Foliage in late November

While eating breakfast this morning, my wife and I observed a red-tailed hawk perched on the tree lilac (Syringa reticulata), only a few feet from our kitchen window. This low branch is not an ordinary perch for hawks that are ever present soaring high above the garden, though with most trees bare in late November the view was unimpeded into the back garden. After several patient minutes, the splendid bird floated off, most likely to a higher vantage point.

Okushimo Japanese maple has an upright habit, and green leaves that curl upwards. It is densely branched, but unexceptional compared to other maples until autumn.

Okushimo Japanese maple has an upright habit, and green leaves that curl upwards. It is densely branched, but unexceptional compared to other maples until autumn.

Just beyond the bare lilac is the lone Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Okushimo’, above) holding leaves at this late date. Several Japanese maples delay their autumn foliage colors, but despite the brilliant late coloring of many trees, ‘Scolopendrifolium’ and Lion’s Head maples (Acer palmatum ‘Shishigashira’) were unremarkable in recent weeks before leaves fell. Today, I was overjoyed, but somewhat surprised to see ‘Okushimo’ in full autumn color.

Oakleaf hydrangeas exhibit excellent autumn foliage color, with leaves that persist into December and occasionally into early January.

Oakleaf hydrangeas exhibit excellent autumn foliage color, with leaves that persist into December and occasionally into early January.

There is no surprise to see Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, above) in full leaf and color in late November, and often burgundy foliage persists long into December despite many nights below freezing. The yellow leafed ‘Little Honey’ (below) looks rather sad by comparison, and is worthy of inclusion in the garden only as a novelty since it flowers only sporadically.

Little Honey has large, soft yellow leaves, but it flowers sporadically. In late November the foliage persists, with the yellow in stark contrast to the burgundy foliage of other Oakleafs.

Little Honey has large, soft yellow leaves, but it flowers sporadically. In late November the foliage persists, with the yellow in stark contrast to the burgundy foliage of other Oakleafs.

I admit to being skeptical of the ornamental qualities of edible plants, though there is every reason to include them in a garden. Years ago, I grew blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum, below) to grab a handful of warm berries as I roamed the garden in July, but in recent years the berries are mostly left for the birds. I’ve rarely ventured while touring the garden to see the autumn foliage colors of the open branched shrubs, but with most trees and shrubs bare in late November, I cannot help but notice.

Branching of blueberries is open, but autumn foliage color is exceptional. Still, I grow it to feed the birds.

Branching of blueberries is open, but autumn foliage color is exceptional. I grow blueberries to feed the birds.

Opps, what about the aconites

Earlier, I mentioned that alliums and Dogtooth violets (Erythronium ‘Pagoda’) were planted over the weekend. More time was spent trying to figure where they should go than time spent planting, but that’s behind me with a lesson learned (unlikely). Now, the thought has occurred that in early spring I planned, but later failed to order fifty or a hundred Winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis, below) to add to the two lonely bulbs at the start of the front walk. Once there were more, but as one thing or another was planted in the area, most were dug up and lost, I suppose.Winter aconite

I believe that I also had plans to add fifty crocuses to the same area, and I recall admonishing that too often too few bulbs are planted to make a proper show. Without the added aconites and crocuses this spot will continue to be embarrassingly bare in early spring. I suppose there is still time to plant, but I was so pleased to be finished planting several hundred alliums that I’ve lost enthusiasm for planting more bulbs. And, it’s getting colder and I don’t cherish the thought of crawling around in the mud. Perhaps I will make proper reminders to order these next year.

As always, I do not look forward to shredding leaves in the largest part of the garden where they cannot be left to decay on their own. If the piles of leaves are not shredded and spread, hellebores and late winter bulbs will be hidden, but there are many weeks ahead for this chore to be accomplished. This weekend I must clear the driveway and front walk for guests next week, and while I’m at it a few of the garden paths will at least be blown clear in case anyone cares to tour the garden. After all, there are camellias and mahonias (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, below) in full bloom.Winter Sun mahonia

Remarkably, flowering pears (Pyrus calleryana, below) in the neighborhood have not yet turned to the deep burgundy that demands attention after other trees have dropped their leaves. With splendid spring blooms and exceptional autumn foliage color, pears would be marvelous trees if their seeds were not spread by birds to invade every open field and fence line in the county. Of slightly less concern, pears are also weak wooded with a tendency to split apart in summer storms. This lovely tree should be avoided.Pear

Sometime before spring the last of three European hornbeams that has died must be removed. Two others were cut down a few years ago, and now the third has died. I cut down the first two that were planted in a grove of bamboo, and I was not concerned that the bamboo would be damaged since it was also planned for removal. Now, with the hornbeams and bamboo gone, the area has been planted, and I will have to hire a tree company to take the remaining hornbeam down to minimize damage.

And then, something else must be planted in its place, but at this point in the year there’s no hurry.

