Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fall Preview

Fall is getting started here in the northern half of Georgia and a visit to an area north of me this week brought a lovely preview. Lunch contributions in hand, several of us traveled up to see longtime friends Jim and Margaret in Dawsonville. Their home is on a ridge of land that affords residents on both sides of the road with spectacular views of the mountain foothills. Native trees were half-dressed in their fall colors and the mix of green and fall colors was gorgeous.

The patchwork view of color is gorgeous; Marcia spotted the lone red tree.

Sourwood tree with seed capsules
The morning drive up was at first rainy but as we reached the highest point a thick fog enveloped the country road. The deep red of sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) foliage peaked out from the wooded edges while maples offered leaves of yellow dripping with red tips. 

Occasional overlooks promised spectacular views of multi-hued landscapes. It was hard not to stop at every view and capture the moment, but we were anxious to arrive.

As we approached our destination, small vacation bungalows were mixed with larger year-round residences. Expanses of wild woodlands were interspersed with knockout roses and crape myrtles, but it was clear that everyone appreciates the views. Large decks and strategically placed chairs were common. Lighthearted whimsical touches imparted a sense of relaxation and artistry.

Hydrangea quercifolia

After lunch we walked along the small road, enjoying a closer view of the changing leaves. In between the houses there was wild sumac (Rhus spp.) and shrubs like mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium) in outstanding colors. Several homes had native shrubs like oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), native azaleas (Rhododendron spp.), evergreen rhododendron, mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and devil’s walking stick (Aralia spinosa). I know Jim probably was influential in some of those native choices.

At the lane’s end we reached a home with a generous deck and a spectacular view. Maples, sourwoods, sassafras, black gum and scarlet oaks were well on their way to their fall colors. Under foot were acorns aplenty and a few squishy persimmons.  

The leaves weren’t the only show in town. Several evergreen rhododendrons had somehow allowed themselves to be persuaded into blooming. Equally surprising was a Cumberland azalea (Rhododendron cumberlandense) that had dropped its leaves but was blooming like mad. Not so surprising was the witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in full bloom. This is the normal bloom time for it. Tightly pressed against the twigs were the seed pods of last year, just starting to crack open.

Hamamelis virginiana

Hamamelis virginiana

Nyssa sylvatica

Back at our friends’ house we admired the plump fruit still on the black gum (Nyssa sylvatica). They told us the story of the young black bear that climbed one of their other Nyssa trees to eat the fruit one year. Beautyberry (Callicarpa) fruit was still heavy on the bush and a hawthorn (Crataegus) was covered in red fruit. Nearby a red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) had littered the ground with nuts – where were the squirrels? With permission we stuffed our pockets with the fat nuts.

As we headed home in the afternoon, the fall colors that we left behind were but a short glimpse into the future. Very soon our own native landscapes would be just as colorful.

Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) that Jim grew from seed

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