Friday, October 30, 2009

Fragrances of Autumn

Autumn to me is a season filled with fragrance.  Beyond candy apples or wood smoke, I have fallen for the scents of plants as they mature and change.  I have vivid memories of hiking at the Morton Arboretum and shuffling through the bitter tang of oak and hickory leaves or the pungent vinegary smell of honeylocust seed pods.  October Skies aster not only has pretty blue flowers, but run your hands through the foliage for its spicy tang.  I tend to leave the stems of my herbs up through the winter for the birds to clean out.  The juncos have been known to clean out the basil seeds in an afternoon.  However, I also like to use them in dried arrangements, and even their woody stems still hold a light scent.

Not every plant has a fabulous fragrance in fall.  Many people love the scent of prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) as it blooms.  It's a great short prairie grass, but instead of freshly popped popcorn or clean laundry, to me it smells like sweat socks.  And not clean sweat socks.  Needless to say, no prairie dropseed in my garden.

One of my favorite fragrances of autumn is katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum).  As the leaves turn, they give off the scent of burnt sugar or caramelized apricots.  Even in spring, the fallen leaves still hold a scent.  It's a bittersweet fragrance, but it holds a power over me.

He's just a new baby, but growing fast!

A pretty apricot fall color, too!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Fall Foliage?

As we're descending into November, I start noticing all the evergreens now that the leaves are changing.  Yes, the maples and oaks are taking centerstage with their fiery colors, but what of the solemn spruces or whispery pines?  Some evergreens sport a winter color that's something to consider as you plan your garden. 

Techny Arbovitae - a finer twigged arborvitae, it boasts deep rich green foliage during the growing season.  Yet, as our temperatures get cooler and the days shorter, the flat ferny needles turn a bronzy purple.  What could be nicer than a splash of red twig dogwood to bring that nifty winter color to the foreground?

Blue Rug Juniper - just one of the many groundcover junipers out there that turns purply grey in winter.  This is already a wonderful carpeting groundcover for a sunny dry area, but I really love it flowing over a wall. 

White Pine - our native pine turns a paler yellow green in winter, and come October, will lose it's third year needles.  The inner needle drop creates a terrific acid-rich mulch for plants and it's paler winter color stands out against the heavier spruces.  I love it for it's softness in texture.  This is pine you can pet.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Autumn Come Lately

It's nearly November and in some cases, here in Chicagoland, fall color has just started.  I am falling behind a bit, myself.  The bird feeder went up only yesterday and judging by the amount of activity, should have gone up weeks ago.  At least I made the blue jay happy.  The robins will be crushed when the birdbaths get put away in the next few days, though.

I'm sure fussier gardeners are cutting back their hostas and daylilies while mine linger in their fall frocks.  I've left the seed stalks of the hosta up over the winter a few years now because not only am I a lazy gardener, but they provide another food source for the birds.  And they look cool dried, especially in arrangements and in a feathery frost.

We celebrate autumn with tramps in the woods.  I'm lucky to have two patches of forest in our village that are lovingly tended, as well as a world-class arboretum, botanic garden and thousands of acres of forest preserve.  In the susurration of shuffling through fallen leaves and breathing in the spicy scent of decay, I feel there is a sense of grounding.  We can touch the slow spiral of descending days as the light fades and the world slides towards winter slumber.  I hope you take advantage of a few free hours to go explore the woods, find an acorn or walnut, and startle a nuthatch or two.

The architecture of oaks

Maple woods

The occasional hawk

And fearless deer