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Autumn Brings Changes (9/25/01)
by David Lendrum

Autumn brings changes to the landscape as the equinoctial storms belly up to the bar like braggart seiners, bigger and badder than anybody else around, and dump tons of cold water into our faces. We stagger back for a couple of uncomfortable days, and when we look around there are distinct differences between what is and what was.

Some trees are completely defoliated, every last scrap of leafy flutter is gone and we have missed the show entirely, while others are just a little ragged with colorful highlights. These are beginning the transformation into the glorious "objet de art" that we cherish. There are others however that have made the transition already and can be so bright in their season ending glory that we are compelled to pull off and stare.

I saw one the other day, a Fern Leafed Full Moon Japanese Maple, that had the richest, reddest color of any tree I have ever seen. The leaves are large, with deep indentations so it offers little obstruction to the ravages of the winds, and it's low weeping shape seems to be streamlined already so there is a feeling of running with the wind. The whole thing is no larger than three feet tall and four feet across, but the effect of the color was every bit as impressive as if it had been a giant. Rich, deep and so utterly unlike anything else in the landscape the graduated redness of each leaf seemed to be deepening as it shaded from the branch edge to it's spikey, many sectioned tip.

There are others almost as impressive; Vine Maples with orange, pink and golden shades on each leaf, Amur maples with tiny pointed pennants of ruby edged parchment, and the purple so deep that it seems eternal of the Canada Red Cherry. Some turn golden; the big Norway Maples of the Parkshore, or the brilliant yellow ones around Vintage Park. My favorite one is located in the flats on C street in a tiny front yard, where it so dominates it's tidy cottage that it seems like the tree is the main occupant.

The dark purple of the Crimson King Maples is still in place and the brilliant fire engine red that underlies it can only be glimpsed in a few leaves. It will be a few weeks yet before the color changes and these somber giants are compelled to dance or die. Surprisingly enough they will make the change revealing themselves as masters of the species, reveling in their autumn coats before allowing them to be stripped away by the next season.

The roses are beginning to color up, while they still bloom like banshees. The rich aromas pour out of the soft petals, and even when a direct sniff fails to have the desired effect, a step back gets you into the right place and that unforgettable scent goes instantly to the pleasure centers of the brain. The combination of changing leaf color and highly scented flowers makes a sober man dizzy.

Azaleas are beginning to develop their other season too, the gold and pink blooms are a memory now, but the crinkley leaves are transforming themselves from utilitarian camouflage green into the brilliant multi colored coat of the fall. They give such a great show in this season that it makes me wonder if we focus on the wrong effect, these are autumn stars that happen to have a spring burst too.

The big stream and beach edging Dogwoods are on stage too; out along Auke Rec their limber stems bend and whip, making waves in the foliage as the wind piles up the waves on the beach. Their clustered berries are pearls on the end of fencing foils, and the leaves are beginning to dress for the evening. There are few shrubs as satisfying to plant in our southeastern locale as these big natives, they will grow in almost any locale, tolerate abuse like a trooper, and give their all to please us. The seasonal transformation from regular guy to prince is like a fairy tale come true, each year they slowly shade from deep green to dark crimson, and flash it out with golden highlights. Then as the leaves drift away, their dark red bark brightens to shiny brightness and a new effect is given. It's all very cool.

The storms give us pause, and we look around and everything is different. We ought to go out and enjoy it while we can, it won't last forever.

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