Equinox

Fall color at Woodland Cottage

Fall color at Woodland Cottage

No matter where you live in the Northern Hemisphere, the signs of Fall are everywhere.  Birds migrating, animal behavior changing, day length shortening and light intensity weakening.  The temperatures are cooling, of course, and I read that there’s even been a dusting of snow already in the far North.

Today, we turn from days dominated by light to days dominated by darkness until next Spring.  Today is the equality day, the balance day, where light and dark fight and dark wins…or, looking at it another way, they are both at peace with each other today.  Can’t you feel the “pause” in the air?

My keen sense of the natural world around me (probably due to the fact that I spend a great deal of my life outside, observing) told me early in the year that the usual, yearly succession of garden events was beginning two weeks early, at least here in the magical Mid-Atlantic where I live.  As far as I can tell, that has continued all year.  Plants leafed out early, so the bugs came out early to eat the plants, and the birds and bats came out early to eat the bugs and plants, etc. etc.  Now the flip side is happening because it cooled off two weeks earlier than normal.

The one thing that is consistent, year to year, though, is the changing of the leaves.  Unlike the leafing out in the Spring–which is brought on by a combination of day length, light intensity, and warmth–the Fall color begins when the light intensity and day length are at exactly the right level.  Mother Nature flips the “off switch”, and chlorophyll production ceases in the leaves.  Now, the greens fade, and the brilliant colors–present in the leaves all along, but hidden by the deep greens–start their annual show.  Two or three weeks later, the leaves have fallen and the trees are bare.

Here in the magical Mid-Atlantic, I start to notice in August the Dogwoods turning their deep, wine red ever so slightly.  This is brought on by heat stress, probably (and lawsy it was hot here this Summer) and, from then on, it’s gradual until the rest of the trees do their Fall thing.  On the National Mall in Washington, D.C., my friend, Dean, and I take our Fall walks under glorious, old Elms which begin to turn yellow right around Columbus Day weekend (mid-October).  Finally, the show begins, and the color peak is usually somewhere around the 25th of October to the 1st of November.  Then, the big “dump” of leaves, and the shock of the bareness.  It always takes me awhile to adjust to the stark landscape.  (And that surrounding starkness is why I planted my garden so heavily with evergreens.  A walk in my garden in Winter is a joy because I am transported from the nakedness around me).

While the leaves begin turning at the same time each year, temperature and moisture do determine the color intensity and length of the Fall color show.  It is said that warm, sunny days, and cool, crisp nights–and ground with plenty of moisture in it–make for the most brilliant color intensity.  Dryness and heat can result in dull colors and browning; too much rain can knock the leaves off prematurely.  Either way, by early November, the trees are bare, once again .

In my garden here at Woodland Cottage, I have the added treat of seven Japanese Maples.  These are the last to color-up, usually as all the other color is waning and falling–and they give the final hurrah.  The varieties I have, upright ‘Bloodgood’ and weeping ‘Crimson Queen’, turn brilliant, fire engine red and hang on for a long time.  I have uplights underneath them, and it’s like looking out at cherry drops when I gaze out the back windows at night.

'Bloodgood' Japanese Maple, Fall color, Woodland Cottage

'Bloodgood' Japanese Maple, Fall color, Woodland Cottage

The time of the falling leaves has, for me, always been a time of pause–between getting back into the groove after Summer and the craziness of the Winter holidays to come.  Savor this time with me, won’t you?  Take time to pause and enjoy Nature’s Autumn show.

Posted under Random garden thoughts, The Fall Garden