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Orange you glad it’s Fall?

Our giant white oak has yet to change color or drop leaves but the hickory behind is golden orange.

Here in the South, we never know what kind of fall foliage to expect.  Some years the leaves simply turn brown and slough off.   Other time like this year we have a radiant Autumn with intense leaf color that continues for weeks.

In celebration we have spent a lot of time on the woodland trails and on the back deck admiring the display.

In late afternoon, we can be found gazing to the west toward the mockernut hickory next door which is back-lit by the setting sun.

The hickory is framed by the giant white oak that inspired me to buy this place.

In the fall color department, the white oak is a bit of a slacker.  The hickory, however, has been dependably golden every autumn.

The landscape plants make a nice transition to the orange dogwoods in the edge of the woods.

I have lived here for almost 30 years and have watched the mockernut grow up.  When it was still fairly young, a limb from the white oak topped the hick.  It looked kind of rough and I considered taking it out.  I am so grateful that my better judgement prevailed because the tree outgrew the injury and now the only sign is a slightly kinky leader.

Mockernut hickory is known in the plant world as a sort of prankster.   Its nuts are large and almost round but after the husk falls off, only a tiny nut and even tinier kernel are left.  I think my mockernut was planted by a squirrel who forgot to come back and nibble the tiny kernel.

On the other side of white oak central, I planted a bed – full of Japanese maples, native azaleas, bigleaf magnolia and sweetshrub.

A study in textural extremes - a golden cowcumber leaf has settled in with a threadleaf Japanese maple.

I selected a coral bark maple a.k.a ‘Sango-kaku’ for its intense red winter twigs.  I was disappointed the first fall when the leaves turned yellow instead of red.  I soon learned that after golden yellow, the leaves would morph into a beautiful shade of apricot and stay on the trees for a very long time.

I compensated by planting a threadleaf Japanese maple that does turn red in the fall.  I believe the variety is called ‘Garnet’.  It is quite striking in combination with all the yellow, gold and orange in the area.

I chose three bigleaf magnolias for their  fragrant spring blooms and striking coarse textured leaves.  The leaves of this cowcumber (as they call it in the country) can be up to a yard long.

As I walked through the back garden the other day, one of those enormous cowcumber leaves had drifted down and settled on top of the Garnet threadleaf maple.  It was quite a study in contrast – one of the most coarse textured leaves ever nestled in with one of the finest textured.

Proving once more that Autumn is a season of surprises.

 

Okra Hydrangeas

This natural oakleaf hydrangea stand sits on the edge of a ravine in the partial shade of old oaks.

In my part of the world, we are about to enter the green phase of early summer.

The daffodils, spring wildflowers and azaleas are long gone.

The roses have waned and the magnolias are on their way out.

Luckily the oakleaf hydrangeas have taken center stage.

In the wild, I usually see oakleaf hydrangea hanging off steep slopes or following ravines.   There used to be a killer stand along the interstate coming into Vicksburg.  They were draped all over the steep loess bluffs until MDOT decided to “clean up” – alas.

I feel fortunate to have seen this hydrangea in its natural habitat.  Many know the oakleaf hydrangea only as a garden plant.

And what a fine garden plant it is!

The sterile flowers look like paper cut-outs. The minuscule globular fertile flowers will mature into tiny seed capsules.

Southern Living magazine’s garden editors have long admired the lovely natural stands of oakleaf hydrangeas that grace the city of Birmingham, Alabama.  They have aggressively promoted it as a garden plant.

Due in part to these efforts,  the oakleaf hydrangea is now one of the few native plants that is commonly available in the nursery trade.

Still –  as Dr. Michael Dirr says “This is one of the most handsome plants that landscape designers have at their disposal, but it is not utilized to its fullest potential in American gardens…”

From a landscaper’s perspective, the oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) does have a lot to offer.

The shrub itself has an attractive mounding habit.  In late spring, it is adorned with pristine white flower panicles .

A developing flower bud is surrounded by delightfully textured "okra" like leaves.

Each flower is actually an elongated conglomeration of tiny fertile flowers and showy sterile flowers.  The sterile flowers consist of four sepals and have no pistils or stamens.

The fertile flowers have sexual parts but no petals or sepals.   At maturity, they morph into tiny capsules full of seed.

The entire inflorescence dries on the plant – usually taking on a beautiful buff or pink color.   I enjoy using them fresh or dried in summer flower arrangements.

The bold coarse textured leaves have pointed lobes reminiscent of a red oak.   In Autumn, they turn scarlet or wine colored before shedding to reveal peeling cinnamon colored bark.

I once heard a woman call this plant okra (pronounced OAK-ree) hydrangea.

Depending on your point of view, the lobed leaves could be said to resemble those of an oak tree or an okra plant.  I have decided to adopt “okra hydrangea”  as my chosen common name.   I think that it is quite appropriate for a true blue southern plant.


 

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