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A Gardener’s Notebook: Autumn’s Rewards

A Gardener’s Notebook: Autumn’s Rewards

By Sandy Phelps Garden Design Consultant

Autumn is the time of the year when the earth bursts into an array of vibrant colors. Whole vacations are planned around driving to New England to see the oranges, reds and yellows painted on the living canvas of the hills and valleys. This colorful display can be recreated in your own backyard with careful planning and vision.

The most notable of the autumn colors comes from the leaves of trees. A stunning medium height tree good for a front lawn or large backyard is the Black Gum, Nyssa sylvatica. It turns a brilliant red in the autumn, has dark blue berries and deeply fissured bark. In a the smaller garden, plant Japanese Maples, Acer palmatum, for a pop of lovely red color and the softly draping effect of the deeply cut foliage.

Look closely at the landscape and you will also see that bark makes a statement in the autumn and winter months. The peeling bark of the Paperbark Maple, Acer griseum and Heritage River Birch, Betula nigra, stands out among the smooth grays of many trees. One of the most beautiful smaller ornamental trees for year round interest is the Japanese Stewartia, Stewartia pseudocamellia. In mid summer camellia-like white blossoms adorn the branches. In autumn its leaves turn yellow to reddish purple for three to four weeks. In the winter its peeling, reddish brown bark stands out against the newly fallen snow.

Your yard may not have room for new trees, but there is always space to plant another shrub. The Purple Beautyberry, Callicarpa dicohotoma, a plain Jane during the summer months bursts into a vibrant array of purple berries during the late autumn. This unusual color takes ones breath away. Goldflame Spirea, Spirea bulmalda ‘Goldflame’ lives up to its name turning coppery in the autumn months. Another year-round interest shrub that stands out the in fall is the Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quecifolia. Its large oak-like foliage turns red and looks outstanding against clusters of creamy white and reddish flowers that still cling to its branches. Roses seem to thrive in the crisp autumn air and turn heads with their brilliant colors especially when planted in masses. The foliage of the low growing Virginia Sweetspire ‘Little Henry’, Itea virginica, turns a deep purple and fills the middle of any garden border with beauty.

There are many perennials that wait all season to burst into bloom in autumn. Asters abound with masses of tiny purple, blue, deep red or white flowers and provide needed food for beneficial insects. If you have a damp area, pond or stream, a perennial that creates a showy display in October is the Toad Lily, Tricyrtis latifolia. Its gracefully arching branches teem with white and purple orchid-like flowers just before frost. A pleasant surprise is the dainty flower of the Japanese Anemone, Anemone x. hybrida. The rounded petals of the white or pink flowers rise above its scalloped foliage on thin stems. One of my personal favorites is Hot Lips Turtlehead, Chelone lyonii. All summer it sits along the damp areas of my garden like a sturdy shrub, and then in late August produces a multitude of hot pink flowers along its stiff stems. Blue Milkweed, Amsonia hubrichtii, is stunning in June with its bright blue star-like flowers, but the real show begins in autumn as its thin stiff stems turn the color of wheat and gracefully move with the wind.

No autumn garden can be complete without the wispiness of ornamental grasses. They add a dimension of softness and the element of gentle sound in every season. Most popular are the Maiden Grasses, Miscanthus sinensis, great for filling in a large area, and the Dwarf Fountain Grasses, Pennisetum alopecuriodes, that are small and have a soft texture. The upright blades of the Feather Reed Grass, Calamagrotis acutiflora, provide vertical interest without taking up a lot of width. The real stunners of the autumn are more unusual grasses. Switch Grasses, Panicum virgatum, are silver green in color with autumn flowers that look like tiny star bursts. For a true autumn feel the blades of the Northern Sea Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium, turn a tawny color with showy wheat-like flowers that rattle in the wind.

Adding only a few of these autumn beauties can extend the life of your garden far into October and November. A touch of red or yellow foliage and the gentle movement of ornamental grasses will pull you out of the house for one last look at your garden before it rests for the winter. A carefully planned garden with the garden design services of Sandy Phelps and the experienced team of Sweeney Landscape Services, Inc. can create a garden of beauty, sound and texture for you to enjoy all year round. By the way… all of the suggested plants in this article are deer resistant!

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