There surely is nothing more glorious than a grove of aspen, glowing through a drizzly rain, or an ancient cottonwood, a tapestry of green and gold, and I feel privileged to live in a place where I see this wherever I turn. However, most of us have to work on a smaller scale when it comes to autumn color in our gardens.
Birch trees make a great substitute for aspen. They grow quickly, are beautiful and dainty trees, with interesting bark and yellow autumn leaves. There are many varieties and most of them do well here, without suckering into large groves as aspen do.
Maples are renowned for their autumn colors but most do not do well here. The winters are just a little too cold, and the soil a little too alkaline for maples to thrive. But if you have managed to coax one along, then you will be treated to a wonderful show each fall.
Oaks generally do not have a showy autumn display, tending to tans and browns rather than reds and yellows. One exception to this is the red oak, which does very well here, leaves turning a deep red in fall.
There are a number of spectacular shrubs to choose from that will grow well here. Burning Bush has bright pinkish red leaves, Staghorn Sumac is an orange-red, Barberry and shrub Dogwoods a deep maroon, Aronia a deep red, and Huckleberries and Blueberries, bright reds of all shades. Those brilliant red shrubs lining the mountain lakes at this time of year are mostly huckleberries and many of the yellow leaved shrubs are native currants.
When it comes to low ground covers, it’s hard to beat strawberries. Besides being pretty plants, they spread quickly and thickly to crowd out weeds, they have delicious fruit—provided you can beat the robins to it—and their leaves turn a lovely deep red in autumn. There have been many Thanksgivings when I have searched the garden for camouflage for a cracked pumpkin pie, and come back with a handful of red and green strawberry leaves to decorate it’s top.
Enjoy the color that’s surrounding us now. It will be another year before we get to see it again.