Fall Foliage Tennessee Style

It has been said both ways. A summer drought will make for less color in the deciduous trees come fall. Or, heavy summer rains will ruin the fall show for the leaf peepers, those travelers who come great distances to places like Asheville, North Carolina or Gatlinburg, Tennessee to see the trees do their changing thing. Every year here in southeast Tennessee, in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, the color is spectacular. To our eyes, anyway, drought or wet. The largest trees, predominately maples of various sorts are borrowed views, such as the shower of gold behind our front garden winterberries, Ilex verticillata ‘Sparkleberry’ and ‘Winter Gold’.

Our trees are all small young’uns, in the ground no more than the fourteen years we have owned this property, most only planted in the ten years we have lived here ourselves. Japanese maples are beloved, several survived the killing combo of 2007, late prolonged single digit temperatures after the trees had leafed out in April followed by extreme drought conditions for the rest of the year. Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Crimson Queen’ above lived through that epoch.

We often refer to the magnificent giant maple that was growing here when the Fairegarden was begun, Ferngully, click here-Ferngully if you are interested in hearing the story or want to refresh your memory. There are similar trees still in the neighborhood, including one in the yard of the house directly behind us, at the top of the slope. We call it Ferngully Sibling. It is massive and a haven for many forms of wildlife. We love the view of it from the lazyboy in the addition, through the glass sliding doors. The camera is wielded from that seat, photos taken through the dirty glass, of this stately tree.

Another small tree with much interest to offer a garden is the witch hazel, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’. Click here-Faire Diane to see her glorious winter blooming. Diane also offers showy fall foliage color, even though it appears that some creature finds her leaves tasty. The buds are showing the promise of her splendid flowers even now.

Sort of a tree, sort of a shrub is the native Eastern Wahoo, Euonymus purpurea. It is also known as Spindle Tree and Indian Arrow Wood. The leaves become a vivid pink in fall after a nodescript summer of green.

The flowers are small but it is the seed pods that are the main attraction, long lasting berries that open to reveal a bright red center.

Oakleaf hydrangea, H. quercifolia ‘Alison’ is a large cultivar. This is another native to our area and laughs at the drought in a way the H. macrophyllas can only dream of. The large, heavily textured leaves turn nicely before dropping off to reveal cinnamon hued velvety stems in winter. This should be added to the list of plants with four season interest.

Though it is difficult to choose a favorite, and that kind of thing is discouraged as there are too many wonderful trees available, it is the native dogwood, Cornus florida that holds the honor. This pink flowered variety is planted next to the garage, shown with the borrowed view of Ferngully Sibling at the top of the hill.

Whether white or pink flowered, the fall foliage is a deep red with pink tints, a beauty with backlighting.

We love everything about these trees, including the formed buds of next years flowers, sculptural minarets of magic. To see what these will look like next spring, click here-Pink Dogwood Winter.

There are six pink and red flowered dogwoods that were among the very first plantings after the slope was cleared and terraced by the backhoe brought in to dig the foundation of the first renovation in 2000. Three of these trees were dug and moved by that machine for transplanting on the slope since they had been planted along the fence line where construction was begun. Three more were added on the other side of the concrete steps that we made, for balance. It was the initial design we sketched up for the slope, with the knot garden at top and the shed moved to the side from behind the main house. The trees survived that move and are growing larger each year after what seemed a very slow start. Take note of the large bare branched tree in the back. That is Ferngully Sibling, whose leaves all fell in one swoop after a storm passed through with high winds. We worry for the health of it.

We end with a peek again at the dogwood along the side of the garage, but a hopeless stage hog seems to be muscling out the tree for our attention. Pink muhly grass, Muhlenbergia capillaris and its new BFF Aster oblongifolius ‘October Skies’ are still offering their best side for the camera woman.

Fellow Tennessee garden blogger Dave of The Home Garden has a yearly roundup of fall foliage posts from all over the world. Check out his blog to see the rest of the stories.


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26 Responses to Fall Foliage Tennessee Style

  1. Jen says:

    Absolutely beautiful. In Costa Rica we have color year round but nothing like “fall color” in the States. Thanks for sharing.

    Hi Jen, thanks so much. I know Costa Rica is a very beautiful place, orchids grow wild there!!! But it is pretty here too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Eileen says:

    Beautiful fall color! The dogwood I have, the Pagoda, does not get that beautiful color. It is a dark purple, not very pretty.


