Logan Canyon's Mill Hollow, Cache Valley, Utah
he warm colors of autumn appear to be a mischievous Nature's softening-up process for us here in Cache Valley. It's as though she wants us lulled into a feeling that warm benevolence will never end before we're hit with our glistening white, bone-cracking, winters. So the first truly hard frost always finds us unprepared. We wake up one frigid morning and look out the window, struck dumb with surprise. Everything is shot to smithereens! Often under a load of wet snow.
Never mind that it happens year after year -- it still feels like betrayal.
All this doesn't keep us from reveling in the beauty of autumn, blissfully in denial. The color on the mountainsides of Logan and Wellesville canyons in autumn is breathtaking. Larry Cannon's photo above shows the spectacular drifts of Big Tooth Maple that spill down the ravines and spread out in floods of deep red and orange on the benches. The yellow of aspens and the blue of sagebrush, the deep green, almost black of the contrasting conifers, the silvery gray limestone outcroppings -- all of it make up a kaleidoscope of rampant color and spicy fragrance that combine to overwhelm our senses.
Choosing plants for autumn color
In the valley, too, along the streets and surrounding homes and farmsteads, blaze everywhere the deep golds of maple, the bright yellows of towering cottonwoods and Lombardy poplars, the luminous crimson of Burning Bush (Alta 'compacta'), and the scarlet of Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). These are well known as sources of autumn color. But in the spring, when we browse through the nursery for trees and shrubs to plant in our gardens, do we look far enough ahead to what our choices will bring us later on, in the autumn? Yesterday, walking the dog, I looked up with surprise at a flowering pear I'd planted four or five years ago (shown at right). Completely unexpected was the dappled tide of color that moved upward from trunk to crown, making the spring flowering tree a serendipitous choice for the entrance to our place, even in the autumn.
The leaves of dwarf Red-leaf Plum (Prunus cistena) start off red in the spring and turn a bluish green during the summer, but the autumn color is the consummate finale here -- a clear, shimmering magenta (shown at left). The plant's foliage is especially striking combined with the nearby clear yellow leaves of the Marshall Seedless Ash trees that frame the front of the house.
Another plant that surprised me with its abundance of deep red leaves is the Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera ) that grows everywhere here on the farm. Striking in the winter against a blanket of snow are its bright red stems; and in the early summer, the branches are covered with showy white flowers. We've used the shrub on the hillsides for erosion control, as shelters for more tender plants, and as hedges. They're aggressive beasts, spreading both by suckering and seed -- compliments of the birds who love their autumn crop of white berries. Melanie has dug them up by the half-dozen to transplant onto the hillsides where they're more useful than in the perennial beds and rose gardens.
Berries and Fruit and Color
Fruit, too, can brighten the autumn landscape. We have a dozen crabapples scattered around the orchard and in the north and south copse, both to help pollinate the apple trees and to provide autumn color and winter food for the birds. Shown below, at right, is Malus 'Adams,' one of a row of six in three different varieties that my daughter Melanie planted three springs ago.
Deer are especially fond of the low-growing Mahonia aquifolium, or Oregon Grape. The tough, dark green leaves are pleasing in themselves, as are the yellow flowers in early summer. But in the autumn (if the deer leave us a few), we enjoy the contrast of its blue berries against the reds and yellows of surrounding trees and shrubs.
Then there are the apples in the orchard. During the early autumn we have the maroon of the MacIntosh and Liberties, the orange-red of the Galas, Sweet Sixteens, and Spitzenbergs, the pink of the Melrose and Sierra Beauty, and the yellow of the Stellars. Now, in late autumn, we have the blushed green and yellow of Pippin, Goldrush, and Ashmead's Kernal. The Goldrush, pictured above, is an especially attractive apple, giving the orchard a look of true autumn abundance. This, of course, is aside from the apple's snappy, tart-sweet flavor.
The Utah State University campus in Logan, 17 miles south of our farm, is a palette of autumn color right now. The grounds are a veritable arboretum of trees and shrubs that have been planted and cared for through eleven decades since its 1890's founding. This arboretum serves as an outdoor classroom for horticulture and forestry students. What's more, the university is situated on a hill behind which rises the Wasatch range. Below is another of Larry Cannon's photos showing Mount Logan in the background covered by a recent snow. Through the snow can be seen dark conifers, much of which are stands of Douglasfir. In the foreground are the foothills covered with Bigtooth Maple and Juniper. In about the middle can be seen another silvery gray outcropping of sandstone. The scattered grey smudges are sagebrush. This photo was taken from Larry's office window in the Department of Mathematics at USU.
Mount Logan from the Utah State University Campus
-- Landscapes by Larry Cannon;
all others by Joan Katherine Shaw
Online sources for shrubs and trees discussed:
White Flower Farm
Link to browse for gardening books:
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