A glorious early autumn

Despite the passing of remnants of two hurricanes, each dropping in excess of an inch of rain but with nothing more extreme, our recent weather has been glorious. Not unusual for early autumn, and perhaps a bit cooler on average, but there is no more splendid time of the year for us.

Several nights have neared temperatures to bring our first frost, but I delay as long as possible to clutter the basement with the tropicals that are scattered around the various patios. This year, there are handfuls of mangaves, more vigorous substitutes for agaves that pose a danger in moving indoors with their lethal spines. Mangaves appear just as dangerous, but their flexible spines are mostly for show.

Mangaves, agaves, and other tropicals will be hauled indoors with the threat of the first freeze, and occasionally I am unprepared and a few years ago I was traveling on the first twenty-seven degree night. Fortunately, damage was minor, and several elephant ears and gingers are likely to tolerate twenty degrees, though there is no purpose in putting this to the test.

Bottlebrush buckeye

A week ago there was little evidence of the change of deciduous foliage color that encourages the local populace to flock to the mountains, but now yellows and a few reds require my wife and I to travel only in the direction opposite the leaf traffic. By midday the highway (just over the hill) has cleared, but it will be clogged again by late afternoon. This proximity to the Blue Ridge is only a minor inconvenience for a few short weeks.

In the garden, dogwoods (Cornus florida) turn early, at least most years though not so much this year. The ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba, above) has turned to glowing yellow, and then one day soon every leaf will drop within a day. The oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia) are mixed, with some burgundy leaves, but still many that remain green. With temperatures closer to freezing all leaves will turn, and many will remain until the new year before falling.

Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) and blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), both revered for their autumn foliage, are not so spectacular in this garden. The katsura’s newly emerged spring leaves are more colorful, and ‘Wildfire’ blackgum is most colorful in spring and summer, with mottled autumn coloring. Neither is a disappointment, and soon many of the Japanese maples will begin to turn, with a few delaying into November before their brilliant displays.

Before freezes put an end to the season of perennials, there are many flowers, with several toad lilies (Tricyrtis, above) just beginning to bloom. The mixed batch of seedling purple and white coneflowers (Echinacea, below) continues in bloom, though mostly white flowers, and of course with many browned seedheads that will spread coneflowers into every nearby inch of open space.

The autumn bloom of Encore azaleas has been tardy. While ‘Autumn Twist’ and ‘Autumn Carnation’ (above) are often at their peak by early September, both (and others) are just getting started. A year ago, the autumn flowering camellias (below) were exceptional, and with the first flowers and many buds swelling, these should soon join the reblooming azaleas in a glorious display of blooms in this early autumn.

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