It is the end of October and here in the Northwest, with the changes in the season the plants take notice. It is probably the most dramatic time for deciduous plants. It is when the color really pops.
It is a very simple process in the leaf. The leaf starts to produce less chlorophyll which is what makes the leaf green. Chlorophyll captures sunlight and turns it into food for the plant. As the days shorten and the temperatures decrease, this process stops. It is kind of like turning off a tap at the base of the leaf. Since food production is no longer happening there is no use for the leaf and it slowly dies and falls off. In the process it turns a variety of colors.
For most of us, it is just pretty. Some parts of the country, like the Northeast, have built a whole industry around the fall color of the native trees. It really is spectacular to see the hillsides ablaze in reds and yellows. We aren’t called the ‘Evergreen State’ for nothing though. Our native forests are mostly conifers. We do have some deciduous trees mixed in but almost all our deciduous trees are yellow or in the case of the Vine Maples a bit of orange mixed in.Because of so much yellow in our native trees, when we started to build the garden at Old Goat Farm, we looked at adding more reds and oranges. Our shade garden was pretty heavy shade with a mix of Douglas Firs and Big Leaf Maples. The first year here we remove 12 of the smaller Big Leaf Maples (1 foot across and 30 feet high). This let a lot more light into the garden and also opened space for other trees. We added 17 smaller scale trees with fall color in mind. We planted 2 Magnolias, 2 Stewartias, 2 Cornus (Dogwoods), 2 Oxydendron (Sourwood), 6 Acer japonica (Japanese Maples), 1 Franklinia, 1 Styrax (Japanese Snowbell) and a Parotiopsis jacmontii.
These small trees combined with some shrubs, such as, Witch Hazels, Fothergillas, deciduous Azaleas and Rhododendrons to form the backbone of seasonal color. We have also used several types of grasses for late season texture. This is the evergreen State so you still can’t deny the main color, green, in the fall garden. Green is the perfect backdrop to make the rest of these really stand out.