The magic of autumn

Each one of our four seasons is truly unique. Although each season has its definitively generalized weather conditions which grant its own distinctiveness, here in the rainy part of the Pacific Northwest, sometimes those unique characteristics are blended somewhat smoothly like an artist might transition from one color in a painting to another. Alternatively, autumn in my corner of the world, often begins as one of the driest seasons and ends with the wet and stormy conditions of winter or spring. Even with the eventuality of autumn’s rain—there is something absolutely magical about this time of year—which may explain the appeal of some of the contemporary expressions of celebrating Halloween.

The moon, when it shows itself, is often partially obscured through a patterned layer of quickly moving cirrocumulus clouds in the nighttime sky. Deciduous trees make their transition from majestic branches full of rich green foliage to the colors of bonfires and sunsets before floating lifeless to the ground, exposing the rugged and sometimes twisted intricacies of their skeletal structure. The air takes on a new scent: that delightfully organic aroma of fallen leaves in the beginning stages of decomposition; the hybrid incense of Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar, Big Leaf Maple and Alder burning in woodstoves; and the stimulating sweetness of spiced, hot apple cider simmering in the crockpot all work together to conjure memories of happy days either lived or imagined.

Of course there are many trees which add to the brilliant autumn experience. The Japanese Maples are a group that are not only perfectly scaled to today’s smaller gardens, they also provide an assortment of lush colors, spring through summer, and then they ignite during autumn to bring some of the most alluring colors of burgundy, red, orange and yellow which may measure up against any plant, anywhere.

Acer palmatum 'Tobiosho'
The low autumn sun peeks through the rich red foliage of Acer palmatum ‘Tobiosho’ highlighting the moss-covered branches of this nearly 40-year-old tree.

For example, Acer palmatum ‘Tobiosho’ puts on one of the most reliable, early, bright-red autumn foliage displays in the garden. During the spring and summer, ‘Tobiosho’ contentedly fulfills its role as a small, multi-trunked, green-leaved tree, slowly growing into a prominent position in the garden, eventually providing shade for other more light-sensitive plants. Suddenly, with the onset of autumn, ‘Tobiosho’ sheds his mild-mannered persona, dawns a bright red cape, and truly becomes a super, intensely colorful spectacle in the garden.

Picea pungens 'Hoopsii'
One of the best, brightest, Colorado Blue Spruce, Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’ stands out in the autumn garden.

A conifer that really does not change color during autumn, but does seem to stand out more brightly in the low autumn sun and against a backdrop of brightly colored leafy trees is – Picea pungens ‘Hoopsii’. This amazingly bright blue conifer is known for its incredible color. If there were space for only one large blue conifer in my garden, it would be ‘Hoopsii’.

Pseudolarix amabalis
This deciduous conifer will drop all of its golden needles every autumn. In spring, watch for bright, fresh green foliage to reappear.

Finally, I must mention the delightful Pseudolarix amabilis, a deciduous conifer whose soft green needles emerge fresh and new each spring. During the summer months, one may not notice this fine textured background tree, but with the first hint of autumn, its soft needles turn bright yellow and then golden brown before dropping to completely expose knobby, tan, bare branches.

Enjoy what remains of our magical autumn season as you prepare for what winter may bring to your region.

Conifer Lover

6 thoughts on “The magic of autumn

  1. Ed, There’s nothing like the steely blue foliage of Hoopsii glowing in the garden, is there? I’d planted one in a client’s garden this spring and it took quite a beating from Hurricane Sandy. It stood its ground but many of the needles on the windy side of the tree were burnt. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’ll survive the winter.


    1. That is quite a testament to either your planting skills or the rooting power of the ‘Hoopsii’ that it was only burned in the desiccating winds and not torn out of its new home!


  2. Ed, I truly enjoy your inspirational pictures and words. I have been interested in conifers for several years but admit it is very difficult to grow many of them here in Missouri- too hot and humid. I am hopeful that one day my wife and I can move to Oregon so I can pursue my dream of having a beautiful dwarf conifer garden. Gardening is truly a passion for me and visualizing your gardens is certainly something to behold. Thank you for your work and inspiration


    1. Hi Jack, thanks for your comments! The shores of Lake Michigan… Although I have never visited Michigan, I do have a cousin living near Charelvoix, are you anywhere near there?


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