The Last of the Autumn Garden

 The brief but spectacular colors of autumn have nearly all come and gone at Chickadee Gardens. We likely would have had a longer season had it not been for a small tornado that went through our property on Tuesday the 10th. You read that right. A tornado, here in Oregon. On my street. Granted, we didn't realize it at the time because of course we're not in tornado alley. We are more accurately in the ├╝ber exciting Mole Hill Gulch, land of few weather catastrophes. But we did experience winds at 65+ mph with all that lovely autumn color coming at us horizontally and actually pelleting the house. And the little maple helicopters. And branches. Thank goodness there was basically no damage, save for a spindly Douglas fir that came down on our fence - we were lucky. Nobody was injured in this small event, but it woke up the neighborhood and took care of the last of the leaves. All that color is on the ground and in the neighbor's yard.  

ANYHOW, I digress. I did happen to capture some autumn color before the tornado, so here's the "before". The "after" is not recorded because, well, it's a bunch of bare trees and I'm sure you know what that looks like.

First up, artichokes with a backdrop of asparagus foliage in the veggie garden. Yes, I stripped off the leaves on the artichokes to make the faded flowers stand out. I leave the flowers for the birds and squirrels, they really enjoy the seeds. The artichoke foliage is coming back - it goes semi-dormant in late summer for us.

Detail of asparagus foliage. It's so golden this year!

A small but mighty Parrotia persica or Persian ironwood tree planted two years ago.

Cotinus 'Grace' took a long time this year to color up. The color started last week, all of a sudden, after a couple of rather cold nights. 

The color really is illuminated, as the leaves become translucent.

Amsonia hubrichtii and Acer palmatum leaves.

The gravel paths are a challenge to keep clean this time of the year. I would just leave them until the trees are finished losing their leaves, but that would leave a deep coating of wet leaves, a mighty task to remove them and pick leaves out of the decorative rock lining these paths. Instead, I treated myself to a battery powered leaf blower this year. While the battery only lasts about 9 minutes in a charge, I love it. It has helped me with this recurring task immensely. Now if they would only improve that battery capacity. Sigh, a gardener can dream.

The Acer macrophyllum dumped their leaves nearly all at once this year. This is one of three along the shade garden edge.

Miscanthus s. 'Cabaret' with spent flowers of Solidago 'Fireworks' in the distance.

Detail of miscanthus leaves changing color. These huge grasses have been reliably upright for me for the last five years. This year, however, after a heavy early autumn rain they flopped open and remain so. I think perhaps it also has to do with how much water they received this summer. That is to say they got more than they had in the past. I have another of these in a location that got virtually zero summer water and it is upright and happy.

Sweet Calendula 'Radio' has been blooming non-stop since spring when I direct sowed seeds in the veggie garden. This year, I have been drying calendula petals (and many other plants and herbs) to make salves and other herbal adventures to give as gifts.

Another miscanthus - this is Miscanthus s. 'Malepartus'. I moved it year before last, as it outgrew its original place quite quickly and was in the way of a path. It sulked last year but this year came back and has not flopped as it is supported on either side by cistus.

Cotinus 'Pink Champagne' grew a lot this summer, although it is a smaller cotinus or smoke bush overall. From Xera Plants a few years ago, I really enjoy this small shrub in a dry border.

Physocarpus 'Diabolo' had dark purple foliage all season. Turning rich wine red is a bonus. Great deciduous shrub.

Persimmon or Diospyros kaki 'Saijo' has not only grown significantly this year but has lovely color. Hopefully it will fruit for us soon.

A messy, fluffy autumn mess in the berm garden. Next spring the artemesia and a few other goodies are getting a hard haircut to keep them in check, I think it will make a big difference.

A beautiful dawn redwood or Metasequoia glyptostroboides given to me by Evan of The Practical Plant Geek a few years ago. A deciduous conifer, it goes out in a blaze of bronze.

While not in the category of fall color, this Cheilanthes sinuata or wavy cloak fern in a gravelly dry area caught my eye this week.

Lagerstroemia 'Natchez' finally giving up the autumn color. This is one of the last to change in my garden. No flowers yet on this young tree, hopefully next year. 

Looking out our bedroom window, a view impossible to see from within the garden. The flopped open grasse are Panicum 'Cloud Nine' (closest) and P. 'Northwind'. This is primarily due to late summer - early autumn heavy rain. I have considered taking them out because of this, they tend to do it every year. The Miscanthus 'Malepartus' center right with gold foliage, not so much. It stays pretty upright.

Another non-colorful plant but a sweet favorite is Sedum palmeri. This has been reliably hardy for me in the garden for five solid years.

The top of the driveway with the beginning of the berm garden. FM's new stone staircase on the left. An evergreen magnolia that was here when we moved in had been cut of a foot off of the ground, presumably to remove it. But it grew back and I've tried to decide what shape it should be - multi-stemmed shrub or to take all suckers but one out and let that grow? Any suggestions? I like it for its evergreen leaves which I use in many bouquets.

