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Pergola's Fiery Fall Palette

September 29, 2022

Golden and flame-colored leaves and flowers lick at the pillars supporting the Pergola. This fiery color palette of hot tones includes gold, burnt orange, vibrant red, toasted green and brilliant yellow. Inspired by colors and textures found in a burning fire, the summer 2022 Pergola display has never been brighter.

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Every year, the Pergola hosts a mix of propagated annuals and a rotating collection of tropical plants from the Tropical House collection. In order to cohesively pair these plants together, it takes knowledge of their habit, growth speed and flowering time.

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Popular with the native bees, seed-grown blanket flowers (Gaillardia pulchella) bloom in summer, but their fuzzy, pompom, seed heads extend their interest into the autumn. This flower seems to pop like crackling embers against the oozy, tar-like foliage of caricature-plant (Graptophyllum pictum 'Black Beauty').

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Backing up the blanket flower, among other plants, are three tall crotons from the Tropical House collection. Codiaeum variegatum 'Irene Kingsley’ (pictured) feature uniquely lobed leaves. These trees provide structure in the summer display from the moment they are planted—their height is immense yet short-lived. Gardener Shane Pritchett, who designs and cares for the Pergola display and the Tropical House, shares that the size of the Tropical House limits the height of mature plants that can be accommodated there. He explains that he plans to “take cuttings of the crotons to start some over completely, and in the process, the mature plants will be cut back. Hopefully, they will bush out once they get pruned. The cuttings will be insurance for the day that the big plants must be given away due to their size. Not sure when that will be,” he adds.

Original to Wave Hill, the Pergola was erected in the early 1900s and has been restored a couple of times. Not surprisingly, the pillars are starting to show some cracks. I personally enjoy the fractured pattern of the pillars. They mirror the pigmented venation of the croton, referring to the colored veins of the leaves.

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The tallest plant, Senna alata, native to Africa, matches the pergola in height. Pritchett has two clumps of the senna, one at either end. He avoided symmetry by setting one grouping towards the back of the bed (pictured) and the second grouping towards the front. Pritchett remarks that “the Senna alata was a good addition to this garden and I am really happy with its height and size—the asymmetry was further accentuated by the uneven growth of the two clumps of senna. The south-facing path received a lot more sun and outgrew the north clump.”

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Autumn flowers need lengthening, cooling nights in order to bloom. In that spirit, marigold (Tagetes patula ‘Harlequin’) picks up where blanket flower left off. Continuing to lead the united, fiery-color scheme, marigold flowers and foliage catch ablaze under the setting sun. Darker colors, like the smoldering reds from a coleus cultivar, create high contrast with the marigold in the front beds of this planting.

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The inside of the Pergola contains a completely different palette of plants. This shady, and thus cooler, area offers visitors a respite from the sun as they take in the view of the Palisades and Hudson. But this is also the perfect environment for tropical plants. Remaining in pots, this selection from our Tropical House echoes the planting theme in the exterior design—variegated foliaged plants add a lustrous element to this darkened area. As the weather cools, these plants will be some of the first to move back inside.

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The Pergola is such a narrow garden space, but through contemplative plant selection Pritchett has opened this garden area to feel welcoming yet lush. Looking ahead to winter, not so far off now, we can look forward to experiencing a similar feeling on a visit to the Tropical House.

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A highlight of the 2022 summer experience at Wave Hill, the Pergola has been featured in wedding ceremonies, concerts, dance performances, garden tours, an annual garden fundraiser and even a city-wide dance party. View the Pergola display in person until the end of October, after which the plants will be removed to prepare the beds for spring bulb plantings later in autumn. A plant list and bed map containing plants in the beds can be downloaded by clicking the button below.

Plant List

Jess Brey,
Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter