Our beautiful autumn of blue skies and sunny days was made more so by the gorgeous fall colors of our area’s trees and shrubs. Hopefully, folks driving around admiring the beauty took the time to identify some of the “show-offs” with an eye to acquiring some for their own landscapes.
My humble little surroundings are made glorious with the red-purple leaves of Purple Smoke tree; the orange-red of the native flowering dogwood; the gold of aspen, Rocky Mt. Maple and Red Osier dogwood — the red stems of which bear a burden of bright yellow leaves.
Elsewhere around the community, red maple leaves takes one’s breath away, as does the scarlet of Burning bush. Nature’s paintbrush is indeed lavish at this time of year. Over time, I’ve mentioned “colorful cultivars” and it’s time to review some of them. I’m still planning to augment my nifty old Elderberry (Sambucus), with either the stunning “Black Lace” Elderberry with pink stems and purple foliage or “Black Beauty” with lacy, near-black foliage and large, lemon-scented pink flowers.
I have already purchased some of the gorgeous Nine-bark ((Physocarpus) cultivars with purple stems and pink “bouquets” to provide color in a small area near a weeping Norway spruce and some red Fir. As with any hardy shrub, however, they take a long time to come into their full size, so I’m still waiting — though they are now after a period of three years, only two — three-feet tall. They show promise of future beauty, though, already sporting dark purple leaves.
Flowering fruit trees are generally a happy choice — not only for fall color as for spring blossoms and sure hardiness — especially the plums. One, “Princess Kay” plum (Prunus nigra) was a 2000 plant selection choice that grows to about 15 feet tall, has pretty foliage that turns a spectacular red in the fall, with bright white double blossoms and is hardy to 7,000 feet.
A few others, previously mentioned, are “Spring Snow,” a non-fruiting crabapple, which reaches 25 feet, with clouds of white flowers in spring and richly-colored fall foliage; “Canada red cherry, with red-purple fruit and dense reddish purple leaves in summer, grows to 30 feet in an attractive pyramidal form; and Washington hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) is cold-hardy and less susceptible to disease than other hawthorns, while boasting red fruit, orange, red, or purple fall foliage (and 3-inch long thorns to provide safe harbor for songbirds from bully crows). These three selections were chosen some years ago as the best bets for mountain-area gardeners by regional experts in the Denver area, who doubtless have provided some even-better cultivars by now. Rule of thumb: Go Native whenever possible!
So many selections are hardy in our chilly Zone 3-5 area that it’s easy to choose from several varieties. You may wish for color, in bark and leaf as well as flower, perhaps fruit for the bird population, or maybe drama of bloom. Whatever your wishes, there is a shrub or small tree for you.
Other possibilities include a variety of Viburnums, Weigela, Spirea, Lilacs, some Azaleas, and the flowering fruits like crab (Malus), plum (Prunus), Mountain Ash (Sorbus), and Hawthorn (Crataegus) among a legion of others. Viburnums serve double duty as blossom and fruit bearers in a variety of beautiful choices that are compact, lovely, and provide white spring flower heads that turn into intense blue (and now other colors) berries beloved of songbirds in the summertime.
“Onondaga” offers show-stopping bloom of purple-tinged centers surrounded by pale pink flower rings and maroon foliage that gradually matures to dark green. Red fruits follow in the fall, making this a knockout selection that needs only good siting (it’s Zone 4) for successful growing. Both plants grow from 5 to 7 feet tall. Weigela (say Wy-gee-la) is a floral bloomer, and a beautiful spring to summer shrub that generally grows to a nicely rounded 5 feet tall. There are many to choose from, most red-flowered with a reblooming habit for a long season and hardy to Zone 4.
Roses, of course, are always to be considered on the shrub list, and my several wild/native varieties are not only showing their red-orange autumn leaf color, but big, beautiful red hips for winter bird food and home décor possibilities in wreaths and swags.
Take a drive, make some notes, and this winter go through your garden catalogs and magazines.
Evaluate your existing landscape, and plan for your next-season makeover/augmentation (keeping your songbird population in mind as well!).
Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 208-265-4688.