Planting alliums

Several hours have been spent on this cool and  blustery Saturday planting an assortment of alliums, though only an hour in digging. I fear I have miscalculated, and too many bulbs have been ordered for the too few sunny spots available for planting. Not that my schedule is hopelessly backed up, but time has been wasted searching for appropriate planting spaces.Allium

There is great advantage in planning ahead, but too often I am stuck with a satchel of alliums or colchicums (or whatever), wondering where the heck they will fit. Still, this is better than wandering the garden with a Japanese maple or witch hazel in the cart, trying to figure a spot that will not conflict with other treasures for a decade or two. In fact, I suspect this is making too much of nothing. Given any sun and well drained ground, alliums can hardly go wrong, and I expect a splendid show beginning late spring.Dogtooth violet blooming in mid April

Also, fifty Dogtooth violets (Erythronium ‘Pagoda’, above) were planted in groups of ten or twelve without any difficulty. There are plenty of shaded spots in the garden, and several areas with deep, semi-moist soil where the violets should thrive. I am a bit concerned that the bulbs sat in the garage for a week while I was traveling, but almost certainly nothing will come of this since the bulbs seemed plump enough.

Though today is blustery, recent temperatures have been pleasant, and I read that the same is forecast for the weeks ahead. I rarely pay attention to long term forecasts, but the word is that the winter will be milder than the previous two, which is precisely the forecast I wanted to hear. So, at the moment I’m satisfied, but if the forecast falters I will be quick to condemn the futility in attempting to predict events so far off.Lion's Head Japanese maple autumn foliage

In the week spent traveling, piles of leaves in the half of the garden that borders forest have grown deeper so that mature hellebores barely peek into daylight. In another week or two, or perhaps sometime in December, I will begin the process to shred the leaves that often is not completed until mid March. Leaves remain on several Japanese maples (Lion’s Head Japanese maple, above) that are annually late in coloring, but otherwise the trees are bare.Camellia

The late flowering hybrid camellias are at their peak, though one ‘Winter’s Star’ that borders the driveway is only beginning to bloom. This camellia is more shaded while buds are developing, so every year it is late, and if temperatures remain mild it might flower into January. ‘Winter’s Snowman’ (below) is particularly floriferous this November after having only a scattered few flowers a year ago.


An annual chore

As certain as winter’s cold and summer storms, leaves will fall in autumn to cover much of the garden. Now, I must plan to mow, rake, or shred to remove a large portion of the leaves that drop from the forest that borders the southern edge of the garden, and the dozens of trees that I’ve planted.

Foliage of Chinese dogwood in early November

Foliage of Chinese dogwood in early November

There is no emergency for this to be accomplished, though wet, matted leaves are more difficult to remove than dry leaves. The longer they remain, the harder the labor to clean them up.

Leaves of Oakleaf hydrangea wll often persist into the new year

Leaves of Oakleaf hydrangea wll often persist into the new year

Large areas of the garden will be mulched with shredded leaves by some point in late winter, though a few areas where only trees and shrubs are planted will be left to decay without any assistance. What is not certain is, when will the clean up begin, and when will it be completed?

Leaves of Bigleaf magnolia dwarf fallen leaves of maples and tulip poplars

Leaves of Bigleaf magnolia dwarf fallen leaves of maples and tulip poplars. Most of the magnolia leaves will be left undisturbed since they clog the leaf shredder.

This is not a project that I’m anxious to start, but it must be done or hellebores and other low growing shrubs and perennials might be smothered beneath the heavy mat of leaves. And, if flowers of hellebores and snowdrops are to be enjoyed, this thick cover layer of leaves must be removed.

A splendid start to November

Stewartia autumn foliageAt the start of November, the garden shows mixed results from recent frosts and a single night of twenty-eight degrees. While brightly colored leaves of ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) and blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica) have fallen, stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia, above) has only recently changed color, and it is as lovely as in any autumn. Earlier, I observed that autumn foliage colors have been delayed and perhaps are more muted this year, but with the marvelous colors in the garden today, I am less certain that the colors are inferior to any autumn in memory (Fernleaf Japanese maple, below).Fernleaf Japanese maple

While ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel has already gone bare, foliage colors of Vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) and ‘Diane’ (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’, below) are now at their peak. I suspect that the native American witch hazels (Hamamelis virginiana) would also be at their peak if caterpillars had not stripped them bare two months ago. I suspect this will not be harmful, and could be beneficial since the foliage will not hide flowers when the witch hazels begin to flower in a few weeks.Diane witch hazel

Encore azaleas were in full bloom after a frost or two, but flowers wilted overnight in the freeze. With milder temperatures the azaleas are flowering again (below), with continuing blooms expected for another few weeks, or until the next freeze. In the odd year when temperatures don’t regularly drop below freezing, I’ve had azaleas flowering into early December, but flowering into the middle of November is a more reasonable expectation.Encore azalea

