The Fall Color Project – Pennsylvania Style

– Posted in: Garden Design

Lake Nockamixon 1 Oct 9 09

Dave at The Home Garden announced last month that he was repeating his popular Fall Color Project this autumn, and since then, I’ve been looking forward to sharing the  fall foliage colors from here in southeastern Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the recent four-day spell of cold, rain, and wind seems to have spoiled the best part of the show, and I’m guessing that the shots I took over the last two weeks are as good as I’m going to get. I’ll start the tour with some shots from Lake Nockamixon in upper Bucks County, PA. The images above and below were taken on October 6.

Lake Nockamixon Oct 9 09

The next one is from nearby Linden Hill Gardens, in Ottsville, PA.

Fall color in Lake Linden 1 Oct 12 09

Oh wait, that’s the wrong way ’round. It’s supposed to look like this!

Fall color in Lake Linden Oct 12 09

About a week later, I took a ramble around my parents’ farm, which is adjacent to my place. We’re still in upper Bucks County here, but about 20 miles west of Lake Nockamixon, and about 30 miles north of Philadelphia. The hedgerows are mostly a mix of oaks (Quercus), hickories (Carya), maples (Acer), and eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), with a bunch of other trees and shrubs seeded in.

Fall color at farm Oct 13 09

Fenceline at farm 1 Oct 13 09

Fenceline at farm 3 oct 13 09

Fenceline behind green barn Oct 13 09

Field at farm Oct 13 09

The flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida), in particular, have colored up well this month.

Cornus florida at farm oct 13 09

This group of older sassafras (Sassafras albidum) trees pretty much peaked out at yellow… 

Sasafrass at farm Oct 13 09

…(the same trees from a different perspective)…

Sassafras row at farm oct 13 09

…but a stand higher up the slope is much more colorful.

Sassafras closeup Oct 13 09

It has also been a good year for that most outstanding of natives for fall foliage color, Toxicodendron radicans, both at the farm…

Toxicodendron radicans Oct 13 09

…and in a hedgerow over here at Hayefield.

Toxicodendron radicans at Hayefield Oct 6 09

Ok, so it’s just poison ivy, but you have to admit that it’s pretty from a distance. A long distance.

Even with the dismal weather, there’s a good bit of fall foliage color within the garden as well.

Viburnum trilobum Bailey Compact Oct 18 09

Above is ‘Bailey Compact’ American cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum). Below is a view of the same plant from a different perspective, with other viburnumy companions, Acer triflorum, and a skirt of Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii).

Viburnums Amsonia Acer triflorum Oct 12 09

Continuing the natives theme is a particularly nice Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)…

Itea virginica Oct 12 09

…’Little Honey’ oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)…

Hydrangea quercifolia Little Honey Oct 18 09

…and ‘Tor’ birchleaf spirea (Spiraea betuifolia).

Spiraea betulifolia Tor Oct 18 09

Some other foliage standouts among the shrubs include Abelia mosanensis…

Abelia mosanensis Oct 18 09

…and unnamed Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)…

Acer palmatum in front garden Oct 18 09

…’Royal Purple’ smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria)…

Cotinus Royal Purple Oct 12 09

…’Kumson’ forsythia (Forsythia viridissima var. koreana)…

Forsythia viridissima Kumson Oct 13 09

…and golden elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Aurea’), which, admittedly, is this color all through the growing season but especially striking with all the reds and oranges this time of year.

Front garden Oct 13 09

One more vine, too: Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolius), which in one spot has wound up through Persicaria ‘Crimson Beauty’. I couldn’t decide if I preferred this first shot from October 6th…

Parthenocissus quinquefolius Persicaria CB Oct 06 09

…or this one from a week later, so I included both.

Parthenocissus quinquefolius Persicaria CB Oct 12 09

Among the herbaceous plants, some foliage highlights include that Hayefield favorite, Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii)…

Amsonia hubrichtii Oct 13 09

…dwarf goatsbeard (Aruncus aethusifolius)…

Aruncus aethusifolius Oct 14 09

…Bowman’s root (Porteranthus stipulatus)…

Porteranthus stipulatus Oct 6 09

…shredded umbrella plant (Syneilesis aconitifolia)…

Syneilesis aconitifolia Oct 18 09

…and ‘Redbor’ kale mingled with Italia leaf broccoli (spigariello).

Kale Redbor with spigariello Oct 18 09

And then there are the grasses – yay! A few highlights include blood grass (Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’)…

Imperata cylindrica Persicaria Red Dragon Oct 18 09

…’Northwind’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum)…

Long border at Hayefield Panicum Northwind oct 12 09

…prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)…

Sporobolus heterolepis Oct 12 09

…and ‘Skyracer’ purple moor grass (Molinia caerulea).

Molinia Skyracer Oct 18 09

Unbelieveably, in the course of my putting this post together, the skies have finally cleared and the sun is shining, so I’m headed outside to enjoy whatever color is left. If you want to see how the autumn is progressing in other areas (including another take on Pennsylvania’s beauties from TC at The Write Gardener), or if you have fall pictures of your own to share, be sure to visit The Fall Color Project.

