Up Close and Colorful

Julie M. Falk
Adams County Master Gardener

Autumn is beautiful, even in years when temperature and drought have conspired to lessen the impact of the peak colors. We tend to take a wide-angle view of fall scenery, reacting to the spectacle of the red/orange sugar maples painted against the yellow/bronze of hickories and oaks. Toss in a blue sky with puffy white clouds, and who wouldnít appreciate the grandeur of the moment?

This is approximately the peak of our color season. The food-making process in the leaves is at an end. Chlorophyll, the green pigment involved in food production, was a mask covering the other colors that were always there beneath. As the chlorophyll breaks down, we see the colors that were invisible to us before. Pigments called carotenes and xanthophylls are revealed to us as yellows and golds. The red pigments are anthocyanins, bringing us the glory of the maples and sumacs. Sometimes the pigments occur in mixtures so that we see purple and other shades. All too soon the leaf connections will be sealed off, and it will be raining leaves in the deciduous forest.

But letís not miss an inch of fall color while itís here. The hue of the trees jumps out at us, sometimes startling us out of our daydreams and preoccupations. If we take the time to notice, the colors and textures of autumn are occurring at every level. This smaller scale is no less lovely.

A look at the garden plot shows that the nasturtiums and marigolds are putting on a final show before the frost, along with the different chrysanthemums. In fact theyíre prettier now than they were during the acute heat of July and August. The spider plants still put out an occasional purple blossom, and the morning glory blooms seem to stay open longer in these cooler days. They contrast with the withered vines and stems I havenít yet cleared from the raised beds, and focusing in on the textures is another way to appreciate my garden. This zen view of the detritus is guilt-free, too.

Marigolds and nasturtiums are blooming better now than they did in this summer's heat

A few days ago, I went for a hike around the battlefield trails with a friend. The reds and yellows were spectacular in places. But I think we were more blown away by the profusion of blue berries on the red cedars this year. Iím not sure Iíve ever seen them so dense. There were still white and purple woodland asters blooming, with the occasional New York ironweed in the meadows. Along with the visual experience, we had the sound effects of walnuts and chestnut oak acorns bombing the ground around us.

Berries are intensely blue on the red cedar trees this Fall

Do you have ornamental grasses in your yard or garden? They are often at their prettiest right about now, with the stems pale beige and their seedheads dried but still intact. The wild grasses are beautiful now as well. Zoom in and focus on the foxtail grasses and the Virginia broomsage along the roadsides. Though not colorful, the textures are captivating if you remember to notice them.

There is beauty in growing things in every season. You just have to look.

Read other fall related gardening articles

Read other articles by Julie Falk