Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

October 11, 2012

The Beauty of October, “the Fall” of our Landscape Gardens

Americans are overwhelmingly indoor people these days. Their knowledge of Nature outside their windows seems to have disappeared from their minds and therefore language and action. The detachment from our outdoor world endangers who we are as a people, as a culture, and our abilities to survive catastrophe and our abilities to recognize beauty from the ugly.

All of the billions of people living on our Earth could become housed within the state of Texas if we were to retreat physically ‘from Earth’s realm to let Nature” do its thing without humans as some dreamers wish for. However, we could not survive as a peoples.

These folks forget that we humans ARE members of Nature’s realm. Nature, as we love or hate it, doesn’t exist without human thought and feelings as well as industry. “Only thinking makes “it” so.

Not all Autumns are the same. Most are kind of the same…..so much so no one seems to notice its variety except outdoor people…….such as farmers and perhaps landscape gardeners.

For those of us who live in the temperate climes where Winter is a major factor, we have a love-hate relationship with Autumn……otherwise known as the FALL. (After all Fall IS the season of the beginning of the DEAD……at least, what appears to be dead.)

We love our Autumns for their unmatched beauty from head to toe of all that we can see and absorb. This past week in my garden of paradise, I have never seen its scenes more beautiful….more breath taking…..whether being within it or viewing it through all of the windows my house possesses. I like my Spring garden better, but probably because of the psychological rather than the sensual. I already am yearning for its warmth and risings from the dead as I write this in the first half of our October.

In truth, however, the Autumn…..the Fall landscape garden is most beautiful of all.

We live in our times when beauty is no longer valued in general and in particular the world of art…..even in our world of landscape gardening, the most honored of all art forms throughout human history. Most beauty is beautiful to all, not merely to the “eye of the beholder”.

And so I make the following list of plants which if properly cared for, are displayers of Autumn beauty almost always regardless of the kind of Fall they must endure. Their beauty might be forced by Nature to be shorter, or blessed on our human behalf to be longer, but Winter shall arrive sooner or later. And it is usually better for deciduous plants and perennial humans who live in our climes for it to arrive later.

Beauty can be seen in the landscape garden in all shapes and sizes and colors, texture and shadow. And let us not forget fragrance. No other art form is pictured as PARADISE….only the landscape GARDEN exists so extolled by every non-polar culture but the Marxist.

I cannot therefore list garden plants in my or any other landscape garden in order of their beauty value.

Landscape gardening is a visual art form despite how it is commercialized in our American landscaping habits. Although it is certainly possible for landscape beauty to occur only in green, such as from a beautifully manicured lawn as a carpet, we cannot control the colors of the sky, or forms of all that is seen but built or grown on grounds over which we have no control. The skilled landscape garden artist knows that as an visual art form it is what the human eye sees that must be controlled……expanded or limited as the eye dictates.

Among those plants when alive and well star in our Twin City landscape gardens which I value most in my own home landscape are:

Mount Airy Fothergilla…..Year in and year out whether in shade or full sun, this small shrubby tree is an Autumn beauty…..reds, oranges, maroons with smatterings of yellow and dark green depending on the Fall and the day must be at the top of my list. Close by is PJM Rhododendron, Dwarf Koren Lilac, Northern Hilights Azalea, Crimson Spire Oak,

Hostas provide yellows at ground level but in early frosts many, not all, begin their own Fall as their leaf stalks crumble earthward to reorganize until nest Spring. One of the best ‘tree’ yellow foliaged in Fall is the White Fringe tree whose leaves appear unmistakingly star-shaped while advertising their color. So bold is the yellow whether in sun or shade even the stones, both the permanent and the visiting in the garden take note.

Yellow is a common color in the Fall. Yellow comes also in variety….. gold, rusty, and limy and greeny. Reds and oranges are not common during the garden’s growing seasons, but can be radiant in Fall. Blues and Purples, Wines, and Burgandies and dark Greens are rarer colors whatever the season.

Black Lace Elderberry is a recent find for the darkness of purple joining our Velvet Cloak Smokebush as the best in this group. Many ‘perennials’ as they pass into their dormancy also can display similar coloring…..some Peonies including the Intersectionals and Tree Peonies, purple and red barberies and Northern Hilights Azaleas show such colors on their way to foliar decay.

We see sumac in our Twin City fields and often recognize the staghorn sumac for their exquisite reds they shows along roadways. But, gardeners beware…….these sumacs are uncontrolably weedy in the landscape garden of limited space…..that is in a landscape garden smaller than an acre or two.

Of the perennials my Fall garden could not be without are….Fireworks Solidago….a spectacular type of goldenrod….Autumn Fire Sedum, and Japanese Anemone all three of which command their presence for more than a month and often cut short only by snowfall.

This year my star Redbuds are making a play to be ‘Autumn’ beautiful, which isn’t always the case. One has held its most beautiful yellow yet for over three weeks. the other, the mainstay of my pruning abilities is still Summer green. Same species, but not the same plant…. It is the fickleness of our magnificent outdoors that interferes with simplicity of knowledge and explanation why plants do what they do or show what they show.

Examples….Governing plant peculiarities in our own landscape gardens is soil type, soil acidity, soil consistency and chemistry, availability and regularity of water and fertilizer with the nutrients made available, the velocity of wind, the species of plant, the chemistry of the plant, the age of the plant, the neighbor of the plant even of the same species determinine its ‘moods’ as well as color and other visual signs of those moods including the degree of leaf dessication.

All of the above and more that I haven’t thought about, provides a mixture of ingredients which have some degree influencing what a landscape garden plant might display at any time, but most vividly in its fall ‘dressings’.

This Autumn shows my Mount Airy Fothergilla more noticeable in its color than in known memory. Is it because of its own character display, or could it be from the character of its immediate neighbors….shrubs, perennials and their colors? Could shade from nearby trees expanding their own foliar space be controlling the Sun’s spotlight differently….now focusing my attention on the Fothergilla more dramatically than ever before?

I expect this Fall’s fall to be shorter because of our local summer heat and drought…..despite the irrigation system available to most of the beauty in my gardened grounds. When and how much moisture is available to plants is related closely to the ambient temperatures when such moisture is made available.

As in our own human lives, every year is different for each individual and collection of plants in our landscape garden…….