autumn’s colors

October 14, 2009

We’ve had our first hard frost here in Bristol- this past Monday night.  On Tuesday morning, the lawn was white, and the large leaves of the Paulownia were drooping.  Whatever sensitive plants we didn’t get under cover are history now.  Just up the hill, there was snow.  Still, the colors of fall are stunning, and many flowers continue to bloom including Aconitum, Anemone, Aster, Rosa, Phlox, Solidago and Gentian, (to name a few).  The Heptacodium’s white flowers have faded and now we’re enjoying the pink capsules and sepals- it’s beautiful!  Michael Dirr referred to this plant as the “Northern Crape Myrtle”- I like that!


I made a decision to remove all but one of the Hazelnuts from the garden.  Right now they’re cut back and the effect is both shocking and gratifying.  It’s nice to take in a larger wide angle view of the garden.  When I bought Rocky Dale in 2004, we had 8 large clumps of Hazelnuts that had been growing on this property for over 30 years.  I removed two clusters right away to minimize the “green wall” that was eliminating views into the garden.  Each group easily occupied a minimum of 225 square feet and in most cases considerably more. They have a beautiful vase shape and grow 12-15 feet high.  Their fall color is a tapestry of red, orange and yellow.  They produce heavy clusters of Hazelnuts that Blue Jays seem especially attracted to.  One down side is that they produce a lot of dead wood and they need to maintained in a formal setting.  Their flowers are insignificant.


The Hazelnut AlleeThe Hazelnuts Before

IMG_9678The Hazelnuts After

IMG_9670The Hazelnuts After



So- you can see why it was hard to make the decision.  However, we are running out of room to showcase new varieties of plants as the garden has matured and trees have taken up significantly more space.  I thought one group of Hazelnuts was a good representation for a plant very few people have shown interest in.  I now look forward to having space to plant new varieties and bring back some old favorites including:  A variegated River Birch, a variegated Cornus mas, Nyssa ‘Autumn Cascade’, Acer rubrum ‘Candy Ice’, Stewartia ‘Gold Spring’ and Scarlet Sentinel’, Cercis ‘Covey’, Cledastris,  Sorbus magnifica, and a few more.  the list is long and there isn’t enough room for all of them!  We’ll start getting them in the ground next spring.

Here are some photos of the garden taken yesterday.  Enjoy the season- fall is a great time to work in the garden!

We’ve woken up to some chilly weather recently.  Though not near freezing, temps in the 40’s lets you know the seasons are changing!  Is it too soon to make a fire in the wood stove?  My partner, Ethan has taken up the clarinet- and this mornings’ practice has produced quite a few more squeaks that I attribute to the cold, so I may just have to warm the place up, for his clarinet practice of course!

The light is beautiful this time of year, (though driving when the sun is low creates problems), walking through the garden is a joy.  Plants are illuminated in a way that shows them to their best advantage.  The inflorescence of ornamental grasses catch the light particularly well.  Changing colors in leaves are also backlit by this magnificent light.  The color in conifers seems to deepen, and they begin to show their winter coloration.  Hydrangeas are incredible this year- and have begun to turn that incredible deep pink with white.

Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia'

Hydrangea paniculata 'Tardiva'

Asimina triloba - Paw Paw Tree

Miscanthus sinensis 'Silberfeder'


Gentiana makinoi 'Royal Blue'

Miscanthus sinensis 'Variegatus', Helictotrichon sempirvirens, Sedum spectabile 'Brilliant' and Euphorbia myrsinites

Hibiscus 'Kopper King'

Annual Celosia 'Cramer's Amazon'

Helictotrichon sempirvirens with Rhododendron 'Ramapo'

Miscanthus sinesis 'Variagatus'

Cimicifuga romosa 'Atropurpurea'

Conifers, Japanese Maples and Grasses

Calamogrostis brachytricha

It’s also a time of year when we start looking ahead to next year.  We’re able to forgive certain plants their poor performance and give them another chance next spring having great hopes that they will outperform our wildest expectations and that the weather will be glorious.  With that, we’re delighted to cut back their speckled, mottled, moldy, and generally ugly foliage- “next year, babe!”  It’s a relief.

My mind turns to organization in the fall.  I’ve been looking at the four groupings of hazelnuts I have that form a one-sided allee down the central corridor of the garden.  The story is that the family that lived at this house, before it was Rocky Dale Gardens,  had planted them.  They are one of the last vestiges of what was here before Rocky Dale Gardens was created.  In Rocky Dale’s history, a giant mulberry was taken down to make way for the greenhouse, and several fruit trees were removed to make way for nursery and parking.  Of course many other plants were displaced and removed for the creation of the display gardens.
The Hazelnut Allee

Back to my dilemma: the hazelnuts.  I removed several clumps a few years back so that what remained did create a nice formal line or allee, and I was pleased with that.  It opened up space in a garden that has become very crowded and had developed what I call “the green wall”, (when you can’t tell one plant from the other and the overall effect is a mass of foliage without definition or texture).  Now I think I want to remove all the hazelnuts and create a long border that may be even more formal, but will give us the opportunity to show off a greater variety of  plants.  Of course, that involves a retaining wall and leveling the ground, and on and on- big project.  So I thought of starting with the first lobe of hazelnuts- taking them out and putting a dent in the “green wall”.  We’ll see if I have the heart to do this as the bluejays really go for the hazelnuts this time of year.

Part of my problem is I go from one project to the other without really getting them done.  My “garden in the ledges” is still waiting for attention, but I fenced it off this year because I knew I wouldn’t have time for it.  I could go back to that, and give the hazelnuts a reprieve, but that wouldn’t be half as much fun because I’ve already envisioned it and it’s just work now.

That’s what fall is about- envisioning and generating ideas for the future- because you can start seeing the bones of your garden and the experience of what worked and what didn’t is fresh in your mind.  I’ll take off my designer hat and start pulling weeks and attending to fall chores.  Maybe this winter I can get out the chain saw!

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