- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Summer’s over, but a walk through the region’s public gardens just before the chill hits makes one thing perfectly clear: Nature’s show is not. Make way now for seed pods and fruit, bark and branch, colors and textures unimagined during summer’s bloom — rich but muted reds, browns and mochas, most rough or spiky to the touch.

It’s fall, and the fetching lushness of nature’s summer display becomes subdued, rich, fruitful, enough to make summer’s riot seem just a tad flamboyant, even tawdry.

Around Lake Gardiner, for example, one of three lakes at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, ornamental grasses, some 15 feet high, grace the landscape with fluffy seed heads that sprout in fall and offer a more subtle beauty this time of year. Some of the seed heads, from wheat to cream in color, stretch to more than half a foot and wave languidly in the fall breezes. In addition, stands of maiden grass grow to 7 or 8 feet high around the lake. Switch and cord grasses also sprout here.

The grasses are just one of the many delights of fall gardens in the Washington area. While most annuals have receded or lost their color by now, and the rest will soon succumb to the first frost by the end of this month, fall bloomers, like ornamental grasses, bring striking beauty to autumn gardens.

Fall garden tours in the area also offer a riot of color from the deciduous trees that will turn to their full glory in the next week or two. Other plants provide muted or subtle beauty to the eyes of garden visitors.

And there’s still a touch of summer. Strolling up one of the rolling hills at Meadowlark Gardens, visitors see a spray of colors from salvia flowers that grow in one of 25 gardens there. The salvias stand nearly 6 feet tall and range in color from scarlet red to deep purple, to sky blue, to burgundy, to almost fire pink. The hues are so reminiscent of summer that many visitors are surprised to find these profoundly colorful flowers blooming from mid- to late fall.

At Meadowlark, the salvias normally reach 7 feet in height but fell a bit short this year because of the wet summer. The plants are native to drier climates.

“They’re still quite spectacular,” says Keith Tomlinson, garden manager at Meadowlark, which has a salvia specialist on staff.

For visitors who love stronger colors, fall asters, with their pinks and purples, abound in Meadowlark’s gardens. Chrysanthemums also bloom on the grounds in fall, in whites, lilacs, yellows, oranges and bronzes. Moreover, fall crocus, with their lavender color, are blooming as well. The fall crocus is an odd plant in that it has only its flower left in autumn. The stem comes up in spring with no flower.

Meadowlark, which has some 115,000 visitors each year who explore its 95 acres of wide lawns and gardens along paved paths, also has an attractive conifer collection not far from Lake Caroline. The conifers, most of which stay green year-round and remind visitors of the glories of summer once most green leaves have vanished, contain multiple shades of greens and come in various shapes and sizes. Some conifers, however, turn gold, champagne and silver. Nestled amidst the conifers is an interesting collection of dwarf conifers.

“It’s an amazing collection,” Mr. Tomlinson says of the conifers.

Around Lake Caroline, which has a pier and a gazebo from which visitors can watch swimming koi, largemouth bass and catfish, are Japanese Yoshino cherry trees, like those at the Tidal Basin in the District. Some visitors also get a rare glimpse of the lake’s snapping turtle, as well as the occasional deer that wanders in during the week.

“I’ve been down to the lake when the water is boiling with catfish,” says Reston resident Mark Tylenda, a sales manager at Champion Billiards & Barstools. “I’ve also seen an eagle here.”

Mr. Tylenda, a frequent visitor at Meadowlark, says that he especially enjoys fall at the 95-acre park.

Bushes and trees that produce berries are another subtle pleasure of fall gardens. In the butterfly garden at Meadowlark, for example, beauty bushes have bright purple berries. The winter berry bush also has a particularly bright red berry and one species has a salmon berry. Crab apple trees grow throughout the grounds and have wine-colored crab apples that add another dimension of color.

Like other botanical gardens in the Washington area, Meadowlark’s tree collection will reach a spectacular climax in the next several weeks and present visitors with the full glory of fall. Dogwood leaves have already turned red, and tulip poplars have shaded to bright yellow. Maples are changing to reds and yellows and golds. Oaks will offer various shades of red as well. Paper birch trees will also add their white bark and yellow leaves to the mix here. The leaves of rarely found black gum trees turn deep crimson. One on the grounds is more than 100 years old.

If visitors arrive at Meadowlark before the first killing frost, they will also find plants near the entrance garden that fight cancer. The sweet potato plant, for instance, is used in medicines against lung cancer. The Japanese plum yew is employed against leukemia. The rosy periwinkle, castor bean and indigo plant fight other forms of cancer as well.

