Highlights of the fall KBG garden

After all of our rain and winds, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of color in the garden. Even small amounts stand out probably because they’re isolated from competing plants. Many plants are shrubs that got protected by the overstory but some are just downright tenacious!

On the main path going downhill, light yellow leaves of Jet Bead (Rhodotypos scandens) set the stage for other colors to come. I found only one remaining set of black, glossy seeds on the plant that gives rise to its common name. Birds likely also visited it. A member of the rose family, white flowers in spring will be sprinkled amongst the small oval leaves. It’s not a very showy plant but fits in nicely as a backdrop to lower bulbs like cyclamen and trillium.

A short distance down the path is the Low Stranvaesia (now Photinia davidiana var. undulata), noticeable with the clusters of bright red berries. The parent plant can become a tall shrubby evergreen tree up to 20’ in our area, but this low form stays below 2’ and spreads to 6’ or more. Seedlings may appear, so weed them out or you’ll have competition!

Fallen leaves from deciduous trees can be eye-catching too. Light yellow patches of our native Big Leaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) blanket the path with their attractive forms. If you have one of these, you know how they can smother smaller plants, especially evergreen groundcovers. The maple leaves don’t hold a torch to the fallen leaves of Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla). These 18” monsters are on the side path leading north. Leaves up to 30” long have been observed on this native to the southeastern U.S. Flowers are also stunning, white 8-14” across and fragrant, if you can reach them!

I was happily surprised by the end warm yellow of Rhododendron viscosum, a native deciduous plant from the s.e. U.S. It’s not a common shrub here and I always regret not taking it with me when we moved many years ago to our current garden. Delightful fragrant white tubular flowers on a moderate-sized plant – it can fit well in many gardens.

Blazing yellow are the leaves on the Chinese Witchhazel, (Hamamelis mollis). With clear skies above it now, it basks in the forest glade. If you’re in the garden come winter, stop by to enjoy the sweet-smelling crepe paper-like flowers on the bare branches. Cut branches that are forced into bloom can perfume a room in the dead of winter.

Close by is a Franchet Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster franchetii) with small ovate leaves notable for the white tomentose hairs on the underside. Clusters of coral-red fruits stay on for a long period of time as they appear not that tasty to birds. It appreciates full sun getting to 6-8’ high and as wide. This evergreen is also in the rose family.

For a finishing touch, the lingering needles of the larches are stunning in their yellows and mellow orange tones. Larches (Larix) are deciduous conifers losing their leaves/needles in the fall along with the more expected flowering trees and shrubs. They are denizens of cold, harsh climates all across the northern portion of the world and this is a defensive posture on their part. Besides the clusters of needles on short spur shoots, they’re easy to spot due to the small cones hanging on for years after appearing. Unlike the maple and magnolia leaves, once larch needles drop off they pose no problem for any plant underneath as they ease into the soil duff.

Walt Bubelis
Professor Emeritus, Horticulture Edmonds College

Low Stranvaesia – Photinia davidiana var. undulata

Big Leaf Maple – Acer macrophyllum

Bigleaf magnolia – Magnolia macrophylla

Swamp azalea – Rhododendron viscosum

Chinese Witchhazel – Hamamelis mollis

Franchet Cotoneaster – Cotoneaster franchetii