Look down as well as up for fall foliage color
Posted: Tuesday, December 9, 2008 10:06 pm
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger
You’re still nursing that stiff neck from gawking upward for the past month and a half at the reds, oranges and yellows emblazoned across our landscape.
Have you ever seen anything like it? That conflagration is one of the big highlights of the year for gardeners and non-gardeners alike.
You could have salved your sore neck during fall color time by taking a little while to look not up, but down. There has been, and still is, color underfoot as well as overhead.
The hostas this year had the best fall color in some time. They don’t always exhibit it, particularly when sudden freezes come without preliminary gradual cooling. This year autumn came on gradually, as it is supposed to, with gently falling temperatures and no sudden surprises.
Consequently the hostas began a likewise gradual change, first turning from green to pale chartreuse, then on to yellow, and finally a golden hue before finally succumbing, after some weeks, to their final brown. It was a real show. They are just as pretty golden as they are green, blue or yellow in their summer dress.
Then there are hardy geraniums. We have several varieties, my favorite being Geranium Sanguineum Striatum, with tiny red striations within the quarter-size pink blossoms in spring and early summer. When cool temperatures descend in autumn, the scalloped leaves turn a fine maroon or real red. They stay that way all winter, unless really horrendous temperatures occur and turn them brown. Their fall leaf color is nearly as valuable as the bloom.
Also down relatively low are spireas. Several of the spring and summer bloomers have fine fall foliage.
The common bridal wreath spirea, which brightens every abandoned homestead and even escapes to fight it out with honeysuckle and brambles has, in addition to excellent white bloom, brilliant fall foliage ranging from yellow to soft orange.
Other spireas, among them the summer blooming ones such as Anthony Waterer and Shibori, likewise turn orange and yellow in fall. This occurs late — as we speak, to wit — and continues sometimes all the way until Christmas.
Our specimens of those two varieties give excellent value almost year-round, since their new precocious leaves begin to appear as early as February in mild winters.
Hardy plumbago, Ceratastigma plumbagonoides, is an evergreen vining groundcover that has taken over a good part of one of our rock gardens, where it grows in full sun. It is also suited to shade.
It blossoms almost all summer and into fall, sporting nickel-size blooms of brilliant true blue. Then, in autumn, the leaves begin to turn red, and they stay that way most of the winter. Often, some of the blue flowers are yet extant as the leaves turn, making a striking contrast.
Another herbaceous plant with fine fall color is solomon’s seal. The native is abundant in local woodland, but the variegated form, with white-rimmed leaves, is even better. Growing to two feet or so, it gives good foliage value all spring and summer and also produces modest white little bell flowers along the stems.
In autumn the leaves turn yellow, tinging toward tan and deepening with cooler weather, a fine and unexpected feature.
The amsonias, or bluestars, produce modest pale steel blue blossoms in spring atop two-foot stems. These are OK, but the fall foliage color outshines them. The narrow willow-like leaves turn a bright banana yellow and stay in fine fettle for a month or so in late October well into November.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Autumn is not a time to go around with your nose — and eyes — in the air.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 12.9.08
Garden Path, Jimmy Williams