The Fall in Italian Garden

Days become shorter, the breeze begins feeling fresher and the sunlight changes, prompting even us humans to begin sensing nature surrendering to the changing season. The once fresh, green leaves on the trees, slowly begin turning into an array of butter yellows, reds, coppers and a whole host of colors that symbolize the arrival of the Fall. But what creates these colors: do they just suddenly decide to change all at once by chance, or is there a rational and natural reason for this transformation?

Of course there has to be a natural reason for all this, but how many of us know what that reason is?

fall in the garden
The colors of the Fall in an Italian Garden (by Alexeys at

Some words about the Fall

As the sun’s angle changes in respect to our planet, towards the end of Summer, its rays need to pass through more of our atmosphere – and thus more of the particles that make up that atmosphere – creating a rosier glow. This “rosy glow” is actually composed of infra-red light, and holds the key to the seasons, as plants are able to detect it. By doing so, they can determine the time of year by using it as a guide.

When the correct time has been established, and air temperatures call a halt to any possible extra growth, then the trees begin extracting any remaining goodness from the leaves to take it back into their trunk, where it is stored for the following year’s growth: in the end, it would be highly illogical to just throw all those nutrients away, wouldn’t it? With the greens and other garden colors of Summer now absorbed, all that remains to be seen on the leaf are the colors of the leaf structure itself- the tannins, sometimes red, sometimes yellow and so on.

The Fall is the season that bows respectfully to the Summer,  yet welcomes the Winter with open arms. Bright red berries and rosehips suddenly ripen and appear, blackberries form and offer themselves tantalizingly to any passing bird, rodent or human relying on the energy provided by these sweet treats of nature to stock up on energy for the cold Winter ahead.

fall in the garden
Fall and Countryside in Piedmont. Ph. depositphotos/rglinsky

How to make your garden fantastic during the Fall

Nature’s bounty can be and, for respect alone, should be displayed in our garden designs, and there are many plants that can help us garden-lovers make it through the melancholy of a Summer that’s slowly slipping away to Winter. This time of the year, trees like maples, aspens and oaks begin displaying exactly what they’re made of with an acute sense of pride. The changing sunlight seems to accommodate and extenuate these colors to their maximum. Is it any wonder then that this season is considered the most moving and romantic time of the year, when it’s also moving and romantic for nature itself?

fall by lake como
Fall by Lake Como, Italy. Ph. depositphotos/rglinsky

Underneath the trees there are plants that have learnt to capitalize on the extra light that begins to arrive on them as  leaves  starts to fall: plants like cyclamen (cyclamen coum), autumn flowering crocus speciosus and even autumn flowering iris (iris unguicularis), a dwarf species that starts flowering in November and resists for the whole Winter, are only some of them.

Here are some of my favorite plants that can also be used in a Mediterranean-style gardens:

Arbutus Andrachnoides (strawberry tree)

Arbutus Andrachnoides, or corbezzoli
The Fall in an Italian Garden: arbutus andrachnoides, or “corbezzolo”

The strawberry tree is native to the Mediterranean basin and Western Europe, and reaches up to the shores of Ireland, where it is known also as Irish strawberry tree and cane apple tree. It is an evergreen shrub producing red-orange fruits. It can reach a height of 5 to 10 metres and grows easily in North America, too.

Quercus Rubra (red oak)

The quercus rubra,  our well known and loved red oak
The quercus rubra,  our well known and loved red oak (by Velela at

The red oak, a beautiful decidous tree, which grows up to 10-15 metres in height. It is originary to North America, where it is the largest source of timber, but can grow in Europe, as well.

Liquidambar Styraciflua (sweetgum)

The liquidambar styraciflua, commonly known as sweetgum
The liquidambar styraciflua, commonly known as sweetgum (by Jean-Pol Grandmont at

Another deciduous tree, the sweetgum also grows pretty high, reaching 15-20 metres and is very common in the South East of the US.

Hydrangea Quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea)

The hydrangea quercifolia, commonly known as oakleaf hydrangea
The hydrangea quercifolia, commonly known as oakleaf hydrangea (by Raffi Kojian at

The hydrangea quercifolia is commonly known as oak leaf hydrangea. It is wide-leaved flowery plant typical of the South of the US, which grows easily everyhwere in North America and Europe. Its beautiful flowers are usually white, but pink flower plants are also common. It grows in the form of shrubs and it is used as an ornamental plant.

Parrotia Persica (Persian ironwood)

A persian ironwood (wikimedia)
A persian ironwood (wikimedia)

Persian ironwood (parrotia persica) is a decidous tree, the only one of the genus parrotia, but it is closely related to the hammamelis genus. It grows to 30 metres in height and has oval leaves. Its flowers are similar to those of the witch hazel, but red in color.

If you have a penchant for berries, some of the berry producing plants can be found among the Viburnum, Mahonia, Pyracantha and Berberis species, however even wild roses, blackberries and elder can create interest and can provide those animals relying on their berries for  survival with a bounty: after all that’s really all they’re there for!

By Jonathon Radford

Edited and updated by Francesca Bezzone

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