May Feature Plant : Autumn Foliage

May is a spectacular month with the deciduous trees in full Autumn colour;

Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-04-12 17.02.51BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-21 18.21.56BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2015-05-04 16.08.36the late harvest fruit like medlars, quinces and pomegranates;BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-15 15.40.17BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-15 15.39.40BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-15 15.41.46BlogAutumn colour25%Reszdaprilmay 128 rosehips of wide variety of colour and shapeBlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2014-05-04 15.23.06BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0545BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0532BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0531 and even pittosporum berries in the forest;BlogFordHdld SliceHx 20%Reszd2015-05-10 14.33.24 the beginning of the citrus season with the cumquats in full swing;Blog MidAutumn20%Reszd2015-04-18 11.30.11  and the start of the main flowering season for Australian natives like wattles, banksias and correas.BlogAprilGarden20%Reszd2016-04-08 14.30.02BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-13 13.45.35BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0122 (2)BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-13 17.52.32BlogAprilGarden20%ReszdIMG_0172 (2)In this post, I am focusing on the Autumn foliage of deciduous trees, shrubs and climbers. We are very lucky in Southern Australia to be able to experience all four seasons and deciduous plants provide focal points and splashes of colour in the garden, especially when their backdrop is a contrasting dark green.

I have a lovely book called ‘ Colour in Nature: A Visual and Scientific Exploration’ by Penelope A. Farrant, which explains the scientific basis behind the  turning of the leaves well. Basically, deciduous leaves go through 4 colour phases :

Green : Spring and SummerBlogAprilGarden20%Reszd2016-04-07 13.19.13Leaves use chlorophyll in the process of photosynthesis to produce carbohydrates in the leaves, which are then broken down into soluble sugars to be used for energy and stored in the stem and roots of the plant. The green colour of the chlorophyll dominates and masks other colour pigments in the leaves like orange carotenes and yellow xanthophylls.

Yellow and Orange : Early AutumnBlogAutumn colour25%ReszdIMG_5051BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0011BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0010BlogAutumn colour25%Reszdapril 223The decreased length of daylight and cooler temperatures trigger the breakdown of chlorophyll. Sunny days speed up the process. As the green goes, the yellow and orange pigments become more prominent. These latter pigments are slower to break down than the chlorophyll, so the leaves are now yellow and orange in colour.

Red and Purple : Mid to Late AutumnBlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-22 12.24.36BlogAutumn colour25%Reszdapril 257BlogAutumn colour25%Reszdapril 224Cooler night-time temperatures increase the rate of conversion of carbohydrates to soluble sugars, but also reduce the rate of the removal of sugars from the leaf, so the sugar builds up in the leaf sap, resulting in the conversion of colourless flavinoids into red and purple anthocyanins. The more acidic the sap, the redder the leaves, while more neutral sap results in purple leaves. These anthocyanins again mask the yellow and orange pigments, and as the latter continue to break down, the leaves become increasingly red.

Brown : Late AutumnBlogAutumn colour25%ReszdIMG_4920Once the chlorophyll production totally ceases and the starch reserves of the leaves are used up, the leaves die. All the pigments have been broken down, the cells have died and the tissues have dried out. The brown colour of the leaves is the result of oxidation of chemicals in the cell walls as the cell dies, as well as oxidation of the tannins in the leaves.

The intensity and colour range of Autumn leaves varies from tree to tree, place to place and even year to year.BlogAutumn colour25%Reszdapril 255Japanese Maples are often redder due to the high anthocyanin content in their leaves.BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2015-05-23 10.34.58BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2015-05-23 10.35.15BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2015-05-23 13.19.49Shrubs like Berberis have wonderful Autumn foliage.BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_4061Our snowball tree (Viburnum opulus) puts on a wonderful show in Autumn. These photos show the progression of colour from mid-April (1st photo) to more colour in early-May (2nd photo) and will finish like the 3rd photo taken late-May last year.BlogAprilGarden20%Reszd2016-04-14 12.13.00BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-29 12.19.22Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-05-15 09.23.47The Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) on  my neighbour’s fence is always spectacular in Autumn. BlogAprilGarden20%Reszd2016-04-08 12.10.06BlogAprilGarden20%Reszd2016-04-08 12.08.54BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-08 12.09.22Grape vines also exhibit spectacular colour changes. I love the colour combinations of the Autumn leaves of the grapevine with the Blue Morning Glory (Ipomoea indica)  in the first photo. The 3rd photo below is a closeup of the grapevine in the 2nd photo, mixed in with Virginia Creeper.BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_1675BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0481BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0484Another interesting snippet of information that I discovered in my research was that leaf-peeping, the viewing of Autumn leaves, was a significant contributor to tourism dollars during the Fall in the United States of America and Canada, particularly in the New England region. People, who collect in groups to leaf-peep, refer to their gatherings as ‘leaf peep shows’.

A similar custom exists in Japan called ‘momijigari’ from the Japanese words: ‘momiji’ meaning ‘red leaves’ or ‘maple tree’ and ‘kari’ meaning ‘hunting’.

