The Best Season

Let me tell you why I think autumn is the best season.

No, let me show you.

Nyssa sylvatica, Black Gum

Nyssa sylvatica, Black Gum

This glorious tree is the Black Gum, Nyssa sylvatica.  It’s native to the Eastern seaboard, it’s architecturally interesting, and in the autumn it puts on its party dress, dotted with pearl-like fruit the color of blue plums.  It’s a tree that’s guaranteed to instill at least momentary mindfulness on anyone who views it.  A really grand specimen will jerk your head around and make you drive a block out of your way just to gaze on it with awe.

And at other times of year, we completely ignore the Nyssas that hide in our woods’ edges – or worse, we cut them down because they’re informally structured or even sparse.  Nyssa sylvatica, you see, is like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree:  not appreciated for what it is.

Until the autumn.  And then, oh then, Nyssas take center stage.

Ginkgos and a Cornus florida make an unforgettable sight

Ginkgos and a Cornus florida make an unforgettable sight

Joining the Nyssas in catching my attention are trees you’ll likely recognize.  Dogwood (Cornus florida) is beautiful for more than its crop of berries.  Ginkgo biloba is well-regarded as a street tree nowadays.  Maples get a lot of attention, but what about the glowing torches that hickories and tulip poplars turn into?  Autumn is too brief; they blow their leaves after the first cold snap, leaving us crunching golden carpets underfoot.

 

Amongst my favorite shrubs are the Viburnums.  As a class, their largest use is as undistinguished hedging, perhaps grown for the fruit that sparkles on the branches or, for some varieties, for the  splash of white flowers like a heavy snow.  Viburnums should be the star of the show, though, for the texture of their leaves and, yes, for their color.

Viburnum x judii, Mahonia bealei, and Cupressus arizonica 'Carolina Sapphire'

Viburnum x judii, Mahonia bealei, and Cupressus arizonica ‘Carolina Sapphire’

(Also in this photo:  Mahonia bealei, whose branches full of sharp-pointed leaves overlap like plates of armor, and the blue Cupressus arizonica ‘Carolina Sapphire’.  A garden full of color can be overwhelming.  A garden with lovelies like this cherry-red Viburnum bracketed by steady evergreens has what designers like to call winter interest.)

Yep, autumn is my favorite season.  It’s a riot that reminds us to pay attention as we race to the conclusion of the year.  Take the time to stop and really look, and once you’ve looked your fill, relax.  What comes after autumn is nature taking a break, which has glories all its own.

Southern wax myrtle, Morella cerifera, in a heavy frost

Southern wax myrtle, Morella cerifera, in a heavy frost

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