It’s that time again: time for The Fall Color Project, hosted by Dave at Growing The Home Garden. I’ve been participating for six years now, and it’s been interesting to look back and see what’s different and what’s pretty much the same from year to year. The biggest difference, I think, is that I no longer have to set foot outside of Hayefield to find fall color from some nice deciduous trees and shrubs.
Granted, they’re not very *big* trees, but these lovely volunteers out in the meadow are finally taller than me, at least. Above is an eastern flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), and below is a sassafras (Sassafras albidum). Not surprisingly, I find many gems like these coming up snug against the red cedars (Juniperus virginiana), where birds like to hide and finish digesting their food in peace.
Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago, below) isn’t the most elegant of native shrubs, especially when it has to fight its way out from under cedars, but it’s generally very good for fall color around here, ranging from purplish red to deep purple.
Not all of the best fall-color woodies around here have come up on their own, of course. I can take some credit for planting the three-flowered maple (Acer triflorum)—above with Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii)—and stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia, I think). I actually have two stewartia seedlings planted out in the meadow, but the other one isn’t nearly as spectacular as this one.
Above is Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica), which is always a sure bet for great red fall color. Below is ‘Issai’ purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma). The yellowish fall color isn’t spectacular, but it does help to show off the abundance of clustered berries.
The rich perfume of fragrant abelia (Abelia mosanensis) flowers is reason enough to grow it, but it lasts only a couple of weeks in late spring. The outstanding fall display is around even longer, a bonus that makes it even more worth the space it takes up.
Autumn color—a bright greenish yellow, in this case—is a nice extra feature on buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), too. Below, it’s with seven-sons tree (Heptacodium miconioides) and ‘Hella Lacy’ New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae).
‘Grace’ smokebush (Cotinus), above, is just now turning from its purplish red summer color to its glowing red fall display. It’s also a bit early for the best color on southern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla sessilifolia), below.
It would be easy to do a whole fall-color post on viburnums, but I decided to choose just this one—Blue Muffin arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum ‘Christom’)—to also celebrate the Red Sprite winterberries (Ilex verticillata ‘Nana’). They set fruit for the first time this year, thanks to a nearby pollenizer (‘Jim Dandy’) finally reaching flowering size.
Below is one of my carefully nurtured pawpaws (Asimina triloba). It’s just as tall as I am now and is proudly displaying its splendid yellow fall foliage.
And below, even more spectacular fall color on a native that needs no pampering: Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).
That’s not a bad showing from the woody plants, but as usual, the best color around here comes from the diversity of perennials and grasses.
‘Freya’ lily (Lilium) looked so good even after she dropped her petals that I never bothered to trim off her seedheads, and she’s contributing an extra touch of interest now with her yellowing leaves.
American ipecac or Indian physic (Porteranthus stipulatus), above, is always superb for fall reds, as is dwarf fleeceflower (Persicaria affinis), below.
I always think of Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) as having yellow fall color, but it can also develop shades of orange and reddish purple. That’s true of balloon flower (Platycodon grandiflorus), too. Below is ‘Axminster Streaked’ just starting to turn color, with ‘Jolly Bee’ geranium and ‘Imagination’ verbena.
Speaking of hardy geraniums (Geranium), they too can produce an exceptional fall show; so far, though, only ‘Brookside’ (above) is starting to turn.
Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) isn’t a plant you’d normally think of for foliage color, but it’s a very pretty yellow when it’s at its best. (I should have photographed it about a week earlier; the clump below is somewhat past its peak.)
‘Elizabeth’ two-row sedum (Sedum spurium), below, has a reddish blush through the summer, but the color becomes much more intense when cool weather returns. Below it’s with Sedum oreganum and creeping winter savory (Satureja montana subsp. illyria).
Fall color isn’t a common feature of annuals, but cool temperatures can sometimes help to intensify their leaves. Both ‘Redbor’ kale and ‘Black Knight’ blue throatwort (Trachelium caeruleum) tend to be purplish green through the summer but turn a very rich purple in early to mid-fall.
You can’t talk about fall color from herbaceous plants without exploring ornamental grasses, of course.
Frost grass (Spodiopogon sibiricus), above, doesn’t have the most spectacular color change, but it’s a nice orangey gold most years. Flame grass (Miscanthus ‘Purpurascens’), on the other hand, is almost always an eye-catcher, with vibrant oranges and reds in full sun and pretty pastel tints in a bit of shade.
Switch grasses (Panicum virgatum) are practically must-haves for fall color. Above is tall ‘Huron Solstice’, topping out at 5 to 6 feet here; below is ‘Cheyenne Sky’, which reaches only about 3 feet tall. These are my two top favorites of the red switch grasses.
Several other switch grasses turn shades of yellow. ‘Northwind”, above, is my favorite for both its distinctly upright habit and its bright fall display.
‘Dewey Blue’ bitter panic grass (Panicum amarum) is a duller greenish yellow, but it makes a distinctive contribution to the fall garden with its arching ( to sometimes sprawling) habit and hazy cloud of seedheads. Below, it’s behind sulphur cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus).
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), above, varies in fall color from clump to clump: some are purplish red, some are coppery orange, and some are rusty brown. All of the colors are nice, but what I like even better is the way that their silvery seed tufts catch the sunlight.
As you may have noticed, I have a *lot* of ‘Cassian’ fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides) around here: the legacy of an initial purchase of a dozen plants when I started the courtyard garden. Since then, I’ve divided them many times, so they’re now in many parts of the garden and The Shrubbery and really stand out at this time of year.
These ‘Skyracer’ purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea) clumps out in the Arc Borders tend to blend in for most of the growing season, but you can’t miss them at this time of year, especially with the late afternoon light illuminating them.
Prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) is just now starting to develop its orangey color, but it too shows off beautifully in the low-angled light.
And certainly, a gallery of great autumn grass colors wouldn’t be complete without the brilliant red of Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’), below with a no-name Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), ‘Gerald Darby’ iris (Iris x robusta), ‘Hella Lacy’ New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), and Tropicanna canna (canna ‘Phasion’).
To finish up, a collection of general garden shots from the past few weeks…
If you have some fall color photos of your own to share, you can post a link at the Fall Color Project at Growing the Home Garden. Before you go, though: for those of you interested in seeds, remember that I’ll be posting this year’s list on November 15th. I’m asking for all requests to be in by November 25th, so make sure you visit early. The list is rather more extensive this year, so it may take you a while to go through it all!