Ferns at Oakland Cemetery. Photo by Dinny Addison
Dinny Addison

Ferns among the headstones at Oakland Cemetery. Photo by Dinny Addison.

Gather Inspiration for Fall Gardens from Oakland Cemetery

The Southern autumn garden offers an abundance of interesting plants, including those with fabulous flowers, striking foliage and colorful fruits. And, let’s not forget our extended growing season. Fall, with its cooler temperatures, is an ideal time to add many plants to our gardens. This includes winter vegetables, shrubs, trees, perennials, bulbs and cool season annuals like pansies and violas.

Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta
Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

And, if you’re looking for inspiration about which trees and perennials to plant in the fall, local public parks are a great source for ideas, and most are open free-of-charge. Some, like Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, offer not only beautiful gardens, history and architecture, but examples of mature trees, some nearly 200 years of age.

Trees to Consider Adding to Your Garden

(All of these trees may be planted in the fall or the spring.)

Acer palmatum – It's understandable why Japanese maples are considered artistocrats among trees. They come in a wide range of sizes and forms including dwarf, weeping and upright; the leaves range in size and shape and many offer brilliant colored foliage in autumn.

Flowering Dogwood in fall at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta
Flowering Dogwood in fall at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

Cornus florida – A medium-sized tree, growing 20-30' high. The Flowering Dogwood is a native tree that many people think of for its iconic spring flowers, but it also puts on a show in the fall with its red to reddish purple foliage and red fruits. Look for hybrid selections like ‘Appalachian Spring’ that are resistant to anthracnose, a fungal plant disease that attacks dogwoods.

Magnolia at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta
Magnolia at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

Magnolia grandiflora – Southern magnolia has long been a symbol of southern gardens and with good reason. This easy-to-grow evergreen is long-lived and offers white fragrant flowers, rich dark green foliage and brilliant red-orange fruits in fall. There are numerous selections to choose from, including some that are better suited for smaller gardens than the species which can become a large tree.

A towering oak tree at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

Quercus alba – Oaks and the native white oaks especially are noble trees. Long-lived and majestic, they are important canopy trees, providing shade, shelter and food for wildlife. Many grow 50-100’ tall and live for hundreds of years.

Perennials and Bulbs that Put on a Show in Fall

Anemone x japonica ‘Honorine Jobert’ – Called windflower or Japanese Anemone, these elegant white flowers (2-3" across) bloom during August to October. Typically plants reach 3-4' tall.

Asters at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta
Asters at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

Asters – There are many different perennial asters that provide brilliant color in the autumn garden including ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ with violet-blue flowers that attract butterflies. Plants grow 2-3’ or taller.

Surprise lilies at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta
Surprise lilies at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

Lycoris radiata – Called Surprise lilies, these hardy bulbs bloom in late summer or fall and offer brilliant red-orange flowers. * Note, the best time to plant these bulbs is in the spring.

Rain lilies at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta
Rain lilies at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

Zephyranthes candida – Called Rain Lilies, these charming flowers burst into bloom after late summer rains. The white blossoms glisten in the sunlight. Some bloom well into fall. They only reach 6-12 inches in height, making them perfect for tucking between perennials, stepping stones or under shrubs.

Tips for Planting Trees

Dogwood and Japanese Anemones at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta
Dogwood and Japanese Anemones at Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

1. Prepare the garden bed or planting hole. Loosen the soil and make sure it is well drained.

2. Remove plants from containers and place them in a hole that is only as deep as the container the tree was growing in. It can be wider, just not deeper. If it is balled and burlap, do not remove the burlap, but do cut away any twine that wraps around the trunk. Loosen and straighten any roots that are wrapping around the rootball.

3. Once the plant is in the hole, fill in with the soil you dug out.

4. Apply a one- to two-inch layer of mulch, taking care not to pile it against the trunk.

5. Water, making sure to saturate the soil and let it soak in. Repeat once a week as needed (if there is no rain). Continue even when weather gets cooler.

Visit Oakland Cemetery

Tour of Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta
Tour of Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta

Stroll through Historic Oakland Cemetery, a shining example of the "rural garden" cemetery movement of the 19th century, to see beautiful gardens in every season. The cemetery offers guided tours on weekends, and you can take self-guided tours at any time. Tour maps are available in the Visitor Center and Museum Shop, or you can take a dial-in tour with your phone, or download the Historic Oakland Cemetery mobile app.

Published: October 2018
Written by: Erica Glasener