This Garden in Ann Arbor Transforms into a Kaleidoscope of Colors Each Fall
On bright October days, David Baker sits on his patio perch, overlooking his 1-acre hillside property, and takes in the tapestry of colors.
A Kentucky coffee tree showers a warm glow with its intricate compound leaves. Across the lily pond, heart-shape redbud leaves cast a golden reflection in the water. Nearby, a weeping Japanese maple spills its lacy, red-leaf branches toward the pond. Another tree, a blazing red-orange stewartia, begs attention at the patio's edge. Beyond, a canopy of brilliant maples creates a backdrop for his garden's layers of fall color, including purple asters, ornamental grasses and berry-loaded viburnums, a tempting snack for migratory songbirds.
While many of us handily plant a spring garden when stores overflow with early flowering varieties, designing a fall garden is trickier and requires thinking forward. To create his, David—a retired physician in Ann Arbor, Michigan—adopted the advice of the late British garden writer Christopher Lloyd. Lloyd challenged gardeners to invest in two plants that bloom after June 15 for every spring bloomer. David read the tip decades ago and today relishes the fruits of that strategy. "Fall is the longest of the gardening seasons in the Midwest," he says. "Most people don't realize it and think summer is the longest, but, in fact, fall in this garden starts mid-August and runs to mid-December."
When David first saw his sloping 1-acre property, it was autumn, and the vibrant maples grabbed his eye. "I looked up the hill from the real estate sign," he says, "and thought, 'What a great place to make a garden.' I only hoped the house was OK!"
Luckily, the 1926 Colonial-style home was lovely—and surrounded with an abundance of established hardwoods, such as maple, cherry, and black and white oaks. He started by clearing the property's invasive buckthorn and tree of heaven, then created pocket gardens around the home and down its hillside. Today, an upper bluestone patio sits above a lily pond. A naturalistic stream installation winds like a thread from a meditation garden to the pond and on down to a rain garden. Stone steps descend from the patio to terrace gardens and a lower woodland garden. In a lone sunny spot along the front drive, a gravel garden is outfitted with a pergola-covered seating area and a stylized prairie with native plants that continue the fall show.
David, who retired 10 years ago, studied botany at the University of Michigan before deciding to pursue a medical degree. (Botany jobs weren't particularly plentiful.) But he never gave up his love of gardening, which he describes as helping "reclaim Eden to wholeness."
Over the years, he's created four gardens and gathered valuable lessons along the way. This one feels like a culmination of a lifetime of learning. "You have this stupendous kaleidoscope of colors," he says of its fall personality, which shifts with each passing day—and from every different vista.