The naturalist John Burroughs wrote: How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.
This is a lovely sentiment and, for most of us, it eloquently captures what we mean when we say the words Fall Color. It’s mid-November and most of the color is gone across the Ford House landscape. The blazing reds of sugar maple and sumac gave way to the rustic browns of oak and hickory, which have now yielded to the dazzling yellow of silver maple, the last major color display of a spectacular year for fall color.
The Ford family hired landscape architect Jens Jensen to design their landscape. Jensen choreographed a masterpiece that provides year-round interest without relying on the overt displays of annual flowers. He used the unique fall colors of different tree and shrub species to move the eye around the property and extend the seasonal display. Fall leaf color has provided the show at Ford House since mid-September, earlier if you include the plants stressed from an unusually hot summer.
However, Jensen recognized that leaf color is only part of the fall color equation. As the leaves fall and are whisked away, the berries of crabapples, hawthorns and hollies provide a vibrant but subtle red in the landscape. He also included fall blooming shrubs and perennials to extend the display season. For those adventurous souls willing to trek around the Ford House landscape, they will be rewarded with the delicate but beautiful flowers of Common Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) scattered throughout the landscape…including a beauty tucked away near the entrance to the visitor’s center. Also blooming is chrysanthemums, a fall standard, and the six-foot tall Monkshood (Aconitum carmichaelii), which can be found in the Flower Lane adjacent to the Rose Garden (a few hardy but fading blooms remain here, as well).
So, as we lament the loss of fall leaf color and anticipate the busy holiday season (I can smell turkey as I type!), perhaps we can extend our growing season by looking about the landscape and following the lead of nature as observed by the naturalist Edwin Way Teale:
For man, autumn is a time of harvest, of gathering together. For nature, it is a time of sowing, of scattering abroad.