November 11

November Consolation

Lately, walking around the garden, all I’ve been able to see is the damage from the snowstorm of October 29. Broken and beheaded magnolias, dogwoods, crabs, lilacs, redbuds, halesias, willows, holly, winterberry, bayberry, smokebush, some split to their core, others reduced to lopsided specimens. Nature’s way of cleaning the slate a bit, we say to ourselves, trying to feel better. But in the soft sunlight this morning I was distracted from all the destruction by the late autumn color of shrubs and trees that managed to come through the storm unscathed. The fothergillas, for instance, are ablaze with gold and scarlet. These are marvelous shrubs for our gardens, thriving even in situations where they get only a few hours of sun. They are related to witch hazels, indigenous to the mountains south of here, but perfectly hardy in our northeast gardens, and unfazed by pests or disease. They flower in May, curious white bottlebrush blooms that smell of licorice. Their leaves are handsome all summer. Even leafless, I find their twiggy growth picturesque.  But they are at their showiest now in autumn dress and a glad sight to our eyes. Our native sweetspire, Itea virginica, compliments the fothergilla with its arching branches of wine-red leaves. I have planted both these shrubs in clumps at the beginning of the woodland. Clethra lights up the woodland path with its buttery yellow leaves.

 And by the barn road, the lovely small multi-trunked tree, Parrotia persica, is glorious right now as it turns orange and gold and crimson. It contrasts nicely with the maroon leaves of a dogwood next to it, both unhurt by the storm. Stewartia pseudocamellia is another treasure that stood up to the snow and is on fire now with gold and orange leaves. If you peer in among the golden leaves you glimpse the gorgeous bark of the tree, exfoliating into a mottled pattern of cream and tan. The spectacle of these November beauties is surely compensation for our loss.