Dec 20, 2007

Fall into Winter

Foliage-wise, this has been one of the best autumns I can remember. And now that all those lovely leaves are coming down to earth, we're reminded that winter is just around the corner (here it comes at about 10:08 pm Friday night).

The gorgeous displays of reds, oranges and golds is especially striking this year because [a] it's been a very cold and dry season, both of which stress trees into withdrawing their green chlorophyll earlier and more quickly (thereby revealing the natural anthocyanins and carotene colors), and [b] the lack of rain and wind has left those vibrant leaves on the trees longer. Now that the storms are arriving, we're getting more of what we're used to:

Autumn gardens are among my favorites, not only for their foliage colors but because of the way the winter light plays on details such as leaf margins and seed heads, such as the tall Miscanthus and Calamagrostis grass plumes that look splendid all golden and backlit. Other specimens, such as the coral-bark Japanese maple and the river birch, start showing some of their best assets that are hidden, or at least overshadowed, most of the year. But there's no denying that colorful foliage is the star of the season, especially when set against a backdrop of dark evergreens such as pines, redwoods or even magnolias. Some of my favorites include:
  • Pyrus calleryana (Callery Pear) — different varieties have different colors and forms
  • Ginkgo biloba (Maidenhair Tree) — venerable forest giant with clear yellow to gold color; leaves all seem to drop within a few days
  • Lagerstroemia hybrids (Crepe Myrtle) — a three-season star, with gorgeous winter bark and bright summer flowers to complement fiery autumn foliage
  • Viburnum cultivars — small to large shrubs with bright red to purple fall color
  • Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf Hydrangea) — orange to red leaves even as the flower panicles hold on
  • Blueberry cultivars — yes, the edible blueberry bush will give an amazing fall show if you dare withhold water for a while
  • Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Dwarf Plumbago) — Fast growing, shade tolerant ground cover colors bright crimson; a nice surprise at ground level
  • Vitis californica 'Rogers Red' (California Wild Grape) — A great choice to slipcover a garage or obliterate a fence within a few seasons, stops traffic when it turns wine red

  • As you're out and about over the next few days, I hope you'll make it a point to notice and appreciate the colors before they're brought back to earth by the rain and winds. If you see something particularly stunning, feel free to send it in. And if you have favorite autumn plants of your own, please share!

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