Autumn carpets

Sunday, 15 May 2011

A carpet of fallen Liquidambar leaves

As my family will attest, I am not the tidiest of people, so have never been one to complain about the falling of leaves from deciduous trees in autumn. The past week, with its sudden colder weather, has seemed to accelerate the colour of these trees in our neighbourhood, and carpets of fallen leaves are starting to form everywhere. To me, these are a delightful tapestry, bringing colour to the ground, and I still have a childish delight in scuffing through a mass of leaves and hearing that satisfying crunch underfoot. The garden takes on a different look, reminding me of a woodland scene.

I also love to see leaves collecting on outdoor tables, benches and chairs and amongst other plants, lending a transient, beautiful seasonal touch to our gardens as a cover of snow might do in a cold climate. On rainy days, wet autumn leaves on steps and paths can shine with brilliant colour.

The biggest tree in our garden is a massive Liquidambar styraciflua, which was well advanced when we moved here. I would never suggest that anyone ever actually plant one of these trees in their garden, but at this time of year it is like a molten tower of colour and the fallen leaves spread around its base like a patchwork rug for several metres, creating (to me) a wonderful display. Others in the family, however, see only the huge chore of eventually raking them up and putting them through the mulching machine!

Leaves of the crepe myrtle gather amidst black mondo grass

The crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) is a smaller tree more suited to our gardens and it colours up very well in our Sydney climate. Its small, rounded leaves create a pretty rug as they fall - mine gather in the strappy leaves of black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'), providing a dramatic picture.

Leaves of the pin oak

Fallen leaves give a chance to really study the shape of foliage and I noted a thick layer of the leaves of a pin oak (Quercus palustris) on a recent walk around our area. These have an intricate scalloped shape; the tree colours reasonably well in cooler, elevated areas of Sydney. The leaves of Japanese maples (Acer species and cultivars) are also beautifully shaped, like little coloured stars tossed onto the ground.

As well as giving our gardens a seasonal ambience - and allowing more light into our gardens in winter when they are bare - deciduous trees do provide a valuable resource for our compost heaps. Smaller leaves can be raked directly onto garden beds to break down, or placed in the compost heap. Larger leaves are best put through a mulcher, or run over with a lawn mower, then added to the heap. Some people place the leaves in bags and leave them for a year or so in an out-of-the-way corner to form leaf mould, though I have never tried this.

Gordonia axillaris

There are also floral carpets at this time of year, and I enjoyed the sight of a Gordonia axillaris on my walk, with a scattering of its big white flowers beneath it. Camellia sasanqua drop their silky petals to create a pool of colour beneath them, which can be a pretty effect.