Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Into the Deep: Autumn's Garden in a Colorful Last Phase





            It's November and the sun is going down. Not just setting earlier, but hanging lower in the sky all day, even at its noontime height. The decline of the sun in its apparent southward progression has come close to the halfway mark between the equipoise of the Sept. 22, the beginning of autumn, to its low point, the winter solstice on Dec. 22. So even on the mild, gloriously sunny fall days we're enjoying this week, the rays of the sun reach us as a much deeper (or more acute) angle than they do in summer.
            The interesting thing to me -- and while it seems a charmingly aesthetic coincidence to me there is probably some deep geophysical reason for it -- is that these deeply slanted rays from the southward-descending sun serve to accentuate the colors of autumn.
            It's as if there's more red and gold -- a deeper color -- in the sun's light this time of year.
            Clearly we see more gold, and yellow, and orange and red in the earth's biological surface -- in our climate, the northern temperate zone -- in autumn than at any other time of year.
            The dark full, mature, dark (maybe even a little oppressively) greens of late summer -- the quiet August greenwood, the September lawns that greet returning students on the first days of school -- have an air of calm, but slightly weary satisfaction. They have fought their battles, won their ground. There's nothing left to green up. Those late summer woodlands are low on bright colors, and almost slumberous in mood. Birds and other animals are feeding up for seasonal transformation to come, the stresses of migrations, or the deep retreats of winter, but they're eating quietly now.
            There's still plenty of green landscape on earth's surface even now, in the first footholds of November. Lawns are green, in some cases greener than have been for months because mid and late summer often stress grass, and in some cases they're spotted with the fallen leaves that, to my eye, give them more interest. The evergreens are ever as they were, though some are showing brown spots from the now-annual summer dry period (not technically a drought, but effectively one).
            But the deciduous tree have mostly turned. The perennials in our flower gardens have colored up, though their blossoms in almost all cases are long past. The primrose, a low scrubby, prolific plant that blooms yellow in June, turn their leaves crimson in October.
            The leaves of a knee-high flowering perennial called "balloon flowers" turn yellow as cheese.
            It's the early bloomers, first half the season, that seem to provide the most of this low fall foliage. Some of our late bloomers are still trying to bloom: a white-flowering anemone; some annuals; some mums.
            The Montauk daisy is interestingly caught in the middle. It's white, October-blooming flowers still hang on the stem, though they're drying and brown-spotting their petals. But the leaves, particularly on the low stems, are already turning yellow.
            And the beautiful, rusty, bronze and copper tones of weeping cherry tree hover over the back garden's center, like a temple to the color palette of autumn (second photo down).
            The lace-cap hydrangea in the front garden does something similar, offering a whole little forest's worth of variety in a shrub-sized canopy (last photo).
            And, this week, the crown prince of autumn's color-creation, at least for intensity, is the Japanese maple, still a shrub, limited in size (having adjusted to itself to the amount of sun and water it gets from us, no longer pining for more), but not in the expression of its deep, dark, reddening heart (seen in both the top and third photo down).
            It's the declining sun that singes the foliage of these plants, firing them into autumn colors, as every day takes further into the deep.