Changing Colours

This year autumn is slow in coming. Often by the end of September, the hills are as colourful as the big box of Crayola crayons I always begged (unsuccessfully) my mother to buy, with trees standing in ranges of red, orange and pink, gold and chartreuse, and occasional patches of dark wintery green.

Not this year. Temperatures have remained high and leaves seem reluctant to lose their grip on summer. In the woods and fields around Glen Villa, though, wildflowers appropriate to the season are blooming their hearts out.

Asters predominate. Most are purple, some are white — and often  they grow one beside another.

 

I'm sure that some people can differentiate one aster from another. I can't.
I’m sure that some people can tell one aster from another. I can’t. The white one may be Flat-topped white aster, Doellingeria umbellata.

 

A close-up view shows that the centres of the purple asters are either bright yellow or deep rusty red. I learned the reason only recently — the colour changes once the flower has been pollinated.

 

I don't know which of the asters this one is. But notice the different coloured centres.
I don’t know which of the asters this one is. But notice the different coloured centres.

 

Colour changes in the woods are often more subtle than the obvious difference between the yellow and rusty red centres, but even subtle changes signal unmistakably that autumn is on its way.

 

A few weeks ago these ferns were clear bright green.
A few weeks ago these ferns were clear bright green, almost emerald. How would you describe the shade of green they are now?

 

There’s nothing subtle about autumn berries — their cheery red faces pop out among the leaf litter.

 

I think these berries are the fruit of Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Please tell me if I'm wrong.
I think these berries are the fruit of Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Please tell me if I’m wrong.

 

In the garden proper, the approaching season is marked by colour changes in the Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’ that grows beside the Skating Pond. Its tall pink-tinged flower plumes are gradually turning silver as nights get cooler, moving through shades of red, orange and bronze along the way.

 

These clumps of Miscanthus are a joy in to see in autumn. The reddish tones are particularly attractive.
This plant is a vigorous grower and needs lots of space. It prefers full sun and a moist but well-drained soil. The plumes rise to 7 feet or more and sway gracefully in even the lightest breeze.

 

Also at the Skating Pond, the Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ that started as a soft feathery green is now the colour of wheat. It stands straight and tall, and will remain that way throughout the winter.

 

calamagrostis-1-of-1
In front of the Calamagrostis is some Japanese blood grass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’). I like the red tips on the grass. I only wish it would look this good earlier in the season.

 

Nearer the house, a dwarf horse chestnut tree is showing splotches of orange and peach. This tree is one of the first to colour up in the fall, and usually the very first to lose its leaves. In a normal year the branches are almost bare by the end of September but this year, all the leaves remain.

 

This tree is one of the first to change colour in the fall. Usually by the end of September it is losing its leaves. Not so this year.
I think this horse chestnut is Aesculus flava. The blossoms in spring are pale in colour but I wouldn’t describe them as yellow, as the blooms of A. flava are meant to be.

 

These colour changes tell a clear story —  even if autumn arrives a little later this year than usual, it will soon be here. That means that I will soon witness one of my favourite transformations, as the linden tree at the end of the Big Meadow moves from fresh green to buttery yellow. The first sign of what is to come appeared this week — a single pat of butter on the still vivid green.

 

linden-1-of-1
I took this photo last week, on September 24. The stakes show where I seeded wildflowers.

 

Gradually, the green loses its clarity, becoming more and more autumnal.

 

This photo is dated Oct. 20, 2007. So maybe autumn isn't late this year after all.
This photo is dated Oct. 20, 2007. Am I the only one who finds the colour here sad, as if it is tinged with regret?

 

Eventually the mix of colours disappears and the leaves become a single tone, a burst of sunshine that lights up my heart.

 

This photo is from Nov 6, 2005. So maybe autumn isn't late this year.
The colour didn’t shine to the max on the day I took this photo. I chose it, though, because of the date when I took it:  Nov 6, 2005. So maybe autumn isn’t late this year after all.

 

Finally, of course, the tree becomes a skeleton of itself. But that skeleton holds its own appeal and its own promise, of another year to come.

Do you have a favourite sign of autumn?  What is it?