If you have a burning desire to become a leaf-peeper in Australia, here are a few suggestions:

New England Tableland, NSW

The highway drive from Warwick, Qld, down to Tamworth, NSW is beautiful in Autumn, particularly in the golden late afternoon light. We had some beautiful old English Ash in our Armidale garden, which were always spectacular and would provide hours of raking up leaves.BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-15 15.42.47 The kids used to love making huge piles of fallen leaves and jumping into them when they were little.BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-15 15.40.46 Gostwyck Chapel was always worth a visit in Autumn to see its brick walls covered in fiery-red Virginia Creeper.BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-15 15.39.08Monaro Highway/ Snowy Mountains Highway

The drive between the coast and Canberra is also stunning with the golden poplars standing tall against the bright light blue skies (1st 2 photos mid-April). The next two photos show the backdrop of deciduous trees to the National Library carpark late April. The other photos were taken late April on the route from Canberra to the coast. Within the fortnight, the poplars had turned from bright yellow to gold.BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0158 (2)BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0161 (2)BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-17 16.11.56BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-17 16.49.19BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-17 17.40.50BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-17 17.56.46BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-17 17.56.56BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-17 18.28.11BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-17 18.21.50BlogAutumn colour20%Reszd2016-04-17 18.34.45NSW Gardens

We  visited the Campbell Rhododendron gardens in the Blue Mountains in Mid-April, and while there were no rhododendron blooms, the colour of the deciduous trees was very dramatic.BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0133 (2)BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0135 (2)BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0136 (2)BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0108 (2)Red Cow Farm, in the Southern Highlands, also had some lovely trees.BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0194BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0195BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0172BlogAutumn colour20%ReszdIMG_0173

Victorian Gardens

Beechmont, Victoria

The whole town is absolutely stunning in Autumn! The Autumn leaves look so beautiful against the mellow old golden sandstone walls.BlogAutumn colour25%ReszdIMG_5048BlogAutumn colour25%Reszdmidmay 476BlogAutumn colour25%ReszdIMG_5041BlogAutumn colour25%Reszdmidmay 475BlogAutumn colour25%ReszdIMG_5050

Avondale Gardens, Victoria

If you are up near the Murray River, it is well worth calling into this abandoned old garden from the 1950s  in Autumn. See : colour25%ReszdIMG_4906BlogAutumn colour25%ReszdIMG_4904

Ard Rudah, Mt Macedon

A beautiful old mountain retreat, which we were lucky enough to visit through the Open Gardens Scheme back in 2010.BlogAutumn colour50%Reszdapril 231BlogAutumn colour50%Reszdapril 182BlogAutumn colour50%Reszdapril 186BlogAutumn colour25%Reszdapril 254BlogAutumn colour25%Reszdapril 222BlogAutumn colour25%Reszdapril 256With deference to Autumn leaves, I made myself a felt tea cosy to keep the Winter T2 teapot warm, using a reverse applique technique to create the Autumn leaves.Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-05-08 19.14.25

My daughter Caroline painted this lovely watercolour for me – a fox enjoying basking in the late Autumn sun in a pile of Autumn leaves.

Fox in Autumn Leaves by Caroline Stephens










Late Autumn

May heralded the colder weather and the start of the Winter fire season and heavy frosts. The maples were in their full Autumn colour and the tree dahlias, which had reached the shed gutters and constantly frustrated my husband Ross with their tendency to fall over with the slightest gust of wind, had one brief glorious explosion before succumbing immediately to the first frost !Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-05-15 09.23.47Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-05-15 09.25.26Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-05-23 11.03.06We mulched all the dahlias and pruned the hydrangeas. We soon had a very clear idea of Winter shading, so sadly removed the she-oaks, thinned and pruned the tall bamboo stand and started digging the 2nd vegetable patch on the right side of the path (and full Winter sun !) in earnest !Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-02-03 11.41.49Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-03-11 09.05.43We planted out the tulips, erlicheer jonquils and Galanthus bulbs, took lilac cuttings and liberated the double (white/freckled white/pink/red and deep purple) and species hellebores ( which were last year’s birthday present from my Mum), white windflowers and the Fortuniana rose and jasmine, both of which I raised from cuttings. Each hellebore found a home under a different tree (to curtail their proclivity to promiscuity!), the anemones went under a maple tree behind Phoebe, our beautiful white statue, and the rose and jasmine had so intertwined with their roots that I planted them together on the bottom fence of the future chook yard.Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-05-27 16.01.17Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-08-12 15.49.09

We started digging holes for the ordered bare-rooted roses and planted the first 3 to arrive from Treloars ( ) :

  • a climbing Cecile Brunner with its sweet little pink Bachelor button blooms at the street gate;
  • Penelope as part of the white Hybrid Musk hedge at the back of the vegetable garden on the left and
  • Mutabilis (single orange, pink and gold blooms, which look like a host of butterflies) on the back border of the right hand vegetable patch.

We also planted a pomegranate (Punica granatum ‘Wonderful’) for its fruit and to hide the future compost heap.

Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-05-04 14.45.59

The cooler weather also freed up more time to spend in my sewing room. I made luggage tags for a Canadian friend and her Australian partner,  who were migrating to the Canadian Summer. For her, a maple and gum leaf  tag made out of felt to represent her two homes and for him,  my own embroidery design of the Australian coat-of-arms on a felt luggage tag design from ‘Stitch with Love’ by Mandy Shaw.  See :

Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-05-06 17.03.49

I designed and made  two T2 teapot cosies  to keep the pot warm with the colder weather:  a reverse appliqué leaf design for me and an appliquéd and embroidered chook cosy for my friend’s birthday, which unbelievably falls on the same day as mine ! I also embroidered her a’ thank you’ picture, as this wonderful friend has also supplied us with all our manure !

Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-05-19 10.58.29Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-05-08 19.14.25Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-05-19 11.02.46My success with the tea cosy designs inspired me to make my sisters embroidered felt cushion covers for their birthdays – for my writer sister, a design based on her books; Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-06-04 13.23.17And for my gardening sister, a very modern, dramatic yet simple design of flowers in a vase. Both designs were very colourful and simply appliquéd with felt shapes onto a contrasting felt front panel, outlined with blanket stitch and backed with a complementary fabric. I used large ric rac to define the edges of the front felt panels. I was thrilled with the cushion covers and so were they !Blog LateAutumn20%Reszd2015-06-04 13.22.36