This year autumn is slow in coming. Often by the end of September, the hills are as colourful as the big box of Crayola crayons I always begged (unsuccessfully) my mother to buy, with trees standing in ranges of red, orange and pink, gold and chartreuse, and occasional patches of dark wintery green.
Not this year. Temperatures have remained high and leaves seem reluctant to lose their grip on summer. In the woods and fields around Glen Villa, though, wildflowers appropriate to the season are blooming their hearts out.
Asters predominate. Most are purple, some are white — and often they grow one beside another.
A close-up view shows that the centres of the purple asters are either bright yellow or deep rusty red. I learned the reason only recently — the colour changes once the flower has been pollinated.
Colour changes in the woods are often more subtle than the obvious difference between the yellow and rusty red centres, but even subtle changes signal unmistakably that autumn is on its way.
There’s nothing subtle about autumn berries — their cheery red faces pop out among the leaf litter.
In the garden proper, the approaching season is marked by colour changes in the Miscanthus sinensis ‘Malepartus’ that grows beside the Skating Pond. Its tall pink-tinged flower plumes are gradually turning silver as nights get cooler, moving through shades of red, orange and bronze along the way.
Also at the Skating Pond, the Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’ that started as a soft feathery green is now the colour of wheat. It stands straight and tall, and will remain that way throughout the winter.
Nearer the house, a dwarf horse chestnut tree is showing splotches of orange and peach. This tree is one of the first to colour up in the fall, and usually the very first to lose its leaves. In a normal year the branches are almost bare by the end of September but this year, all the leaves remain.
These colour changes tell a clear story — even if autumn arrives a little later this year than usual, it will soon be here. That means that I will soon witness one of my favourite transformations, as the linden tree at the end of the Big Meadow moves from fresh green to buttery yellow. The first sign of what is to come appeared this week — a single pat of butter on the still vivid green.
Gradually, the green loses its clarity, becoming more and more autumnal.
Eventually the mix of colours disappears and the leaves become a single tone, a burst of sunshine that lights up my heart.
Finally, of course, the tree becomes a skeleton of itself. But that skeleton holds its own appeal and its own promise, of another year to come.
Do you have a favourite sign of autumn? What is it?