A very favorite artemisia, A. frigida.

Stipa gigantea in the background, Viburnum rhytidophyllum 'Alleghany' in front. A semi-evergreen large woody shrub, this plant is a nice backdrop for other flashier plants.

Plain ol' Acer macrophyllum in the super messy chicken yard. Well, at least the hens have something to look at. They aren't reliably good for color, some years better than others.

Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku' near the fire pit.

Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' can have nice yellows before it goes dormant for the year.

An unexpected source of color, this Solomon's seal or Polygonatum (unknown species) really shows up in the shade garden this year.

The Cupressus arizonica 'Nathan's Gold' given to me by my friend and plantsman Nathan Champion is beautiful. Backlit by one of many native cascara or Rhamnus purshiana.

Calycanthus 'Hartlage Wine' gets in on the act with some lovely yellows and huge leaves.

The radishes are abundant this fall. 

The pumpkin and winter squash harvest was pretty good considering it wasn't the hottest of summers. We grew Musquee de Provence and Winter Luxury pumpkins, butternut and delicata squash, too. Hopefully, they will turn a little more color in the greenhouse where they are currently curing. Some may not be ripe enough but we try to glean as much produce as possible, so we'll give curing a try to see if those butternuts will turn a pretty gold color.

Finally, a wide shot at the edge of the garden. Amsonia hubrichtii glows under another Acer palmatum 'Sango kaku'.

While I usually think of trees and shrubs for autumn color, I'm learning that the veggie garden, for example, is another source. Also I'm lucky that the surrounding properties all have interesting trees of one sort or another, all adding up to a very wonderful whole. The thing about it is that this time of the year plants show up that normally get overlooked. It's as if they are saying "hey...I'm here too!" against a backdrop of Douglas firs and other evergreen stalwarts of the Oregon landscape. I'm happy to notice them and the layers of color they give to the landscape that surrounds us.

There it is, the end of the season and the beginning of a new one coming soon. I have a feeling this winter might be a long one, so taking in the garden daily is a treat to soothe the soul.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you! Happy gardening!

Oh, and if you want to read the local article on our tornado, you can find it here. Here is also NOAA's report on it, thank you Paul!


  1. Beautiful foliage. I'm sorry it came to an abrupt end. We also had some scary winds recently but not that scary! I hope it was a one-time experience for you but sadly it's hard to know what to expect as climate change continues.

    1. Oh, who knows with climate change - let us hope it is only a one-timer. Whew. We got lucky, though - really lucky and for that, we are grateful.

  2. Thanks for sharing your beautiful fall photos.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Jeanette....we love sharing!

  3. Lots to enjoy, even if it was brief. Much of my fall display was also cut short. First it was just too warm for most plants to develop color, then I had a hard frost that killed or at least damaged a lot of green foliage before it could turn colors. Oh well.

    Regarding the magnolia, I'm partial to multi-trunked trees, if only to spite the horticulture industry which almost always favors single, perfectly straight trunks. Single or multi-trunked, it would eventually create very heavy shade beneath it, unless you keep it pruned as a shrub. That's what I would keep in mind.

    1. Yes, I had that too - the frozen thing OR maybe all that smoke from September? Seemed to damage some foliage.

      The magnolia suggestion, I love! Prune it up a bit and keep it. Thanks, Evan - brilliant solution.

  4. Crazy weather this fall. We had continuous winds over 50 mph this past weekend. Created some interesting snow drifts around the house. I like the idea of allowing the magnolia to have multiple trunks but limbed up like a small tree. Also like the idea of the leaf blower as I have just installed gravel paths and wondering how to keep all the debris off them. Even in Fall your garden has a lovely serene atmosphere.

    1. Whoah...that's some heavy wind. And snow...I can't imagine snow this early.

      I too like the magnolia suggestion and limb it up. I'm going to do that as soon as weather allows.

      The leaf blower is FABULOUS - I don't like gas powered ones, so the battery powered one is great, but all brands seem to be stuck on the 10 minute charge because it takes so much juice to blow air, apparently. I got a Worx brand (I have a Worx battery powered lawn mower we affectionately dubbed the Barbie mower) and I like it a lot, it takes the abuse I give it. It does take 5 HOURS to recharge a battery so I had to get a second one and just keep rotating them. If I had to do it over I would have ordered it with a dual charging battery pack...just my 2 cents.

  5. congratulations on escaping tornado damage. You may have inspired me to grow a Cotinus grace on the hummock where my beloved thunderhead pine died this spring (severe winter drought took it). I was considering a Nyssa sylvatica, but it is likely much too large. I am comfortable with a heavy annual pruning of my Cotinus coggygria 'Ancot' golden spirit. I was just pondering how to put more bright red fall color in the back garden. Artemisia frigida is going on my wish list for a blasting hot unwatered bed where caryopteris and helenium have recently not survived. Excellent drainage with a lot of pumice. Salvia apiana (1 of 3) is happy there. Thanks for the inspiration. Have a peaceful winter.