At Hillwood Museum and Gardens in North- west, the estate of the late Marjorie Merri- weather Post, visitors will find a different side of fall in gardens contained in an urban setting. Hillwood, which overlooks Rock Creek Park, has 12 acres of cultivated gardens and another 13 acres of woodland that add a colorful backdrop for visitors who explore the museum and mansion on the grounds. The staff also carries on a tradition of cultivating the flowers, plants and trees as Mrs. Post did.

In fall, the woodlands here become a striking aspect of the grounds’ attractiveness. Not only will tulip poplars, dogwoods, towering oaks and many maples provide a fall show with their various reds, yellows and golds, but an 80-year-old gingko tree will add bright yellow leaves to the bouquet.

Visitors will also be treated to the unusual sight of American elms, carefully tended by the staff to ward off Dutch elm disease. The elms, with their towering vase-like structure, turn yellow in fall. Japanese maples also reside here and their leaves become bright red. Other unusual trees and bushes here are the dawn redwood, its leaves turning bronze. The redwood tree from China was thought to be extinct but was found again in the ‘50s.

The Formosa fire thorn, another attractive bush, has red berries in fall. Hillwood also has a viburnum garden, with bushes sprouting a profusion of berries. Viburnum fruits cover the range of colors — from red, to orange, to yellow, to black, to blue fruits, all of which attract birds.

Many of the trees at Hillwood can best be appreciated from the Lunar Lawn, a site where Mrs. Post, who died in 1973, often entertained. The Lunar Lawn is 12,000 square feet on the south side of the main house and is shaped like a half moon. A large statue of a resting lion sits majestically on the lawn. From the Lunar Lawn, the Washington Monument is also visible through a frame of towering elms and other trees.

The Lunar Lawn is tightly trimmed and maintained so that it has a very manicured look, as do all the gardens at Hillwood. It is bordered by a large sweep of mums as well, more than 1,200, which peak in October. The staff will plant pansies in November. Evergreen arborvitae and false cypress and magnolia stand in layers beyond the mums. The yellow bulbs of fall daffodils are also scattered throughout the grounds.

Over the hillside beyond the Lunar Lawn lies a Japanese garden, which alone is well worth a visit to the estate. A tall granite Japanese lantern and two large stone guard dogs greet visitors at the entrance of this garden, which is filled with assortments of evergreens, some of which are bonsai, on a hillside that gives the impression of Japan’s mountainous landscape. Japanese pines, maples and false cypress mix with American natives, like the Colorado blue spruce and blue atlas cedar.

A series of connecting waterfalls line the center of the Japanese garden, their bubbling waters creating a soothing and restful atmosphere. Wooden bridges cross over the small ponds here filled with water lilies and lotus plants. Hotei, the Japanese god of happiness and prosperity, stands at the top of the garden along with other sculptures, adding a light touch to the atmosphere.

“It’s magnificent,” says Brennan McKernan, an Arlington resident, referring to the Japanese garden. “It’s really beautiful, especially this time of year with the Japanese maples changing color. And the waterfalls create an atmosphere that drowns out all of the other sounds around.”

The French Garden next to Mrs. Post’s former residence is patterned after an 18th-century formal garden and is not to be missed. Walls of English ivy surround the garden, and a sculpture of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, stands at one end of a central pool that is lined with Italian glass tile. At the other end of the garden sit two sphinx sculptures. Miniature boxwoods are also sculpted into ornate scrolls, adding a unique touch. Sculptures of a frog, crickets and fish squirt perfect streams of water into the three blue fountains in this garden. And sea creatures in the main pool add to the garden’s delightful atmosphere that is filled with the sound of bubbling water.

By the greenhouse on the other side of the mansion are several gingko trees — one of which is more than 80 years old — that turn to yellow in fall. In the greenhouse are more than 2,000 orchids of various species that are also worth a look.

With its 446 acres and nearly eight miles of roadway, the U.S. National Arboretum has plenty of fall beauty, both subtle and striking. Forty-two percent of the arboretum is made up of woodlands and becomes a delight when fall colors filter through its many trees. Tulip poplars and hickory turn to yellows, and dogwoods, gum trees and oaks shift to red. Maples change to gold, yellow and bright red.

“We are one of the two most beautiful places in fall in the area,” says Mary Ann Jarvis, event coordinator for the arboretum. “The other is Rock Creek Park. And we have wonderful fall colors here.”

Ms. Jarvis says the arboretum offers many fall pleasures. Tall ornamental grasses abound on the grounds, their seed heads waving in the wind. Ravenna grass that grows 12 to 15 feet high with flowering spikes is one example. Pyracanthus bushes, with yellow, orange and red berries, also attract visitors’ eyes. Holly berries are coloring up as well and come in whites, reds, oranges and even blacks.

