Plants tell us autumn has arrived

Plants tell us autumn has arrived


Life & Style
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Autumn is as colourful as spring in the garden in its own way.

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Autumn is as colourful as spring in the garden in its own way.

Autumn is as colourful as spring in the garden in its own way.

Autumn is as colourful as spring in the garden in its own way. Blossom and bulbs are eye-catching in September, but at this time of year it’s turning leaves and ripening berries that we notice.

My eight year old Manchurian pear tree has changed colour already. Every season in the garden varies and every year a different plant tells us autumn’s on the way.

One year it might be a smokebush, Cotinus ‘Grace’, the next a vine, our ornamental grape (Vitis) more often than not, last year the pinnate leaves of the tough and hardy Chinese pistacias (P. sinensis) were first to turn crimson and orange.

I was amazed nonetheless to see a Manchurian pear (Pyrus ussuriensis) turning scarlet in late February. This seemed premature even by the standards of the Central Tablelands, ever prone to an unexpected early frost.

On the other hand the tree is native to Harbin and the Wusuri River regions, up to 50 degrees north of the equator, and presumably unaccustomed to long summers.

Autumn leaf colour depends on several factors including hours of sunshine, drop in night time temperature and adequate moisture. Maybe the exact combination of a sunny day, late afternoon storm and cool night that came together in late January triggered the change.

The Manchurian pear is one of the most beautiful pear trees in autumn, with seven to 10 centimetre, glossy, pointed oval leaves that change from dark green to burgundy and scarlet and hang on for several weeks even in windy weather.

Flemings Nurseries say new ornamental pear variety introductions are superior in growth habit and structural stability, but I reckon both the shape and the brilliant leaf colour of P. ussuriensis are hard to beat.

My Korean pear (P. faurei ‘Korean Sun’) hasn’t come near it to date, having an ungainly shape, smaller leaves and disappointing or non-existent autumn colour, currently a murky yellow.

My eight year old Manchurian pear tree has changed colour already. Every season in the garden varies and every year a different plant tells us autumn’s on the way. - Fiona Ogilvie

Another unexpected early bird is a little crab apple, Malus ‘Gorgeous’ that I planted on a damp, chilly day in July 2012. Its leaves rarely colour much but the main point of the tree is its lovely crab apples (along with large, single white spring blossom).

It’s currently weighed down by large bunches of shiny crabs, ripening into glowing shades of red and orange, which I’m fondly hoping to grab for jelly before the birds beat me to it.

My other various crab apples are a major disappointment on the crab front. Too dry I guess. I’m detecting a few clusters of bead-like objects on M. floribunda but that’s about it.

Luckily my Chinese quince tree (Cydonia sinensis) is going from strength to strength and covered in large, plump quinces.

This is a lovely small tree, totally hardy, with streaked and mottled bark and gorgeous, burnt orange autumn leaves, which I’m fervently hoping will coincide with the quinces ripening to dark gold in May.

Order trees now from your local nursery to plant bare rooted in winter.

Yamina Rare Plants (www.yaminarareplants.com.au/) and Flemings (www.flemings.com.au/) offer a wide range.

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