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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Jan October 19, 2009, 6:39 am

Looks like you have some good color. This far south, there is very little fall color since most of the trees that fire, don’t grow here or the temps stay too warm. I love the red leaves.

Always Growing

Thanks for visiting, Jan. Fall color certainly is a treat, even though it means that winter is coming very soon.

Les October 19, 2009, 7:09 am

What a great collection of fall color shots. It makes me wish I lived somewhere more rural where I could walk through woods and meadows. I have family near you in Kintnersville, but have only visited in summer when everything is so very green.

Next time you visit Kintersville, maybe you can come over to Ottsville to see us at Linden Hill Gardens. We’re just minutes away, and the gardens have plenty of summer color!

Dave October 19, 2009, 8:11 am


Even with the rains you still have all kinds of fun foliage to see. The sweet spire is simply awesome for its fall color. I’ll have to add that to my list. I’m fan of the oak leaf hydrangeas and that golden hue on the fall foliage is really nice. I’m not a fan of your Toxicodendron radicans but it does have nice fall color! Thanks for joining in!


It was fun to take part again, Dave; thanks for coming up with the idea!

Janet October 19, 2009, 8:26 am

Nan your colors are grand! I am glad you included the reds/oranges of the Sassafras…I saw some in my area turning red and it was a ‘wow’. The Amsonia under the Viburnum and Maple is a great cloud! Mine hasn’t turned at all yet.
LOVE the upside down photo, it looked a little odd, but I thought it was the grass in the center that caught my eye. fun with photos.

our friend Ben October 19, 2009, 11:08 am

Wow, Nan, what a fantastic tour! After despairing about fall color here thanks to the weather, I’m beginning to feel more hopeful. And your garden’s fall colors are so spectacular! Your Virginia creeper is the brilliant red I expect; why on earth have all of mine gone bright yellow this year?!! As for poison ivy… shudder… even that gorgeous color doesn’t move me towards tolerance. It’s trying to kill me, I just know it. Anyway, thanks for the glorious photos, and enjoy today’s sunshine!

Wasn’t it splendid to see sunshine again? It was a perfect fall day, and there’s at least one more on the way. Maybe we’ll get a bit more good color here after all.

TC October 19, 2009, 11:56 am

Hi Ms. Nancy! Lovely, absolutely lovely and beautiful fall color there in your neck of the PA woods! I looked at every one of your pictures and couldn’t decide if it was prettier up your way, or here on the western side of the state.

(Thanks for the link love!)

Great to see the trees in your part of PA too, TC. Our lovely state is well represented in The Fall Color Project this year.

Melody October 19, 2009, 1:31 pm

Gorgeous colors for the fall. I especially like the golden elderberry with the variety of colors surrounding it. We don’t have fall color like that in North Florida.

But see, Melody – we need all the color we can get now, because we’re going to be looking at a whole lot of brown for the next four months. So, don’t be envious!

Carole October 19, 2009, 1:55 pm

Nancy, gorgeous photos! Yes, the weather here in the Philadelphia area was pretty abysmal this weekend and I’m so happy that it’s sunny and much warmer today. I especially loved your tour of local natives. They certainly hold their own for beauty at this time of year.

Thanks, Carole. Yes, the natives really do shine for foliage color at this time of year. They’ll feature heavily in an upcoming post on great seedheads, too!

Debbie/Gardenofpossibilities October 19, 2009, 4:54 pm


What beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing the fall color in your neck of the woods. I’m surprised after taking so many you had the energy to put this post together.

Glad you visited, Debbie. Keep in mind that I’ve been collecting these all month. If Dave hadn’t run The Fall Color Project this year, I’d have had to cram them into my Bloom Day post over at Hayefield.

elizabeth ~ so wabi sabi October 20, 2009, 10:07 am

I live in central PA, and we had the odd experience of be able to make a snowman and decorate it with live flowers from our garden! We actually had snow before we had a hard frost. I had to document that on my blog.

Your fall colors are gorgeous. I have also been admiring the poison ivy this fall (from a distance) and the virginia creeper. I loved your reflection shot!

Hey there, Elizabeth! We had a few snowflakes, but not anywhere near enough for sculpting. Yikes! Thanks for visiting, and for letting us know about your blog.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter October 21, 2009, 6:06 pm

The color looks a lot better in Pennsylvania than here in Illinois. The Dogwoods are stunning, but I have a special place in my heart for the Sassafrass. There was a Sassafrass in the next-door neighbor’s yard of the house where I grew up, and I love its leaves.

Ugh – sorry to hear that you didn’t get even this much color this fall, MMD. Let’s hope that next fall is better.

Sarah Laurence October 25, 2009, 7:51 am

Lovely lake and fields! Ha! You tricked me with that reversed reflection. Beautiful images.

Thanks so much, Sarah. I know it’s beautiful in your area too this time of year.

Commonweeder November 3, 2009, 2:07 pm

I hadn’t known about this meme, but I have been posting about the color up here in the hills of Western Mass. I will definitley participate officially next year. The thing I liked about your post is the reminder of how many trees and shrubs, and perennials have their own rainbow season.

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