Sublime Decay: Autumn in the Gardens of Joy Creek Nursery

Many of you know I work for a fantastic nursery here in Oregon, Joy Creek Nursery. It is a retail and mail-order nursery in business for more than 25 years, growing many hard-to-find perennials, shrubs, grasses, and the like. I am fortunate enough to be the social media eyes for Joy Creek, photo-documenting its 4+ acres of display gardens each week.

Go ahead and say it. I know. I have the best job. As I experience the moods and changes this garden undergoes day-to-day, I understand now after three years that autumn plays a special role in nature. The sun sits lower on the horizon, illuminating details that have been hidden. Leaves begin to lose chlorophyll and turn colors while mist might arise that has otherwise been absent all summer. Leaf litter is a special kind of ground cover and, overall, the garden is quieter (the nursery is technically closed for the season). Blooms no longer dominate this floriferous garden - rather it is a recipe of textures, leaf color, branches, and mosses.

Winter is also a special time, but nothing can stir my soul like the warm tones of autumn leaves set against a gray sky or illuminated from behind like stained glass on the mellow days when the sun appears. 

 I invite you to enjoy the best of the gardens of Joy Creek Nursery, now more than 30 years old, throughout the months of September, October and November 2018, as seen through my lens where I have the garden all to myself this time of year. It is very photo-heavy this week, but believe me, I have thousands of photos of this garden so it was hard to pare it down to just these. In chronological order, we begin with the month of September.

September in the garden is the beginning of the grand finale with asters, heleniums and hardy fuchsias going strong. In the foreground left, Calluna vulgaris 'Firefly' will shift colors from season to season. Here it is combined with perovskia behind it, Symphyotrichtum novae-angliae 'Septemberrubin' (syn. Aster 'Septemberrubin') on the right and Itea 'Henry's Garnet' background right. 

Cotoneaster nitidus leaves and berries. We will see this one again after its amazing color transformation towards the end. 

 Hips of Rosa glauca. I have a thing for rose hips. These too will morph, shrink and get darker red over the course of three months.

 Many late season flowers are still going strong in September. Here, Helianthus in the background - H. 'Tijuana Brass' and 'Lemon Queen' (background far right) backs up a row of penstemons.

 Berries of Nandina 'Joy Creek Select' will persist for months and be an important color spot during winter.

 Clematis 'Fudo' and Hebe sp. (from Western Hills Nursery) in the background. This cool color theme makes me swoon.

 Berries of Hymenanthera alpina, an unusual shrub from New Zealand.

 Zauschneria 'Orange Carpet' at the top of the driveway is at the end of its long summer bloom period, but still going. 

 Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet' is a kaleidoscope of greens, oranges and reds, eventually turning all red. In spring, its white frothy racemes of flowers are magnificent. It's semi-evergreen for us in the Willamette Valley, too.

The driveway up to the nursery with the retail barn in the background. 

Our retail area is also in full swing in terms of fall color, many golden tones dominate the displays. 

 One of my favorite borders, the texture border, features Amsonia hubrichtii and grasses. The amsonia will keep going like this for quite a long time.

Out in the stock fields, grasses and knipfofia pick up colors of surrounding trees just beginning to turn colors. 

 October is a little quieter, a time when we might actually get rain. This vignette is against the barn which is where our retail check-out is located. Most of the hydrangeas turn bright, warm pinks and reds once the flowers have faded - even the blue and white ones seem to be blushed with tints of pink. 

 Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' in our retail area turning fall colors. In the garden at my home, they turn brilliant red before finally settling on a rich dark brown/black.

The Amsonia hubrichtii show continues. The color is even better on a foggy day. 

Persicaria affinis in the foreground. 

 Physocarpus 'Dart's Gold'.

On the right is Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Boulevard'. The silvers play nicely with the warm yellows of Hamamelis virginiana behind it and Hydrangea macrophylla 'Hamburg' on the left. 

 Cotinus 'Velvet Cloak'.

While diminished in size, hips of Rosa glauca are not diminished in autumn spirit. 

