams. 2018 for sure!

  2. Like the ‘drop in’ idea. I try something similar with sunflowers, planting seeds in July for flowers that bloom into September and, in some cases, October. As well, cutting back goldenrod and some Aster once or twice in late spring/early summer delays flowering somewhat. Has other benefits as well.

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