While the days are growing shorter, autumn is long on opportunities for outdoor entertaining: think mugs of mulled cider by a fire pit and butternut squash soup enjoyed at an outdoor dining table, while surrounded by foliage aflame in red, yellow and orange. 

Becky Harris, Master of Landscape Architecture and Lead Contributor at Houzz, shares these ideas to take full advantage of this much-favored season. 

Engage The Senses:

The autumn landscape offers a bounty of opportunities to engage the five senses. The stunning colors are a feast for the eyes while the change in the air welcomes outdoor fireplaces to display their crackling fires. “The sound of a babbling fountain, the scent of Sweet Autumn Clematis, the touchable glossy evergreen leaves—all of these things make a landscape engaging and relaxing,” points out Harris. 

Harris says the first thing to think about when considering design for fall is the season’s spectacular foliage color. Paint a picture of fall by harmonizing a combination of autumn's best colors in a terra cotta planter. ‘Tequila Sunrise’ (coprosma) with its orange hue, and ‘Stoplights’ (heucherella), featuring veined red leaves, create a brilliant blend.

Incorporate Design Elements:

Flank entryways with urn-style planters dressed for autumn to create a warm welcome. Small pumpkins and gourds placed inside planters give a nod to the season's fare. Plant containers add more than beauty: put them to work. A line of colorful and hearty-leaved flora housed in tall modern divider boxes can work as a privacy screen to surround a dining area.

When working in an urban setting, appealing to the senses is even more important. “Greening-up” a hardscape with the vibrancy of fall brings the season to the city. The addition of planters provides texture and life to a more concrete setting. Smaller pots placed on tables add a pop of color and interest, like the symmetry short square planter in a bronze or red offers the perfect complement to seasonal colors.

Large metal planters enhance more contemporary designs, perfect for bordering edges of a deck or rooftop and introducing significant amounts of colorful blooms. “Even on a roof deck in the middle of Manhattan, they bring in the relaxing qualities of nature,” says Harris.

Create Cohesion:

When looking at an overall design, try to treat all design elements as part of the larger color palette, advises Harris. "For example, if using bluestone pavers underfoot, incorporate plants with silvery leaves that complement its gray tones.” Be sure to think about how all the pieces fit together and complement each other, from the siding of the building to the deck wood and stone pavers. “Same goes for planter materials,” says Harris. "Think about the colors, textures and shapes of the plants you want to use for them and anchor them with a planter that complements them.” 

The overall feeling of a space is important when considering its desired final effect. “Treat the space outside as you would an indoor room," says Harris, who advises creating a layered look by varying the heights and shapes of plants, planters and other design elements.  

Harris suggests asking questions like these of your outdoor space to help plan the overall design:

  1. What's in your line of vision when sitting, standing, or looking up?
  2. Do certain elements, like paths, encourage wandering over to interesting elements - i.e. a hidden sculpture in the garden?
  3. Do other spots encourage gathering and lounging in an inviting area? 

As the clean edges and pastel colors of summer fade away, the rich, untamed look of autumn offers unparallelled opportunity to bring depth and brilliance to any design. By taking advantage of what this season has to offer, it's simple to create inviting, warm outdoor spaces, one planter at a time.