    1. Oooh, Cotinus 'Grace' is a favorite and the color just gets better every day and it's easy to keep it a smaller size as you know. Good red/orange color. Nyssa sylvatica - sooo pretty but really large in the gardens where I work, but I can see the appeal.

      Artemisia frigida is so pretty, I got it from work and it seems we are out of it, perhaps I can talk my boss into propagating more from my plant. If you don't find it let me know. We do mail order. I'm surprised Caryopteris didn't survive - perhaps it likes a bit more clay? Not sure. Salvia apiana is one I covet, would love some but sadly my soil is too heavy to make it happy. I hope you too have a peaceful winter, thanks for your kind words!

  6. Just gorgeous Tamara, I'm so glad you were able to record it before the bizarre weather happening took it all away.

  7. This was such an interesting post with such beautiful colours and textures from so many different kinds of plants, shrubs and trees.
    I am such a fan of cotonus, I have three different types at the moment and my gardens are small ... the colours of the leaves can be amazing .. funny enough it is the smell of cotonus that reminds me of something I can't pin yet .. but it is very pleasant ! I have always remarked on the ghostly colour of Soloman's Seal which was usually in time for Halloween. I have a panicum that falls like that too after a hard rain shower .. I dubbed it the giant spider (from a distance) .. Yes I am afraid it is yet again, going to be a LONG winter even for a Canadian ? LOL

    1. Aren't the cotinus gorgeous? Every gardener that enjoys fall color should try to find room for one. I have never noticed a scent on mine - I'll pay attention, now.

      I saw your blog post with the Solomon's seal after your comment here and yes, you have the same thing. Pretty cool!

      The spider comment - I laughed out loud. Great description! Oh...let us hope we can tinker in our gardens this winter a bit - wouldn't that be lovely? :)

  8. I am so interested in all this, and especially comparing your plant's performances to mine. I'm in S. Oregon and we grow quite a few of the same plants. All of my Cotinus, and I have 5 of them including Grace, have verticillium wilt. Oddly, they don't die, but if I cut them to the ground each winter and let them start over, I get very little wilt and they stay attractive. I've lost a Japanese maple, an Aucuba and some cimicifugas to it. I have 3 large Parrotias and they are very pleasing except they hang on to their leaves until spring. The color can't be beat but it comes late. I read an article on petioles and some other part that explained why a hard frost affects leaf fall. Here, plants were growing in early October as if it was high summer, and so the Lagerstroemias all turned brown after a drop to 26 degrees later in October. But still, it signals the end of 2020! Yes! I have gravel and stepping stones and read with interest that a leaf blower works. I always thought it would blow the gravel, but I guess that would just be the big gas ones...

    1. Very interesting, Barb! It's fun to compare notes, it helps me to understand what's going on with any given plant. The verticillium wilt - yes, that can be an issue with Cotinus - but it sounds like you have a good solution. I noticed one branch with -potential- wilt that I cut off early on and haven't seen any more signs of it, although I know it's in my soil.

      The Parrotia leaf clinging issue - mine is so young I haven't experienced that yet. Oh another oak tree. Oh well, that's ok. I love it all the same.

      Too bad about your Lagerstroemias, such a shame. That early frost coupled with our forest fire smoke really did have an impact on deciduous trees and shrubs at the end of their yearly cycle, I agree.

      As far as the leaf blower is concerned, they really don't blow the gravel which I am SO happy about. Raking tends to pick up a lot of gravel if it's wet so even the simple way of doing it removes gravel. I also have an electric (that is with a long cord) leaf blower that is more powerful than the Worx battery powered one and even it doesn't tend to blow gravel away. I personally am very happy to have both of mine - plus, no gasoline, no smell. Yay! And here's to the end of 2020 and a healthier, better 2021. Cheers!

  9. Our fall color came to an abrupt end too thanks to two tropical storms. Tornados are terrifying. On a couple of occasions in the last 30 years Tornado Alley was diverted into our state. Tornadoes went near my brother’s home, my parents’ house, and my father-in-law’s house and they all described the tornadoes as sounding like a freight train.

    The fall color of Cotinus ‘Grace’ is absolutely stunning. ‘Pink Champagne’ is really nice too.

    1. Oh no...two tropical storms? I can't even imagine! So sorry. And tornados too. We are pretty lucky in the Pacific Northwest to have fairly mild weather, our biggest concern is earthquakes.

      Cotinus 'Grace' is great, it actually got better color than when I took photographs. Just a wonderful plant. Cheers, Happy Thanksgiving!


Post a Comment

Thank you for your comments! I love hearing them, I will approve comments as soon as I can. Yay!

Popular Posts