Color in Texas in Early December -- Angie Brown
As the leaves pile up in the driveway, I'm reminded of the beautiful
autumn displays I used to enjoy back in the days when I lived in the
Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin). The Texas landscape just
never seems that bright and colorful, and most of the leaves that end
up in my compost pile are brown. Having spent the Thanksgiving holiday
in Missouri and Kansas, though, I'm also reminded that autumn is already
over up there and winter is itching to make its first snowy appearance.
I was happy to return home and walk through my own garden (without
a jacket, no less!). Although the North Texas autum is not as magnificant
as those I remember from my childhood, we still have plenty of interesting
things to look at in early December including flowers, berries, and
even some colorful leaves.
My yard is full of native oaks, and they do not put on an autumn
show. They just turn brown and fall (and fall and fall and fall).
But I appreciate them nonetheless, since they provide shade all
summer, and an abundant supply of material for the compost pile
in the fall.
This medium-sized shrub stays green for most of the year. . .
this year's leaves will eventually be replaced by new ones, although
the plant is never bare.
Interesting flower clusters begin to appear in late October and
stay throughout much of the winter.
This large shrub is past its prime (it peaked just before the
weather got cold), but there are still a few berry clusters left
along the branches.
Most of the leaves have fallen already; those left are yellowed
and wilty. Many of the berry clusters have a withered look to
them as well, but the vividness of the berries' color makes this
shrub a wonderful plant for a woodland garden.
This tree is also past its prime fall color, but a few weeks
ago it was covered in small red leaves.
Throughout the summer, this fussy little tree is really easy
to dislike: it's always thirsty, and even after a drink it looks
wilted and pale. But it shines in spring when covered with white
blossoms, and it makes a beautiful spectacle of itself in the
fall garden as well.
The leaves are a dark red right now, with bright red berries
peeking out from the branches.
I have two tiny ginkgo trees, each barely 5 ft. tall. But these
long-lived trees can eventually reach 80-100 ft. Imagine such
a large tree covered in brilliant yellow!!
This shrub comes in many varieties, and is grown mostly for its
large summer flowers. I don't know if all of the varieties show
the same fall color, but my white-flowering bush's leaves have
turned a bright yellow.
We usually think of Christmas when we think of holly's bright
red berries, but these tough, drought-resistant shrubs do well
in Texas all year round.
These are among my favorite plants, and as you can see from the
photo at right, I have several varieties. I never thought of Texas
as a haven for Japanese maples, but became hooked on them after
touring the Japanese gardens in the Ft. Worth Botanical Garden.
A nearly perfect understory tree, the Japanese maple thrives
in partly shady areas with only minimal care. . . mine have weathered
many dry summers (I don't have a sprinkler system so my plants
are forced to live on whatever water I remember to give them)
and they never disappoint.
Some varieties are red year-round, and some spend the summer
in green, only to turn red or orange in the fall.
Here and there, you'll find beautiful yellow and red leaves on
the nandina bush, but it is still mostly green and there is never
enough color on one plant to mistake it for a "brilliant
autumn display." That being said though, the nandina is still
a wonderful shrub: it thrives on little attention, and rewards
us with graceful leaves and bright red berries.
Oak Leaf Hydrangea
Another one of my favorite plants, the oak leaf hydrangea is
a large shrub that can reach over 8 ft. high. As its name suggests,
clusters of white flowers appear during the summer; but instead
of the round clusters found on the more familiar pink or blue
hydrangeas, the oak leaf hydrangea's flowers are clustered in
a cone shape.
After the leaves turn a brilliant red in the fall, they will
fall and leave the shrub naked, so planting it among evergreen
plants is recommended.
This plant's current color is not unique to fall -- it's a brilliant
purple all summer, too. But it's especially fun to find a plant
that looks so healthy and vigorous in early December.
Purple heart is sold at almost any nursery (or big box store)
as an annual, but in north Texas it will die to the ground every
year, then return better than ever come spring.
In my yard, redbud trees grow like weeds. Every year I dig, pull,
cut, and otherwise remove dozens of young saplings. Native to
Texas, these trees are happy under the canopy of the taller native
oak trees, and they will survive with little care. They are mostly
popular for their bright purple flowers in early spring.
This has not been a great year for my redbuds, as you can see
in the photo. Something's been eating them all year long. Still,
they put on a pretty good display of yellow in the autumn (just
don't look too close!).
Inland Sea Oats
This grass is not interesting for fall color, but for its graceful
arches of seeds. The plant is a pretty green all summer and will
grow in shady areas. The seeds can easily be collected and sown
where you want a new stand of inland sea oats, or you can just
let the wind carry them where it may.
Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria)
I planted a smoke tree a few years ago, and it is still fairly
small (maybe 4 ft. high). It has, however, filled out nicely and
is at least 5 ft. in diameter. The leaves are a pleasant burgundy
color all summer and into fall; they will drop for the winter,
and come back fresh in the spring.
I enjoy this plant for its foliage and for its wispy smoke-like
flowers in the early summer. I suspect that if it got more sun
the flower display would be most spectacular, but I use it as
an understory shrub in my shady yard.
This tall perennial grows in sun or shade, it's drought tolerant,
and blooms with interesting-shaped red flowers in the heat of
the summer. After flowering, 1/2 inch bright red-orange berries
appear, and will stay on the plant into winter (if they don't
get eaten first).
As shown in the photo, the leaves also evidently make a tasty
snack for something in my garden.