As summer's verdant flush fades out and fall's chilly crispness breezes in, spectacular colors turn New England landscapes into the flip side of spring. "Did you see the maples this week?" is autumn's conversation starter.
Artists aplenty try to capture the oranges, yellows, and reds of maple (Acer species), sourwood (Oxydendrum arboretum), and sassafras (Sassafras albidum) leaves glowing in sharp-angled light, along with the browns of oaks. Even raking can please as millions of leaves crunch underfoot, evoking autumns past -- annual passages signifying decay but also rebirth of color.
The show doesn't end when leaves disappear; winter's starkness accentuates the beauty of bark. My attention always snaps to as I drive past sycamores (Platanus occidentalis) clad in camouflage. Or shaggy river birches (Betula nigra). Or colonies of white birches (Betula papyrifera), ghostly contrasts among trees dressed in gray, much like persistent copper-color leaves on beeches standing out in a forest of naked trees.
While nature is the ultimate artist, gardeners assemble personal displays. I grow Japanese maples (Acer palmatum), dogwood (Cornus florida), and franklinia (Franklinia alatamaha) for their fall color. Close up, I can see their leaves covered with raindrops that glisten -- jewels on trees. Cinnamon-bark maple provides bark texture, as does Heptacodium miconoides), known as the crape myrtle of the North. Both invite touching that rewards.
I am fortunate to look out my writing room window at a tall three-trunk white birch. Even when snow falls, this tree stands out. Other standouts include the lobster-color coral-bark maple and burning bush with its corky winged bark. This wondrous beauty gets me through long winters and short days, erasing summer's heat and bridging the distance to spring.
Learn more about these plants: