More autumn foliage color

For the past ten days nighttime temperatures have been around freezing with a day or two dipping into the mid twenties. With a brisk breeze this afternoon maple leaves are drifting across the garden, and soon the forest that borders the rear garden will be bare. 

A shrubby bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora, above) grows in the shade of a tall river birch (Betula nigra) along side a damp hundred foot long spring-fed depression that parallels the woodland and the southern edge of the property.This was a volunteer seedling that appeared several years ago, and it grew quite happily in a bit of brush before I recognized it and cleared the area. With more open space it has spread nicely, and earlier this year there were a dozen delightful white bottlebrush blooms. Though it is now bare,  a few weeks ago the foliage turned to a brilliant yellow.

Also along this wet area the tall witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’, above) has dropped its leaves, leaving bare branches with small buds that will open to highly fragrant ribbon-like blooms in February. In some years the autumn foliage color is unremarkable, but this year the colors were splendid, though for only a short time.

At the forest’s edge, and under redbuds (Cercis canadensis) at the far side of the garden, I have planted a handful (or two) of oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia, above). In partial sun their foliage begins to turn to burgundy late in September, with more shaded plants following by mid October. The dark leaves persist into mid November or later, and these large shrubs are treasured for their rich autumn colors.

The most common shrub noted for its autumn foliage color is burning bush (Euonymus alatas,above), with long lasting bright red leaves. In some areas the sale of burning bush has been banned since it has been invasive, but I have seen only rare signs that it seeds itself about, so I’ve not been convinced to chop it out of my garden. For much of the year the burning bush is a drab and inconspicuous green, but when its foliage turns it shines.

Few perennials are noted for their autumn foliage, but blue star (Amsonia hubrichtii, above) turns slowly to a golden yellow early in October. The needle-like foliage persists through early freezes into mid November in my northwestern Virginia garden. Blue star’s small, sky blue spring flowers are wonderful, but it is also marvelous as a backdrop for shorter shrubs and perennials through the summer, and it is unfazed by drought and heat.

As the days become shorter (and colder) the leaves of shrubs and trees will soon drop, but as I stroll the garden I’ve seen the first flowers of the late autumn blooming camellias, and ‘Winter Sun’ mahonia is just beginning to show some color. So, there’s still a bit of interest before we tuck the garden away for the winter.

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