Wordsmiths Evoke Fond Memories

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower” Albert Camus. A French philosopher, author and journalist, Albert Camus was awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize in Literature at the age of 44, the second youngest to receive this illustrious prize. His most famous works include The Stranger, The plague, The Myth of Sisyphus, The Fall and The Rebel. However, it is his simple horticultural quote that speaks to me. His words are as poignant as they are poetic, truthful and deliberate, succinct and brilliant in composition. I have always been attracted to wordsmiths and their flare for language, particularly when it involves nature. Mr. Camus’ quote has me reminded of all the wonderful late fall color one can imbibe if they only take the time to look. Plants such as Sumac, Heuchera, Japanese Maples, Smokebush, Oakleaf Hydrangea, Viburnum types and Heavenly Bamboo are reminders of his words. A spectrum of color is still out there with rich shades of red, purple, yellow and orange. Poets, composers, authors, writers and novelists alike have written remarkable words depicting nature and with that comes personal relations to their words.

“I hope I can be the autumn leaf, who looked at the sky and lived. And when it was time to leave, gracefully it knew life was a gift” Dodinsky. Author of the NY Times bestselling book, “In the Garden of Thoughts,” Dodinsky’s intent was “simply to share his reflections about life in order to help heal the wounds inflicted by life’s troubles.” Certainly Ginkgo, Ginkgo biloba, is a tree who can relate to Dodinsky’s short quote. A tree that has remained unchanged for millions of years, Ginkgo and its unique fan-shaped leaves, has always been my favorite tree. Bright green leaves give way to brilliant yellow markings in the fall. And should nature be unkind and present us with an unusual early hard freeze, Ginkgo leaves will almost shatter and drop all at once to the ground. Dodinsky’s words elicit a reminder that Mother Nature, while She has deprived me of my fall color at times, has also afforded me the golden excitement I so crave in our garden.

“Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits” Samuel Butler. An English novelist and critic who is best known for the satirical utopian novel Erewhon. Butler’s quote reminds me of the autumnal favorites, Common Winterberry, Ilex verticillata and Beautyberry, Callicarpa. Winterberry holly is a deciduous species that gardeners patiently wait all year for. While the yellow to purple-tinged leaf markings can be exciting, clearly it’s the bright red small fruits that ripen in September and persist until January. A male pollinator is necessary for pollination and today there are many types, in various forms, that will captivate and hold your attention even as late as the Ides of March. Be on the lookout for red, orange and yellow fruit types. Beautyberry, in my opinion, is an underused landscape plant in today’s market. Ordinary in appearance in the spring, much like Winterberry, tiny clusters of exciting colored fruits seem to present themselves in an almost internodal pattern in the autumn. Fruits that have been described, depending on species and cultivar, as pearl-like, violet purple, neon violet, bright magenta, rosy pink and metallic purple. And while white fruit varieties are available, they simply leave me underwhelmed.

“Love the trees until their leaves fall off, then encourage them to try again next year” Chad Sugg. A writer and recorder of music, Mr. Sugg is also a poet. Recently we lost one of the great teachers in the horticultural profession. Dr. Bruce Hamilton or “Doc” was a professor of plant materials on the Cook Campus of Rutgers University from 1966-2006. Passionate about teaching, “Doc” truly loved his students. Dr. Hamilton will forever be remembered, by me, for his ‘Pin Oak Dance.’ In an attempt to describe the mature habit of Pin Oak, Quercus palustris, to those who clearly didn’t know plant material and if memory serves correct, didn’t speak the English language? No matter, “Doc” made it fun and loved life. The lower branches of Pin Oak are descending (pendulous), the middle branches are horizontal and the upper are upright. I can still see “Doc’s” flailing arm gestures as he recreated the story, one that involved travel. Sugg’s quote is a reminder that Oak trees are among the last to relinquish their foliage. Marcescence is the retention of dead plant organs that normally are shed. “Doc’s” concocted Pin Oak dance may initially have been lost on his audience, however it has proven to be a memorable and fantastic story. Showing, yet again, how plants can bridge relationships and how wordsmiths evoke fond memories.