Singer: Nevada County autumn color fleeting but enriching |

Singer: Nevada County autumn color fleeting but enriching

Submitted photos by Carolyn Singer

It is the quiet moments in a garden that I treasure. I appreciate time to slow down during a busy day, fulfilled by the rich tapestry of colors that play with each other through the year. The details are ever-changing and always catching my eye.

Fall is my favorite garden season, both for the cooler temperatures and the color that varies each day. Ornamental grasses echo the gold of the Acer henryi leaves, catching the morning light. The orange of the nearby Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’ plays with the fading color on the Virginia creeper. It was only recently this colorful fall vine was red, echoing the scarlet of the native California fuchsia (Epilobium).

Soon this autumn color display will quiet as leaves fall and enrich our soils, dormancy ushering in a season of evergreen foliage. The beauty continues with blues and greens, silver and gray, golden green and rich red-brown. Variegated evergreen foliage in gold, golden-green and even chartreuse highlight the darker landscape.

Planning for winter color echoes is simple. An evergreen sage may echo the color of a nearby door. The whites in a variegated sedge (Carex) unite with the nearby variegated Pieris in the shade garden. The rich purple-red color of the Euphorbia “Black Bird” echoes the same color on the Loropetalum “Burgundy.” Containers with plants may be moved to enhance the winter colors in the landscape.

Then comes spring. Many years ago, attending a symposium on perennials at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, I enjoyed a speaker from England, delighting us all when he proclaimed that “anyone can do spring!”

In fall, many spring-blooming bulbs are available. Select what pleases you, then pot them up in containers. When they are in full bloom in spring, take a good close look at the garden. There may be a perfect place for the pot of tulips near foliage or flowers of a similar (or complementary) color that will be a delightful place for the pot until the blossoms fade. It might even suggest a permanent location for the bulbs.

Buds for spring growth or bloom are often a subtle color that gains strength when a nearby plant echoes this ephemeral beauty. Spring is as transitory as fall. The flowers on maples (Acer) highlight the garden as does the fall color of the leaves, but when the flowers fade and the seeds begin to form, close attention to the color of this seasonal detail will fill your soul.

When my linden (Tila) is in bloom in early summer, I know by the fragrance in the garden. I also know by the color of the tree. The flowers are quite tiny, but a subtle change takes place as the light-green bracts near the blossoms unfold against the darker green leaves. The entire tree is, during this short bloom period, two shades of green.

In late spring, one local garden I designed has white peonies in a bed of snow-in-summer. Even when the groundcover is out of bloom, the silver-gray leaves add white to the landscape. Nearby shrubs with white flowers echo this vibrant color.

Summer ushers in such a large pallet of color that green in all its variations might be the most restful and soothing. Certainly attention to the color green may inspire you to see plants for their foliage value, not only their flowers. I often remind students and clients that green is a color too, and so many shades.

I was visiting Portland, Ore. gardens one September when the very tall Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) in full bloom caught my attention. I did not realize until I was photographing that the dusty rose color of the large blossom clusters were the same hue as the rooftop beyond. Was this just chance? Or did the gardener sit in the garden one day looking at the roof and deciding on the perfect perennial? Or perhaps it was the other way around. The flower inspired the reroofing!

Carolyn Singer has gardened organically in Nevada County since 1977. She will teach a class on deer-resistant and water-efficient plants, including ornamental grasses, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. today at Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply. Past articles and a schedule of classes may be found at

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