When autumn finally arrives.
The morning after a wild party requires a lot of cleanup. Bottles, cans, plates and utensils need to be recycled, thrown out, or washed – and if the party wandered outside furniture needs to be righted and neighbors require an apology. And much like the aftermath of a storm, the garden looks battered.
This morning, looking out the window to a rain soaked, windblown landscape, my spouse said “Looks like folks partied in our yard and left the cleanup for us.” This time of year is defiantly messy. Incessant rain (a mixed blessing), strong winds, and tired leaves tell us that summer is long gone and the days of cleanup have arrived. But, also, these are the last days of brilliant color. When a dark gray sky is peppered with small dots of bright light, colors become intense. A deep red canopy of Lagerstroemia indica, ‘Pecos’ is echoed by Cotinus coggygria, Purple Smoke Tree and Acer palmatum, ‘Ornatum’. Against a green background of Eucryphia x intermedia ‘Rostrevor’ and Arbutus unedo, the gleaming yellow branches of Cryptomeria japonica, Sekkan-Sugi shine like a spring morning. Vivid orange berries of Cotoneaster franchetii attract spotted towhees in such numbers that the limbs almost touch the ground under their weight. The plant may be considered invasive in these parts, and I didn’t invite it into my garden, but it is a welcome addition to the berry-producing plant population growing here. Farther down the path, Styrax japonica greets us with its timid pale-yellow leaves that change color first from deep inside the canopy, then travel out to the end of its branches. I like the two-toned look. Brilliant yellow blades of Chasmanthium latifolium wind through branches of a young Sinocalycanthus raulstonii, ‘Hartlage Wine Allspice’ covered with large, Irish-butter yellow leaves. I think of warm buttered toast when I see these leaves – especially since we can see the plant from our kitchen window. But for all the beauty autumn color brings to a garden, I find my attention called to my favorite conifer – Picea pungens, ‘Baby Blue Eyes’. Though beautiful in every season, this little tree comes into its glory in autumn and winter. Whether speckled with frost or clothed in rain drops, this tree fills the garden with shades of silver-blue that spread into the darkest corners of my landscape. Passersby always glance up at the tree, even taking a moment from their phones to see it.
Autumn comes on in a slow, welcome stroll from a worn-out summer, and it rushes away much too quickly. But if you take a moment to go outside immediately after a fall rainstorm, the intensity of ephemeral colors that surround you will stay with you through winter.
And before you are ready, the cycle will begin again.