Autumn Light

I want you, my astute readers, to consider sky and light as part of your gardens, extensions of your landscapes. I want you to become increasingly aware of the gestalt surrounding your gardens, the time of the day, the season, the play of light and shadow. If you happen to live on property where you can see woods, rills and tree lines beyond your modest piece of the world I want you to borrow and incorporate them as though they are a part of your realm. If you live on postage stamp property in sight of a prominent tree in a neighbor's yard, attractive angular buildings and/or a view to the skies I want you to consider these as borrowed and inclusive in your vision. Do away with myopia. Open your eyes and minds. Look to the sky, the horizon, all manner of human creation and natural element as foil that may deepen, expand and enhance your landscapes, your gardens, your lives. After all, your gardens are a part, an extension of the world you have created. (Even if man-made one would hope that your neighbors' buildings or lots be attractive enough for consideration; of course, this is the ideal, not always factual. In these situations screening and/or fencing might be the only relief.) Conversely, your gardens are the understanding, supplant and manipulation of the natural world through the prisms of your sensibilities as proud members of the kingdom of man. One of the qualities we all embody is creativity; to some degree there is the artist within each of us. It manifests in many ways. Gardeners employ this trait whenever we take trowel to earth whether we recognize it or not. So, open your eyes, borrow your surroundings, be inclusive.


Today is the day after the evening the asteroid hurtled past between the earth's moon and our planet in 2011. The day grows late.

On this Wednesday we were treated to a lovely, unseasonably warm November day. The sky is still a soft blue in late afternoon, somewhere between powder blue and sapphire. The near-full moon, vague and transparent, hangs 30 degrees above the horizon. It slowly gathers strengthen in the cloudless eastern sky as light diminishes.

Above the far horizon the sky infused a smoky rose. This old-fashioned ashy pink is the backdrop for our largest garden at this time of the autumn late day. The backdrop was not a conscious forethought; rather, it was our muse, Serendipity, who provided us this wonderful gift. Our large garden we have purposely filled with autumn and winter interest trees and shrubs. This garden we view year round from the east-facing vantage of our two sets of sliding doors on the deck. It is temporal art framed by these four rectangles taller than wide.

Our autumn garden with meandering paths is filled with plants, woody and herbaceous, of differing forms and heights, some vase-shaped and proudly round-crowned, others weeping and some tall and narrow, vertical specimens, punctuating accents of exclamation pointing the way into space. Some shrubs are broad and low, others upright and towering with interesting branching patterns. There is a mix of evergreen and deciduous. It is the fall festival and it is beautiful.

Sunset approaches. The strength of the icy moon grows.

The distant undulating eastern horizon through the trees shimmers a heather of glowering gold and orange, an autumn bonfire. This resplendent pastoral blaze erupts far beyond the great wild trees at the back edge of our largest garden. This late afternoon fire reflected in the distant hills is the harmonic vision En Pleine Aire as if captured by Barbara Lussier, a greatly talented local artist. The sun lowers in the west as the brilliant cadmium and chrome gold mix becomes a thinning verge upon the far trees. Suddenly, momentarily the thinning bonfire becomes but a thread of brilliant molten white gold outline tracing the very crest of the hills. Then it is gone.


All of these trees, shrubs and perennials display an exceptional array of color in this season in the autumn garden. Colors deepen as the sun lowers in the sky. Splendid and sun-drenched planes bask over sepia or murky black-green recesses. Colors, reflected in the lowering sun's rays, warm and cool, lighten and darken in the play of shadow and light, taking on rare effervescence in the late of day in the autumn garden. All of these colorful shapes are planted below and forward of the growing deepening smoky pink sky. On this serene, placid day devoid of autumn zephyrs all of this festival color under the canopy of the pink backdrop will soon fade.

...There are deep browns with clay interiors on the ninebark and purple-brown rouge on bark of Yoshino cherries with ecru lenticels aplenty, warm tans just touched with violet-red on old hydrangea flowers and cinnamon tones on drying leaves as they dislodge and float to the garden floor from the Yulan magnolia. There are those gentle greens as the flesh of juicy limes on interior leaves of baby's breath spirea, wild strawberries still the emerald of summer grass. Some evergreens, like a long-needled Scots pine called 'Gold Coin' are tipped in lemon with lime rind interiors; another conifer is developing an overlay of tawny orange, an oriental cypress called 'Collen's Gold'. There are olive green rhododendrons and army green on the wood of sassafras. There are sage lichens and verdant mosses. Rich greens, as fresh as they were in spring cloak the non-running bamboos and an Asian holly. Maroons in burgundy wine erupt on oak-leaf hydrangea, brilliant vermilion on fleshy-flowered spindle tree and blood red, dark and deep found spottily on a fantastic PJM Rhododendron called 'Olga Mezzitt'. There are seed capsules in pure pink carrying scarlet berries studded among wanly yellow leaves touched with pale pink infusions on the Manchurian spindle tree called 'Pink Lady'. There are cinnabar vases of Enkianthus and deep, dark bronze-burgundy columns of Cornus sanguinea 'Compressa'. There are cool straw-colored Eulalia grasses, and amsonias gold and warm as fresh hay. One very large rounded vernal witch hazel is bright butter yellow while light candle wax yellow flowers adorn a common witch hazel introduction from Broken Arrow Nursery called 'Harvest Moon'. Deep monarch butterfly orange shares banana yellow on a Fothergilla major; another hybrid Fothergilla, 'Mt. Airy', conjoins orange peel and scarlet poppy in a fluorescent displays.

