Trees cel­e­brate au­tumn with vi­brant dis­play

If your gar­den wish list in­cludes a tree, con­sider the con­di­tions you have to of­fer

The Peterborough Examiner - - ARTS & LIFE - THERESA FORTE Theresa Forte is an award-win­ning gar­den colum­nist, pho­tog­ra­pher and speaker. You can reach her by call­ing 905-351-7540 or by email at forte­gar­[email protected]

A late Oc­to­ber morn­ing is the per­fect time to take in some of the colours of the sea­son.

The days are start­ing to draw in, and there’s a hint of frost in the air, but that doesn’t mean the gar­den has lost its magic — some of the best colours of the year are just com­ing into their own.

Sev­eral peo­ple have re­cently asked if I have put the gar­den to bed. Se­ri­ously? I an­swer with a re­sound­ing no — Oc­to­ber (and be­yond into Novem­ber) are some of my favourite days in the gar­den. The thought of strip­ping the gar­den bare in the au­tumn just goes against the grain: I look for­ward to watch­ing the gar­den morph from cool greens, vi­o­lets and pinks to warm shades of yel­low, or­ange, cop­per, pur­ple and red — the per­fect colours to heat up a crisp Oc­to­ber morn­ing.

A quick walk around our fall gar­den re­veals a canopy of fiery, scar­let-red Amur maple, or­ange-red sour gum and golden yel­low sil­ver maple leaves. Hot pink and red burn­ing bush brighten a shady cor­ner while the nearby hy­drangeas have taken on a rich bronze-wine tone that en­hances the last pink blos­soms of the sea­son. Cool laven­der-blue asters; golden yel­low grasses; pink Ja­panese anemones; apri­cot and pink old-fash­ioned roses; sil­very pan­i­cles of mis­cant­hus; chrome yel­low chrysan­the­mums and marigolds; choco­late brown seed heads; or­ange blan­ket flow­ers and zin­nias; vi­o­let, white and pink dahlias — there is cer­tainly no lack of colour in the fall gar­den.

Oc­to­ber is also a good time of the year to con­sider adding a tree to your gar­den. A tree planted in the au­tumn will have time to set­tle in be­fore win­ter sets in, sea­sonal rains will keep it wa­tered, and your new tree will be ready to shine in the spring. Over the years, I have been adding more trees to our prop­erty. I choose na­tive trees when pos­si­ble, but it is im­por­tant to choose a tree that suits your par­tic­u­lar site. Let me in­tro­duce you to two of my favourite trees for year-round in­ter­est: Amur maple (Acer gin­nala) and sour gum (Nyssa syl­vat­ica).

The Amur maple grac­ing the back bor­der is one of the first trees that I planted in our gar­den. It started out as a multi-stemmed shrub that I was as­sured would have fab­u­lous au­tumn colour. Over the past 25 years, the tree was gen­tly pruned and coaxed to a grace­ful, gen­tly arched form with a sin­gle leader, and it de­liv­ers spec­tac­u­lar scar­letred leaves in the fall, as promised. The fall dis­play varies in in­ten­sity, some years are bet­ter than others, but that’s what makes life in­ter­est­ing.

The Amur maple is na­tive to China, Mon­go­lia, Siberia, Korea and Ja­pan, and it is very hardy and re­quires very lit­tle at­ten­tion once es­tab­lished. It is eas­ily grown in moist, or­gan­i­cally rich, well-drained soil, but it will adapt to a va­ri­ety of soils. The best fall colours ap­pear when the tree is planted in full sun, but it will also ac­cept dap­pled sun­light. Once es­tab­lished, it is rel­a­tively drought-tol­er­ant and thrives in my home gar­den de­spite be­ing close to a very busy road. Amur maples are well suited to smaller prop­er­ties: they reach 5.5 me­tres with a spread of about three me­tres.

The Amur maple fea­tures dark green, glossy leaves through­out sum­mer, showy red sama­ras ap­pear in late sum­mer. The lobed leaves turn out­stand­ing shades of or­ange, scar­let and bur­gundy in the fall.

I feel very com­fort­able rec­om­mend­ing this easy-care, grace­ful tree as an ac­cent for a shrub bor­der, pri­vacy screen or as a sin­gle spec­i­men for a small prop­erty. It of­fers out­stand­ing fall colour. If you can of­fer a lit­tle more space, the sour gum (Nyssa syl­vat­ica) is one of my favourite trees for year-round in­ter­est, grace­ful form and out­stand­ing fall colour. This North Amer­i­can na­tive fea­tures spring flow­ers that are an ex­cel­lent source of nec­tar for bees and dark blue fruit that is at­trac­tive to birds and wildlife. It is also known as the black tu­pelo tree.

Eas­ily grown in av­er­age, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade, it is very adapt­able. The sour gum is slow grow­ing and fea­tures a pyra­mi­dal form when young and a loose, rounded form as it ma­tures. The sour gum can stretch nine- to 15-me­tres tall at ma­tu­rity, so po­si­tion it with care. It de­vel­ops a deep tap­root and will re­sent be­ing moved.

Spec­tac­u­lar scar­let fall colour. Oval, slightly toothed leaves are dark green, turn­ing eye-catch­ing shades of or­ange and scar­let in the au­tumn. Ex­cel­lent or­na­men­tal shade tree for lawns or street tree. I po­si­tioned our young tree in a bed along the prop­erty line; and af­ter five years on site, it of­fers a grace­ful canopy over our lit­tle sit­ting area — it will even­tu­ally fill the area.

The sour gum tree does well in moist wood­land gar­dens or nat­u­ral­ized ar­eas, or in low spots sub­ject to pe­ri­odic flood­ing or in boggy ar­eas. It is dis­ease-re­sis­tant and very self-suf­fi­cient once es­tab­lished. Al­though slow-grow­ing, of­fer it plenty of room for fu­ture growth so it can reach its full po­ten­tial.

If your gar­den wish list in­cludes a tree, con­sider the con­di­tions you have to of­fer: soil, mois­ture, sun­light and space to stretch out. Look for a tree that of­fers grace­ful form, habi­tat po­ten­tial, self-suf­fi­ciency and, last but def­i­nitely not least, out­stand­ing fall colour.


A 25-year-old Amur maple (Acer gin­nala) is a lovely ac­cent in the fall gar­den with or­ange-scar­let leaves and grace­ful form. It is well suited to smaller prop­er­ties.

Planted five years ago, the North Amer­i­can na­tive sour gum (Nyssa syl­vat­ica) fea­tures bril­liant fall colours.

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