Most of the garden’s toad lilies (Tricyrtis) collapsed in the freeze, though some lower foliage remains green along with a few flowers. A few scattered toad lilies survived the freeze (below), with no discernible pattern that ones that are green and flowering were more protected.  Admittedly, I am a poor judge of these things. Too often I have planted a marginally cold hardy something or other in a spot that I supposed would be protected, only to see it fail while marginals planted without a thought survived. Whatever the formula is to determine a more protected spot, it’s a mystery to me. Toad lilies are dependably cold hardy, so there are no worries that they must be protected, but in the warmer spots of the garden I’m pleased to have flowers for a few weeks longer than expected.Toad lily

There is no surprise that scattered flowers remain on ‘Eternal Frangrance’ daphne (Daphne × transatlantica ‘Blafra’, below) into November. This is typical for this sturdy daphne, and even through the winter I suspect a few flowers would pop out in an extended spell of mild temperatures. The past two winters since these were planted have had no such mild periods, but with warm temperatures expected through much of November, there is hope that this winter might not be so severe.Eternal Fragrance daphne

Purple and white, on one bush

Purple beautyberryThe purple beautyberries (Callicarpa dichotoma, above) berried heavily in the garden this year, while I’ve observed that fruits on white berried types were a bit more sparse. White berries on the variegated beautyberry ‘Duet’ (below) are barely seen, even with a heavy crop, due to the exceptional vigor that hides the small berries, and due to the lack of contrast with white variegation of the leaves.Duet beautyberry

Still, I don’t hesitate to recommend any beautyberry, purple or white, as long as the gardener accepts that the shrub will be unremarkable for months until berries arrive in September. The arching habit of branches is particularly effective beside a pond, which is where I first noticed beautyberry years ago. But, even with five ponds in the garden, I have not managed to duplicate the effect.Purple beautyberry

Oddly, a single branch of one of the purple beautyberries has mixed  purple and white berries, which I have not spotted in the past. Perhaps this occurs regularly, but it’s escaped my notice. Of course, I have no explanation for this, and I will be interested to see if berries on this branch are similarly colored a year from now. Certainly, there is an explanation, but while I am mildly curious about the science of why, I am delighted by what is.

Until this phenomenon is repeated late next summer there is no reason for further investigation, only the wonder that weather or other environmental conditions can cause odd variations in plants. If the mutation recurs a year from now, there is a greater likelihood that this is a genetic sport, and there’s some small measure of interest in taking cuttings to propagate the variation.Beautyberry

Is there are reason to think this has any appeal to other gardeners? Probably not. I don’t believe that this curiosity is more attractive than the purple or white berries alone, but there’s at least some value in oddities, if only that the gardener is able to brag that he has discovered the one and only, no matter how worthless it might be.


The colors of autumn

Most likely I’m mistaken, but around here it seems that autumn foliage colors are late and more muted than usual. Until the past week there was not much at all to see, but now, after a week of cold, dogwoods (Cornus x ‘Celestial Shadow’, below) have turned to crimson, and just about everything else, to yellow. The romanticized version of autumn is of leaves turning to red and gold, but the reds are few and the golds are often more a sickly yellow.Celestial Shadow dogwood

Still, if the close up is not so beautiful, the long view of a forest of yellows with a few scattered reds, and perhaps even an orange or two, is often magnificent. On this evening, under a graying sky with spitting rain showers, the yellows of ordinary swamp maples (Acer rubrum) glowed, contrasting splendidly with the red foliage of dogwoods in the fading light.Wildfire blackgum

Though the red and yellow mottled leaves of blackgums (Nyssa sylvatica, above) have dropped prematurely, twenty-some varieties of Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) in the garden display colors ranging from stunning golden yellows to deep reds. The best of the lot for this season is the Fernleaf Japanese maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’, below), easily the equal of the superb blackgum, but less dependent on ideal weather conditions for its autumn brilliance.Fernleaf Japanese maple

In early November, foliage of swamp maples and tulip poplars in the forest that border the garden are yellow and faded, and pockmarked by black spots. These are best viewed from a distance so these defects are less obvious, and the saddest of the trees is the Bigleaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla), with gigantic leaves that are a very tired and faded yellow.Spicebush

But, there are many exceptional yellows in this garden. The foliage of spicebush (Lindera benzoin, above) and sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus, below) is unexceptional through much of the year, but today each glows beneath the forest’s canopy. Several witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’, 2nd photo below) are colored a soft yellow, though some display shades of orange or red that are quite magnificent.Sweetshrub

Arnold Promise witch hazelPerhaps the most splendid yellows in the garden are the common bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii, below) and Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba, second photo below). Bluestar has narrow, needle-like foliage that turns a soft yellow in early autumn that persists many weeks until a hard freeze. This tough perennial is a superb filler and background, but in autumn it warrants a space in the front row. Ginkgo turns to a brilliant yellow in early autumn, and then its leaves drop in a single day, so the tree goes from beautiful to bare.BluestarGinkgo in late October