The fall color is great and the next eight days will be the most beautiful of the entire year.
Once I pointed that out and it snowed. But not much and only on Nov. 1, and the rest of the time the weather was glorious as predicted. I have learned, by the way, to pay no attention to weather people, who are mostly pretty faces to fill time on television. I am not sure they comprehend that the seven days following All Saints (today) feature the weather to end all weather, and I think it well to mention it.
I have made a couple of trips recently to Charlottesville and Williamsburg. This may be the place to say Albemarle Pippins, an admirable if generally ugly apple, are nowadays scarcely to be found. A newish apple, 'Virginia Gold,' which I have also bought under the name 'Texas Gold,' is said to be a seedling of it. Excellent apple, crisp, very juicy, intensely sweet and properly acid. Gardeners afraid of breaking their teeth on it should get one of those circular gadgets that with one good shove turns the apple into eight or so segments.
Once in the city of Penzance I bought a 'Cox's Orange Pippin' and broke my false teeth on it. My wife said said it served me right for eating an apple on a public street, and while her logic somewhat eludes me, the point is that many good apples are to be approached gingerly.
Everybody knows of the gorgeous fall coloring in New England. The coloring in the Piedmont and the Tidewater is less famous. The thing about New England is simply the number of sugar maples up there (and they color just as well down here, if people plant them). It is generally thought that the milder the climate the less spectacular the fall color, but this is not altogether true.
Around Williamsburg, for example, the coloring is spectacular, without any sugar maples at all. The swamp maples are as stunning, in reds and yellows. The hickories have a curious burnt-yellow look which is strangely luminous. The yellow poplar is sometimes a yellow column you can see for half a mile, and at other times it is more greenish without a great deal of color.
One of the most gorgeous of all trees is the sour gum, which sometimes previews the season with a branch of flame as early as August. It is, I suppose, crimson, but when the sun is on it it is the most gorgeous red of all trees. I once years ago bought the Japanese maple 'Osakazuki,' which is famous for its fall red, and thought it very good indeed, but no showier than the sour gum.
The sweet gum -- and sometimes in the Tidewater you find 40 of them together in a solid phalanx -- can be the most startling tree I know. It displays a wonderful deep purple, a breathtaking contrast to the yellows and reds. And itself it may turn tomato red, yellow and orange with a bit of purple. It is a variable tree, and the most spectacular individuals should be propagated.
Dogwoods are, of course, crimson, but again they vary in brightness, sometimes appearing almost purple and sometimes almost vermilion in effect, but I think they are always crimson when you examine the individual leaves.
The black locust, which is in the running for the most beautiful tree of America, does not do anything much, remaining green with a somewhat sad jaundice look, but a thicket of it gives point to its more flaming neighbors.
The Virginia creeper is crimson to scarlet and the related Boston ivy (though native to Asia) is crimson to scarlet, and often the crimson verges on purple. The poison ivy is very beautiful but should never be planted. I wonder if we Americans have lost some immunity to its toxins -- you do not hear of pioneers going to the hospital from the dreadful itching rash it produces. Nowadays many Americans, and perhaps I am in the forefront, can almost die just from seeing it. If some of the people who derive such joy telling other people not to smoke would turn some of that freewheeling energy to removing poison ivy from the hedges, alleys and fences of Washington it would be a great service.
Still, no vine has more beautiful fall coloring. It also has white berries that birds love, hence its ubiquity in the capital.
Oaks are variable. One of my great favorites, Quercus glauca, is an evergreen oak with a range from Burma to Japan, and beautiful salmon-colored new growth, with glaucous elongated evergreen leaves thereafter. A great tree for Washington, not that I ever see it. And all the evergreen oaks, of course, remain green. The white oak, on the other hand, which may be thought of as the ultimate in oakish beauty, turns purple and red and bronze. The scarlet oak turns guess what, and the pin oak turns brilliantly also, but not as brilliant here as in more northerly towns.
There are not so many hackberries seen, and often they do not color at all. In good years, though, they turn a shimmering chartreuse that once seen is never forgotten. Of course various shrubby sumacs are a glory of the highways, and lesser trees like persimmons and sassafrases are full of beauty. How often I have marveled they are almost never planted in gardens, though their general qualities highly commend them for city gardens, and the same is true of the equally brilliant-coloring sourwood.
Few conifers turn fine colors in the fall, though a number of junipers turn purple a bit later, and some arborvitaes and junipers turn bronzy about Thanksgiving. The ginkgo turns such a pure and clear light yellow that it is always described as shimmering, and this ancient tree has the agreeable habit of shedding virtually all its leaves in one night. Also the metasequoia is notable for a kind of pinkish fawn color, subdued but very attractive.
Among common shrubs the Japanese barberry is as brilliant a scarlet as any, though many barberries produce lovely fall effects, and everybody must admire the winged euonymus with leaves turning a dusty rose-crimson that is perhaps unique.
I have said nothing of birches, beeches, sycamores or many other trees that differ in fall glory, but all of them contribute their bit to fall splendor. It is a serious error to get so busy trotting about on projects of little ultimate consequence that one lets the fall colors come and go without some hours spent relishing them. Work will, after all, always be there.