Sharon Thompson is our guest writer this week. She is a well known South Carolina
Garden Writer and Speaker. Her
articles appear in several Master Gardener newsletters, The State newspaper, and Lake
Murray-Columbia Magazine. She
enjoys speaking to Master Gardener groups and Garden Clubs.
Article and photo by
Sharon Thompson, Garden Writer and Speaker
1959, my sixth grade science curriculum included constructing a leaf book. My
teacher, Mrs. Weatherell, gave us a list of specific leaves to collect and
instructions on how to dry them flat - curling leaves signified last minute
collecting. Once dried, we were to tape the leaves to paper, encase the pages
in a folder and write a report on each specimen.
It was an
assignment I embraced. Perhaps I already knew that plants would remain a
lifelong pursuit. My Mom kept my
leaf book and surprisingly, some of the leaves are still intact.
This time of year, I find myself collecting leaves again,
admiring their outrageous beauty and wanting to preserve it.
In our woods, black gums have already released most of their
astonishing crimson foliage, but dogwoods still hold on to their tawny reds.
Clumps of red maples, planted years ago by the birds, wear lemon yellow uniforms
but here and there, a few leaves boast intriguing blotches of bright red. Even
some of the scarlet oaks are being true to their name while other oaks are
beginning their decline into mud brown. Meanwhile, winged sumac is freshly
dressed in ruby red.
Trees and shrubs respond to shorter daylight hours by
gradually turning off the lights in their figurative kitchens: chlorophyll,
which gives a leaf its green color, stops being produced. When this happens, pigments called
carotenoids, which have been masked by the chlorophyll throughout the growing
season, have a chance to show their true colors: brown, orange and yellow. In
the fall, conditions within some leaves will produce anthocyanins, which are
responsible for red pigments.
One group of shrubs I am always sad to see drop their fall
raiment is fothergilla. While not a name that rolls off your tongue (it honors
a British physician of the 1700’s, Dr. John Fothergill), this native shrub is
one of the finest for fall impact. Changing color late in the season, fothergilla’s
blue-green summer foliage morphs to an Impressionistic palette of oranges,
corals and reds.
Happy in part shade to part sun, the dwarf form, Fothergilla gardenii (USDA zones 5-9), matures
in the 4'- 6' range while its big brother, Fothergilla
major (zones 5-8), can reach the 10' mark. Both are easy to grow with average
moisture and occasional fertilizer. Before the leaves come out in the spring,
the tips of the slender, zig-zaggy branches display two-inch long, fragrant,
white blossoms that resemble bottlebrushes. The sturdy foliage is similar in
shape to its first cousin, the witch hazels.
While having a reputation as a suckering plant, my clay soil
seems to keep dwarf fothergilla in check. But I would gladly give over more
garden space to this fall dazzler. The cultivar, ‘Mt. Airy,’ is the most
readily available locally and for good reason: Its reliability and easy-to-grow
nature made it a Georgia Gold Medal Selection in 1994.
After I gathered this week's colorful fall ornaments, I put
them between the pages of a phone book to dry, ready to discover them on some
blustery winter or blistering summer day and remember the radiance of fall.
---Posted November 6,