Flashy golden forsythias and splashy pink saucer magnolia take center stage in many early spring landscapes. But these leading ladies aren’t the only shrubs that can make an impact in your yard at this time of year. Many other woody plants are worthwhile additions for their vernal display of showy blooms. If you’re looking for something a little more unique, consider one of the beauties shown below.
Last week I went to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in search of fall color to photograph for an upcoming book on trees and shrubs. As a guest of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and the Walworth County Visitors Bureau, I was treated to gracious hospitality and peak fall color. The wealthy of the Midwest who built their summer homes around Geneva Lake employed famous landscape architects such as Frederick Law Olmsted to ensure that they would have beautiful, extended fall color on their waterfront estates.
Current visitors to the area can take advantage of this planned color extravaganza. In a unique twist in local regulations and covenants, the public has direct access to the lakefront yards of these estates by means a footpath that encircles the entire lake. I hiked several sections of the 21-mile-long trail, took advantage of more distant views afforded on the mail-delivery tour boat run by Lake Geneva Cruise Line, and split the difference by kayaking along the shore, too, in a kayak supplied by Clear Water Outdoor. Scroll down to see more of the autumnal beauty that I was treated to on these jaunts.
Even the Baker House, the lovely boutique hotel where I stayed, got into the fall color act. Right outside their main entrance, they have witch hazel which was in bloom as well as sporting a healthy display of autumn gold. The entire press tour group got a taste of Baker House hospitality at a reception in their restaurant and on the hotel grounds on Tuesday evening. But I was fortunate enough to enjoy the superb service of their staff for my entire stay in Lake Geneva. The hotel is conveniently located just a couple of blocks from downtown and the Riviera boat docks. The public boat launch (where I put in with the kayak) is almost directly across the street. And, it’s right on the lake path. It made for a wonderful combination of convenience and luxury!
Perhaps I can force myself to stop watching the bald eagle cam (http://www.raptorresource.org/falcon_cams/) in Decorah, Iowa, long enough to show you what I found in my front yard when I woke up yesterday. Mind you, this pair of eagles is tending to three good-sized eggs, which are due to start hatching any day now, but here’s what I found:
My witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena’), which has been blooming its head off for almost a month now, was covered with a couple of inches of heavy, late-season snow. Despite some recent disparaging remarks posted recently at a popular garden blog proclaiming witch hazels as not garden-worthy, I find their coppery tassels and spicy scent intoxicating at this time of year. It reminds me of the aroma of witch hazel at the old-school barbershop in Broad Ripple, Indiana, where my brothers and I dreaded boyhood haircuts. The essential oil, distilled from the leaves and bark, is a mild astringent used in skin care products. The natived shrub remin ded European colonists of the English “wych hazels,” whose branches were used as diving rods to locate underground water and minerals.
Poet Robert Frost—about the time of World War I—described a New England hired hand’s complaint about a young college boy:
“He said he couldn’t make the boy believe
He could find water with a hazel prong—
Which showed how much good school had ever