The grasses at Joy Creek Nursery gardens are numerous and spectacular. There are many miscanthus, this is but one.  

 At a crossroads, yellows of another Hamamelis virginiana dominate the scene.

If you want a tall explosion of color late in the year, look to Helianthus angustifolius or swamp sunflower. This hardy perennial begins to open up in late September and continues right on until November. Here it is backed by Callicarpa 'Profusion' with a silvery cardoon in the foreground. 

A field of Rudbeckia 'Joy Creek Select' seed heads on a foggy morning. Carpinus turczaiowii or Korean hornbeam in the center.

In October, the majority of the hardy fuchsias, of which we grow many, are going strong. Here are a few in our stock fields with an unknown chrysanthemum in the foreground. 

Another late season flowering perennial is Schizostylis coccinea, this is the cultivar 'Big Mama'. Paired with fading pink hydrangea blooms in the background and lavender on either side, the composition is sweet.

 Dahlia 'Blue Beard' is one of Mike's favorites; Mike is a co-owner of the nursery.

The wild asparagus patch turning swirling golden and brown tones. 

Penstemon 'Red Rocks' is the longest blooming, toughest one in the garden, practically - save for P. khuntii, I think. This thing looks good for so very long. I highly recommend it if you need pink in your sunny garden. 

Euonymus f. 'Emerald Gaiety' and Hydrangea 'Oregon Pride'. This combination is especially striking when the euonymus takes on pink tones in stressful conditions such as freezing temperatures.

 As does the Cotinus 'Velvet Cloak' show. Here it is backed by a fairly large stand of bamboo.

 In the stock fields, amsonias, grasses, knipfofias and more create many textures.

 As does a rather large patch of iris and grasses. This whole area on the edge of the gardens with a valley and forest in the background feels quite wild.

 I really appreciate how silvers and yellows pair up this time of year. Juniperus communis 'Compressa' adds a silver blue cast while Hamamelis virginiana adds the yellow bit.

 The opposite leaves and gentle arch of the branches of Callicarpa dichotoma 'Early Amethyst' stopped me in my tracks one day. I think I discover something new every time I go out into the gardens. 

 As the leaves begin to drop on Hamamelis virginiana, the flowers come on strong. For a short time, both are present, a yellow-on-yellow magic period.

 A symphony of colors up in the canopy of the garden.

 The magic of Muhlenbergia rigens or deer grass is not lost on customers once they see it in the gardens. It takes a while for the flower spikes to come on, but once they do, they persist for months.

Although this is not autumn color, it is a time of year when dew drops develop. Here, they form crystals on Phlomis russeliana. 

By early November, a few leaves cling on to Hamamelis v. 

 Stewartia pseudocamellia is wonderful for color. Its exfoliating bark and white summer flowers make it a four season small tree.

 Corylopsis spicata in its early stages of color change.

Seed heads of Clematis 'Sundance'. 

Stewartia pseudocamellia.

 The steps up to the front door.

 The finale of Corylopsis spicata, so very bright in the garden.

 Fire and ice on the edge of the garden. Fluffy silver seed heads of Clematis 'Sundance' and the hot oranges of a Cotinus seedling.

I have lots of buddies in the gardens. It is a joy to spend time with them.

 Shizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues' has finished its blazing autumn colors, now taking on buff tones.

 Purples of Callicarpa 'Profusion' paired with reds of Viburnum 'Blue Muffin' give a feeling of electricity in the air.

 Hydrangea 'Oregon Pride' and Corylopsis or winter hazel in the backround.

The barn. 

Glowing leaves of Hakonechloa macra or Japanese forest grass. 

Japanese anemone seeds blowing in the breeze.

 The iris fields are taking on orange colors in November.

Leaves of snakebark maple or Acer davidii literally carpet the garden floor. 

Gold predominate the gardens now. Here, Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is paired with Molinia caerulea 'Skyracer'. 

Hydrangea leaves can be a surprising source of fall color. 