The evergreens on the grounds are showing their cones, which have much color, texture and form.

“Thinking that an evergreen is only a Christmas tree is only looking through a very narrow window,” Ms. Jarvis says.

Evergreens range in color here from the textures of the blue spruce to the white pine. One unusual conifer on display is the zebra pine, which is yellow and green. The arboretum also has a large collection of magnolia trees, the seeds of which turn a beautiful red.

In the herb garden, colorful chilies from all over the world attract visitors in fall, as well as kumquat with fragrant white blossoms. Manihot, a 3-foot tall perennial with large yellow flowers with dark centers, stands out on the walk near the Rose Garden, as well as salvias.

In Fern Valley are scattered heath asters that are 2 to 4 feet tall and have white daisylike flowers. Turtleheads are also found here that are 2 to 4 feet high and blossom with white to light pink flowers. Shining sumac shrubs sit along the road with drooping clusters of small red fruits.

In Wheaton, Brookside Gardens has 11 formal garden areas, as well as informal gardens on 50 acres located within Wheaton Regional Park. The Gude Garden makes up a large part of the grounds and has ponds and a Japanese style garden. In the Gude Garden, visitors walk along a long path that circles several ponds and a Japanese garden and teahouse, with a large variety of trees and bushes surrounding them that will be filled with color as fall peaks.

Beauty bushes with purple berries line the walkways, along with various types of holly trees and bushes. A grape holly grows along the walkway as well. Burning bushes, with bright red seeds, are also scattered around Gude. Korean mountain ash, roundleaf beech, cherry dogwoods and Higan cherry trees make up the unusual mix of trees that add color and shape to the landscape here. Weeping Japanese maples grow near the teahouse, as well as false cypresses, white pines, blue spruce and plum yews.

Ornamental grasses also figure strongly into the fall portrait of Brookside, their seed heads offering a subtle beauty. Some grasses stand more than 5 feet tall near the tea house. Dwarf Mondo grass adds to the mix.

Others are scattered throughout the grounds. Near the visitor center are fountain grasses that catch the eye. Dwarf varieties, like Little Honey and Little Bunny, are often used in private gardens and landscaping. Viburnum shrubs have their own garden and have clusters of red berries growing in fall. Viburnum shrubs vary in size from a foot to 8 feet high. In spring, they have large fluffy snowball heads on them.

A fragrance garden down the hill from the visitors’ center will last until the first killing frost. Jasmine plants stand out in the fragrance garden, their delightful scent wafting through the air. A number of exotic plants grow here — Japanese yellow sage, Defiance coleus (which has burgundy stems and leaves that are gold-rimmed), lavender and St. John’s wort.

In adjacent gardens, which have several fountains, several papyrus plants grow, including the Tannia Mexican papyrus. Other attractive plants include seven golden candle sticks, trumpet lily and variegated Eulalia grass, with large seed heads. Except for the grasses, these plants will die from a killing frost by the end of October.

Purple asters and Belgian mums are also found in fall at Brookside.

In fact, inside the conservatory, Brookside has a chrysanthemum display that will continue through Nov. 30th.

The mums in the show have all been grown in the greenhouse and trained and pinched all summer long into a variety of unusual shapes and forms for the show. The theme for the show focuses on Chinese culture in nature, and mums will form mountains, rivers, waterfalls and even fire, among other things in the displays.

“The show is going to be spectacular,” says Kerrie Nichols, a horticulturist at Brookside.

Locations

The sights and the feel of a garden in fall are wholly unlike those of summer. Bloom gives way to fruit and seed, green to tan and full-bodied brown, soft to spiky. Walk through any of these large gardens and feel the difference.

• 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton (off Randolph Road and Georgia Avenue). Gardens open sunrise to sunset. Visitor center open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Free. 301/962-1400 or www.mc-mncppc.org/ parks/brookside

• Hillwood Museum and Gardens: 4155 Linnean Ave. NW (off Tilden Street). 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. $12 adults, $10 seniors, $7 college students, $5 children 6-18. Children under 6 require a chaperone in the gardens and are not permitted in the mansion. Reservations required. 202/686-5807 or www.hillwoodmuseum.org

• Meadowlark Gardens Park: 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna (off Beulah Road, between routes 7 and 123, south of the Dulles Access Road).10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily through Oct. 31, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. November-February. $4. 703/255-3631 or www.nvrpa.org /meadowlark.html

• U.S. National Arboretum: 3501 New York Ave. NE. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Free. 202/475-4815 or https://www.usna.usda.gov

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