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.

Reader Comments

  • By Jill 3941 Monday, 16 May 2011

    I share your joy in autumn colours and have been busy with my camera capturing the beauty of it. Jill

    Thanks, Jill. This year seems particularly good for autumn colour. Deirdre

  • By Maureen 2118 Monday, 16 May 2011

    Autumn Carpets - that brought flooding back fond memories as a kid in England kicking up flurries of autumn leaves in front of my grandfathers terrace in Gorton Manchester which I have continued to do whenever the chance arises! The child in us should never leave!! Maureen

    I agree! Deirdre

  • By Maurice 0 Monday, 16 May 2011

    I look forward to raking up the leaves each autumn as I spread them unmulched all amongst my plants to slowly break down over the next year I have been doing it this way for 20 years (Lazy man's compost)and my soil is so black and loose its just like the forest floor. Maurice

    It sounds a great idea. I know the leaves in my compost heap break down to a fabulous humus. Deirdre

  • By Frances 3941 Monday, 16 May 2011

    it truly is a beautiful time of year! I particularly love the carpets of fallen Camellia petals with their jewel colours against the lush green of the lawn. Frances

    Yes, they are very pretty and another good reason to grow these shrubs! Deirdre

  • By Lyn 4570 Monday, 16 May 2011

    You brought back one of my favourite childhood memories of holidays in Katoomba,scuffling through crackling, crispy autumn leaves! We have very few; crepe myrtle,persimmon, and liquidamber. we substitute the bright contrast of poinsettia and Euphorbia leucantha. Thanks for the memory. Lyn

    When younger, my kids enjoyed running through the leaves at Mt Wilson, which is a wonderful place to see autumn colour. Deirdre

  • By Gillian 2119 Monday, 16 May 2011

    Sorry Deidre, I am the opposite to you I rake up Autumn leaves every day and put them in a large hessian bag with handfuls of blood & bone. When soft and rotted down I spread them over the garden. Being a tidy freak I love the leaves for garden conditioner but not the mess they create. Gillian.

    Thanks for letting me know how it is done with bagging them up. I'd love to know how long it takes for them to break down. Deirdre

  • By Robin 2121 Monday, 16 May 2011

    Having lived in Tumut and Canberra and holidayed in Bright, Vic. I have happy memories of vivid autumn colour.Thanks for the tip of hessian bags and blood and bone for stored leaves, Gillian! One year a forgotten black plastic bag of leaves stored under the house had turned into great compost.

    Yes the colour in those colder climates must be quite amazing. Luckily, we do have some trees that will colour up well here. I'm really interested in the stories of the bagged leaves, and must give it a go! Deirdre

  • By Peta 2758 Tuesday, 17 May 2011

    Currently we are drowning under a sea of leaves but Ive discovered that the cows quite like chewing on them. So far no tummy aches...so I pull big tarpaulin loads out into the paddock and they vacuum them up. Recycling?

    Sounds good! How I would love to have a cow! Deirdre

  • By Lynette 2780 Tuesday, 17 May 2011

    I live in Katoomba and have been enjoying the colour for some weeks now. We have commented this year on how vivid the leaves have been, more so than any of the recent previous years. The weather has not been particularly cold and so I am wondering why.

    I always thought that it was a combination of sunny days and cool nights that brings out the best colour - that is certainly what we have had in Sydney this autumn. Maybe all the rain a few weeks ago played a part too. Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Thursday, 19 May 2011

    my crepe myrtles are just beginning to colour and fall. My leaves are a bright yellow; a tree, grown from my trees, and given to a neighbour behind, has bright red leaves - a great contrast with mine!

    yes, amazing how variable they can be. They are a good autumn tree for us in Sydney with the bonus of great flowers in summer! Deirdre

  • By dorothy 4060 Friday, 20 May 2011

    Hello Deirdre, I was in Toowoomba, Qld. today and the colours and shape of the falling leaves were wonderful. It doesn't happen so much in Brisbane but as Toowoomba has a cooler climate this can happen a lot in winter. Kind regards, Dorothy

    Thanks for the feedback. I didn't realise that autumn colour would occur there. Deirdre

  • By Peta 6253 Monday, 23 May 2011

    The past couple of months have been taken up with organising a local gardens open scheme for us here in the South West of WA. Its lovely now to have the time to catch up with your blog and follow the seasonal changes of a Sydney garden. Not quite the same as here but inspirational nonetheless.

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