...Rust sharpens to persimmon; persimmon softens to pumpkin and deep Halloween cadmium Chinese lanterns overhang a pale sandy path. Golden browns and navy grays and earthy taupes reflect in the lowering sun's rays, warming and cooling, lightening and darkening in the play of shadow and light. Splendid and sun-drenched planes bask over sepia or murky black-green recesses. Silver-whites still flash from the leaf undersides of a hybrid willow trained into an A-framed arch called 'Scarlet Curls' during the multitude of days hosting autumn zephyrs; the contorted outer, younger wood is crimson over older brassy gold wood. No dancing leaves now; this has been a placid, windless day, still, serene.

...In this opulent season fruits and berries garnish many plants. Light yellow drupes over russet foliage speak quintessentially of fall on Linden viburnum, 'Michael Dodge', deeper yellow apples embellish 'Harvest Gold'. Cream tangerine fruits adorn 'Winter Gold' winterberry and Easter purple berries decorate arching branches of beautyberry, Callicarpa dichotoma. Pudgy pale amethyst-pink fruits hang on the branches of a hybrid snowberry. There are black-purple fruits on the black chokeberry, 'Viking', and those glossy Christmas red, dangling bright on the Oriental photinia and long-stalk holly, even more on a crabapple called 'Adirondack', larger deep red apples on old-fashioned 'Donald Wyman' are consistently profuse and persistent.

...There are white patches on vertical barks which color to salmon, the first to flame in fiery orange in the horizontal rays of the setting sun, before all parts of every trunk catch fire on Heritage birch. White-encrusted edges of brown pine cones dangle among gorgeous blue needles on the Japanese white pine. Blue-green Boulevard Cypress is touched with silver-blue rime on the foliage crests. Chartreuse, amber and scarlets take on a rare effervescence in the late of day in the autumn garden. All of these colorful shapes, some short and wide, others tall and narrow are planted below and forward of the growing deepening smoky pink sky in the distance. All this festival color under the canopy of the pink backdrop will soon fade.


The autumn garden is a stopping point for so many beneficial bees, butterflies and insects. The butterflies are long gone, the migrating Monarchs were the last to be seen. But there are still late-season moths who awaken at dusk. Flowers of hardy mums and the latest asters are landing pads for bees of many colors and stripes - a last mad dash by some of nature's hardest workers to flush hives full of golden honey for the nearing winter. The chrysanthemums are bright yellow, salmon, lavender-pink, dark pink and bronze, single, doubles and buttons. Bright golden yellow dime-sized disks are surrounded in numerous strap-shaped dark purple petals in classic daisy fashion on a new very late blooming Japanese aster, 'Ezo Murasaki'. This year after a scant start following a very hard winter the honeybees have thankfully resurged.

This large garden, filled with foods for so many flying creatures, is also a destination for many birds. Shrubs and trees are plush with fruits, drupes and berries in the autumn. Perennials and grasses provide an assortment of seed. And once hungry birds have spied and eaten a garden treat many visit our feeders on the deck. These feeders we replenish with affection. There are the year round feathered residents such as titmice, woodpeckers and blue jays; there are winter visitors such as pine siskins, white-throated sparrows and juncos. There are those who are merely passing through to warmer winter destinations such as Brewer's blackbirds in mother-of-pearl black feathers sporting bright yellow eyes. All of these birds cloaked in arrays of differently colored feathers are integral components of this garden, too. They, along with falling leaves are its moving parts when the autumnal breezes and winter winds are not forcing their wills upon marionettes of dancing branches. All add life, dance and counterpoint to the slower circadian rhythms. They are notes to parchment paper in this natural symphonic chorus of bird chant, melody embedded upon the cantata of wind and whistle in trees, bushes, the chord rustle of drying leaves on branches.


The sun is set. Evening arrives.

A thin line tracing just above the distant horizon, just below the now smoky mauve is gray-purple. As the light lessens this dusky color rises gradually replacing the diminishing mauve. Purple night comes over the distant hill making her entrance. The colors and shapes in the garden darken becoming deeper and gloriously rich. The male cardinals in bright red plumage, the females in warm olive with red highlights, shadowy now, are the last diners after sunset. Then they are gone to roost for the night. The colorful planes of the garden are quickly dimming, catching up with and aligning to its murkier recesses.

