by BRIAN MINTER
The foliage colour of our garden ornamentals is simply outstanding this fall. Our long dry summer and early fall has really enhanced this year's colours. While many gardens are ablaze with a foliage bonanza right now, many others are missing this important seasonal event. It is so easy to choose flowering and ornamental trees which bloom in the spring, but with a little care you can, at the same time, pick trees that provide a beautiful fall display as well.
Dogwoods are a prime example. Originating from the eastern United States, 'Florida' dogwoods, particularly the 'Rubra' (Pink Dogwood) with its masses of dark-pink blossoms each May and 'Rainbow' with its profusion of rich tri-coloured leaves provide outstanding fall colour. Few sights in the fall are as beautiful as the autumn sunshine illuminating these leaves. As a rule of thumb, ‘Floridas’ are shorter and bushier than our native dogwoods, making them ideal for screening.
The many varieties of 'Kousa' dogwoods extend the blooming period in the spring because they bloom in June and July, when other varieties have finished. They also tolerate quite a bit of shade, which may be of interest for those of you living in heavily treed areas. Right now, however, the leaves are a brilliant, vibrant red with huge edible seed pods hanging like giant raspberries throughout the tree. It is such an interesting plant to have in the garden, and I truly hope that more folks use them.
Japanese maples certainly lead the pack in the outstanding colour department. The only problem these days is making a choice between the many fine varieties. One of the finest, 'Acer griseum', often called the Paper Bark Maple because of its arbutus-like peeling red bark, has brilliant red fall foliage. Two other noted varieties for fall colour are Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ and Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’, also known as the Coral Bark Maple. The autumn colour range of red maples is everything from deep burgundy to the most vibrant fire engine red, but don't overlook the green-leafed varieties that also offer an incredible range of fall colours.
Another unique tree that has not been readily available until the past few years is the 'Persian Parrotia’. It is a small and rather slow-growing shrub that provides a beautiful display of dense-headed flowers with red stamens surrounded by woolly brown bracts before the leaves open. In fall, the filbert-type leaves turn brilliant scarlet to orange. When the leaves disappear, it reveals quite an interesting smooth grey winter bark that flakes to show intriguing white patches.
One of the most fascinating fall trees is the Japanese Stewartia. It is a summer bloomer that often carries right on into the fall. Its flowers are truly distinctive, starting off as little round white balls that burst open like a camellia, revealing bright yellow anthers. That's why it is often referred to as a pseudo-camellia. Those white flowers, combined with foliage that first turns scarlet, then bronze and finally purple, make this tree a wonderful fall specimen.
If you're looking for a colourful tree that is quite resistant to pests, how about the 'Katsura' tree or 'Cercidiphyllum japonicum'. It is a medium-sized tree with attractive round leaves that have a purple tint on their outer rim all summer long. The unusual shape of the leaves and the beautiful yellow to scarlet fall colours certainly make it a great garden plant, especially at this time of year. Its leaves also have a sweet scent of lightly burnt sugar. Unfortunately, its colour comes fast and goes fast, so enjoy it quickly.
One of my favourite small trees is the little known and unfortunately, seldom planted 'Sourwood' tree. 'Oxydendrum arboreum' has multitudes of long creamy white flowers in drooping racemes that add lots of colour to a July and August garden. Almost immediately after flowering, the long narrow leaves turn a brilliant scarlet and last well into the fall. It's a beautiful tree for sunny or shady locations.
Every garden should have at least one 'Burning Bush', and if you only have a small garden, there is a compact form now available. The 'Euonymus alata' has dense twiggy branches with interesting corky wings, making it very attractive in winter, but its small deep green leaves turn brilliant orange-red in fall along with hundreds of tiny orange-red fruits. These plants also make a nice deciduous hedge.
'Enkianthus' has, perhaps, one of the most attractive fall colours of any flowering shrub. It looks somewhat like a small-leafed rhododendron with red Pieris japonica-like flowers in spring. Its tiny leaves turn brilliant red for the longest time each fall and make a super addition to any autumn garden.
These are a few of the more unique and beautiful plants that deserve a spot in any garden, not only for fall, but for interesting year round contributions. Fall is for planting, so why not add at least one of these hardy plants to your garden collection.