Looking straight out Mike's front door (as co-owner of the nursery, he owns this property and he lives here in the middle of it all), Juniperus chinensis 'Robusta' is a pretty amazing sight. I adore this tree, it has wonderful form, texture and color. 

Cotoneaster horizontalis 'Variegatus' 

Phlomis russeliana seedheads backed by a few different spiraeas turning flaming colors. 

 Acer davidii has been busy dropping leaves. In the background is that Cotoneaster nitidus in the third photo.

Here it is again in late November. This particular shrub has been pruned up to create this arched effect.

Here is a detail showing the red berries and rich autumn oranges of Cotoneaster nitidus.

 Pine cone and bronze autumn foliage of Metasequoia glyptostroboides or dawn redwood. There are two of these in the gardens, this one was originally in a nursery pot in an island in the center of the retail area. It was allowed to grow and grow until it busted out of its container and took root right where it was left. Today, it is easily 20 feet tall and is a magnet for the birds.

 A melancholy scene - the show is coming to an end.

 Those Rosa glauca hips don't want to let go.

Nor do I. But winter has its own magic, albeit much quieter with much more subtle color shifts. I adore working for Joy Creek Nursery, everyone who works there shares a similar sentiment, i.e., we all love plants. While none of us are in it to get wealthy, being surrounded by such amazing horticultural diversity makes us feel wealthy. I just wanted to share a little bit of that wealth and gold this week and I hope you enjoyed a look at Joy Creek Nursery, where we do encourage you to come out and visit even in the off-season. Just call first to make sure the gate is open. This display garden is for you, the gardening public, after all.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and happy gardening!


  1. This was a wonderfully thorough look at Joy Creek's display garden, which I've wandered in spring and early summer, but not autumn. I've often wondered if someone lives in the house. Thanks for sharing your photos.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the tour, Alison. It's a time of year when virtually no one sees the garden, so I thought sharing it a good idea.

  2. Damn girl! That's a lot of beauty.

    1. Yeah, a lot of photos indeed. But there's so much to see!

  3. Magnificent - thank you! : )

  4. You do have the best job! So much beauty & great combinations! The autumn show was spectacular and I hope you'll post a winter installment as well.

    1. Oooh, that could be a good idea....although not as colorful. Still. Maybe I'll do it.

  5. It may be colder (as well as wetter) up your way but the foliage effects are fabulous. I can't say I've ever seen Hydrangeas, Cotoneasters or Iris color up that way here. Thanks for the tour through your fall wonderland.

    1. You are so welcome, Kris. It's amazing to me to see what turns color - plants one would never expect often bring a lot to the autumn color table. Agapathus, for example...who knew. This year they are bright banana yellow (foliage). !! I think it changes from year to year, too.

  6. Anonymous4:25 PM PST

    Too too beautiful...makes me feel downright homesick.

    1. Aw, Rickii. Come out for a stroll when you are all healed up and ready to take it all in!

  7. Beautiful atmospheric photos Tamara . I love taking photos at Joy Creek , and yours clearly demonstrate the beauty of fall in the garden.

    1. Thank you so much! There is so much to see, it's not hard to photograph the gardens, that's for sure.

  8. Thanks for the beautiful tour. Best wishes for the new year.

    1. Thank you, Tom. Best wishes for the new year to you, too!

  9. That backlit photo of the Hamamelis virginiana is stunning! And the fall color on the Corylopsis spicata is just wonderful. Mine turns butter-yellow, no orange, but has chartreuse leaves all summer instead of the usual dark green. Joy Creek is such a magical place in any season, but Fall may be my favorite. I'll have to try to see it for myself next Autumn!

    1. Thank you Evan! I think it's true that fall color can be variable, even from species to species. Please, do come out in autumn next year - or any time. You're always welcome!

  10. Beautiful color and photos!

  11. That corylopsis! And the conifers! And the incredible color on H. 'Oregon Pride' -- such a fabulously layered garden. Thanks so much for the photo tour.


Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments! I love hearing them, I will approve comments as soon as I can. Yay!

Popular Posts