It is the night before the full beaver moon, this November 9, 2011. And the moon levitates in the eastern deep blue-gray sky on this yet cloudless evening. Jupiter is bright; in relationship to our moon it is lower and more southerly. Jupiter is at four on the dial of a clock with the moon at its heart. The garden grows increasingly dark, nearing the status of mere silhouette against the waning light in the east. Stars appear in the north.

While the wide arc of the globe is turning,

We feel it moving through the dark.

Hear the hills, scrape the sky,

And our eyes fill with the falling sparks."

Revolution Earth, indeed - thank you, B-52s. The vault of the sky suggests ashen charcoal. The gray-purple of the distant sky has darkened to cold slate. Night envelops quickly at this time of the year. It is spectacular, this Whistler nocturne framed by four in the rectangular canvases of our sliding deck doors.

Darkness descends. Night, her influence achieved.

As 6 pm. chimes on our cuckoo clock gossamer sheets and ghostly wisps of clouds fly south to north increasingly aglow and silvery white as they approach and catch the cold radiating light of the moon. Jupiter, now at 3 o'clock from the moon-heart of the sky dial becomes diffused beyond the fleeting clouds. Then Jupiter breaks free as a patch of Prussian blue rises and captures it, Jupiter glows distinct in a brilliant distant point once more. Streams of Prussian blue demarcate the cloud processional, the negative space in this Whistler saga, Liquid Sky. A perfect rainbow halo of light encompasses the moon at quarter after seven. The stretching, yearning fingers of clouds increase their tenacity in their northerly migration.

The moon and Jupiter maintain clarity in the infinite canyons of indigo space when unfettered by the gadding clouds. As evening progresses giant chasms of Prussian blue gradually lessen to mere valleys in the thickening processional. The fingers of clouds become hands, the hands become arms. Arms become a rushing onslaught of insurrection. Kingdoms of majestic clouds increase their spoils. No longer is the dark and deep night sky filled with flying clouds. And then vanquish of the stars is complete. Cloud cover has won the night. It is the leading edge of the Thursday storm.

The halo of the moon broadens its reach but grows diffuse, her cool light filters through the bowl of the sky. The sky is now a gray moonlit monochrome, an effusive subtle backdrop. The large domed crowns of the quiet wild trees, elms, oaks and hickories, at the back edge of the autumn garden composed of fine branchlets, touching the aura of sky; they counterbalance in rounded mass. Their tone is not quite sable. Nor are they brown. This umber is deep, rich as the cavernous backgrounds Rembrandt van Rihn painted centuries ago.

The twigs, springs of dark water, tens of hundreds of thousands upon thousands stretch, reach, touch the sky. Multitudes of crossing and descending twigs drip and trickle into brooklets. Brooklets pour into rivulets of stems, stems cascade into larger streams of more substantial, calipered branches and finally merge into greater, fewer massive rivers of limbs. Limbs plummet into mighty trunks. Trunks crash into an ocean of darkness which earlier had been the autumn garden, the horizon that glowed a heather of brilliant golden orange at sun's set and encompassing all between. Paradox: the discernible depth of sienna-sable umber, the Rembrandt background, is simultaneously a mere two-dimensional silhouette. It is a wood burner's coral reef relief, this portrait of dark against the cool, phosphorescent arc of the sky. Night has overcome the day as the clouds have vanquished the sky, the deluge, complete. Night plays tricks on the human eye.

My attention turns from the garden of the extraordinary night outside of the four frames towards the peace and slumber just beyond the threshold of my bedroom. It may be a dreamless night but more likely a Dali-esque midnight matinee awaits. The night of my mind may flourish with flashes of thought, idea, color and radiance. Gardens of dreams are welcome events.

Gold and rose, the color of the dream I had

Not too long ago

A misty blue and lilac too

A never to grow old.

And thank you, Jimi Hendrix. An alternate magic realm awaits. And so does my muse, Serendipity.

Though I have attempted to paint in purple prose, arguably poorly, this impression of a few late day November hours it is but an example for all calendar days. The seasons change. There are beautiful brilliant days, those mistier and softer, others stormy and wild. Night and day turns in circadian rhythm in all seasons. Light and color changes, even within the course of mere minutes. This plays out daily. It is never twice a copy. Find your own personal manner to include, see and incorporate the gift of light and shadow, color and form, distant horizons and natural occurrence. This will influence your manipulation of garden, your private countenance with the physical, spiritual and creative realm in your mind and heart. The artist within your being translates into the skill manifested in the earth in which you garden. Go and garden. Do so with joy.

Penned by Wayne Paquette in November 2011