Recent very cold nights have caused most of my trees and shrubs to surrender to the inevitability of winter bareness. But last week just before our 25-degree Fahrenheit nights began, a few trees and shrubs in my yard were spectacular. Some years these late-to-the-party autumn beauties are killed back before they achieve full color. This year, we were lucky.
The photo above is what my Tall Stewartias look like this time of year. S. monadelpha is not native, but I’ve never seen any signs of invasiveness from this Asian species in the 15+ years my two trees have been growing on our north side. Small white camellia-like flowers adorn every branch in late spring, and they are lovely. But I think this tree’s fall color, and the gorgeous cinnamon-colored bark it shows off during winter are its greatest assets. The trees are pest-free and always beautiful, no more so that just before late autumn cold strips them bare of their scarlet cloaks.
My slow-growing Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum) is most noticeable in the landscape after its leaves fall. The leaves turn a nice red, but they don’t last long. Fortunately, the large winged seeds (samaras) linger long on the branches, contrasting nicely with the exfoliating bark that motivated me to acquire this Chinese maple. Ours has been growing very slowly for over 20 years. It is about eight feet tall, maybe nine, growing at the edge of its preferred hardiness zone here. I knew it preferred colder climates, so I tucked it into a spot near the bottom of our consistently coldest hill, where snow lingers a week longer than anywhere else on our five acres. The reddish exfoliating bark and the large samaras more than compensate for the slow growth of this tree.
I have waxed enthusiastic more than once about the intoxicating cinnamon-sweet fragrance of the rose-colored flowers of Prunus mume ‘Peggy Clarke,’ but I don’t think I’ve mentioned that she also dazzles us every autumn with her gold and apricot fall leaf color. Her cherry-red bark is lovely too, making this small tree a year-round favorite.
Trident maple (Acer buergerianum) is another Chinese maple I couldn’t resist. I added it because it is supposed to produce reliably red fall color. However, in my yard, the leaves on my tree vary with temperature. An early cold autumn creates lovely crimson color; a slow and mild fall like we had this year produces mostly golds and tangerines, with a few reds at the top of the tree. This Chinese maple is also supposed to produce exfoliating bark on its trunk. My specimen is just getting large enough to show signs of this, but even now, its gray-whitish color is striking in my winter landscape.
The slow-to-cool autumn was more favorable for one of our favorite specimen trees. For the second year in a row, our Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) has been breathtaking. This tree always surprises me. One day it is bright green, then seemingly overnight, a golden glow overtakes it from top to bottom. This one draws wows from all who see it during its autumn display. It seems a fitting way to close this post, and the season. Winter starkness fast approaches, and I welcome the cold season. It gives my plants time to rest and recover, building strength for spring greening. The first seed catalogs have already arrived. Winter dreamtime is at hand…