    Hi Eileen, thanks. I love the Pagoda too, but have never grown it myself. I don’t want any sibling rivalry! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Sylvia (England) says:

    Frances your autumn colours are lovely and your pictures spectacular. The tints on our trees and shrubs seems to be getting better and better. I am not sure if this is because I appreciate it more now or the last few wet, cool summers or the plantings along our newish roads include many natives that have lovely autumn colour. Possibly a mix, but this year the colours have been really good. After a wild and windy couple of days autumn is nearly over for another year. In my own garden the beech leaves are beautiful and they will last a long time, gradually turning brown for the winter. I have 3 planted as a small low hedge partly to hid a compost bin but mainly for the colour of their leaves.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

    Thanks Sylvia. I love hearing about your fall, and agree that many natives make outstanding late season color, or they do here anyway. I remember the beeches seen at the large estate gardens in England, they were magnificent! Most of the leaves have fallen here with some winds as well, but it is still beautiful with just the few dogwood leaves hanging on.

  4. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    What rich fall colors you have. Here the drought made so much yellow and brown. Not a lot of reds. The Ginko tree across the street usually is bright yellow simply dropped all of its leaves at the second frost and didn’t even turn yellow. The first year I remember it ever doing this. That spindle tree is a must have. Love those berries.

    Hi Lisa, thanks. I am so sorry that your fall has been less than expected. We certainly shared with you the drought conditions, and maybe our fall is less wonderful than usual too, but it still fills me with joy. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. gittan says:

    I think that you know already but I’ll tell you anyway ๐Ÿ˜‰ I like it a lot the Tennessee way! Kram

    Thanks Gittan, you are funny! Fall is fabulous in Tennessee, it is a much visited place, the Gatlinburg area for the leaf peepers. Gatlinburg is not that far from where we live. We get the beauty without the crowds of cars poking along. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Layanee says:

    It is a great way to start the day, reading and seeing these bright photos. My foliage is pretty much gone leaving bare branches and a bit of promise. I never tire of seeing your muhly grass. It is lovely.

    Hi Layanee, thanks so much, you are too sweet. Some trees are completely bare here, others have a few hangers on. There is still plenty to look at, including the muhly. It improves with the frost, I believe. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Beautiful shots of beautiful trees and shrubs! I love your native dogwood, those buds are wonderful. My Oakleaved Hydrangea has still not started changing colour! No idea what’s going on with it this year. Not that I’m really complaining, it should give a welcome splash of intense colour just when everything else is naked!

    Hi Janet, thanks. Lucky you to have an Oakleaf taking its sweet time to change, you will have color at a great time for it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Rose says:

    What a lovely show of color you have, Frances! I can see why you favor the dogwoods with their gorgeous leaves. I’m sure if I were to visit your garden in person they would be the first to catch my eye–along with the “stagehog” Muhly, of course. But just from your photos, I have to say I’m entranced by your winterberries–love the contrast here!

    Hi Rose, thanks. Not if, but WHEN you visit my garden, and it is in fall, all of those things you mention and much more will be waiting for you! We’ll go visit Mouse Creek, too! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Phillip says:

    Wow, just stunning. I’ve had the Sparkleberry holly for a long time now and it still has never produced berries, even after I planted an “Apollo” holly nearby. I keep hoping!

    Hi Phillip, thanks. That is mysterious about the lack of berries on Sparkleberry. Do you see flowers in spring on both of them? Flowers and pollinators and maybe more sun? Hope you get some soon! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Jenny B says:

    Thank you, Frances for giving us a taste of autumn color in the Smokies. I lived in Knoxville a lifetime ago, and have never forgotten it’s beauty. The only thing as beautiful as Fall, is Spring in the Smoky Mountains.

    Hi Jenny, thanks. I may have forgotten your living here at one time, but am glad you mentioned it. You know how it looks, and spring is indeed amazing. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. I took my camera out this morning- the color isn’t at peak in my yard yet, but soon!

    That first photo is a keeper! Amazing!

    Hi Jill, thanks. I am sure your fall color peak will be spectacular! ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. I too kept hearing that we wouldn’t have good fall color because of the drought. However, I think our fall color is better than ever. Thanks for all the beautiful photos. I would have a hard time picking a favorite tree or shrub for fall color. I would never give up sugar maples though.

    Hi Carolyn, thanks for dropping by. I am so glad the voices were wrong about the color for you as well. Drought or wet, it is always beautiful. The maples are wonderful, I agree. ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. MA says:

    Wow, Frances! Loving those red berries in the first shot. Thems the berries! And the spindle tree. I may have to get one of those.

    Hi Mary Ann, thanks. The winterberries have been such a winter asset here. We bought large shrubs that were sort of expensive for us at the time, but they have paid off in years of berries. The Wahoo is a great tree as well. Highly recommended. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. I was never in Gatlinburg in Fall, but it is one of the prettiest places that I have been. The Smoky Mountains are such a romantic place. Your images are stunning of Tennessee foliage. Thanks for the show. Our show has pretty much gone to pass.

    Hi Donna, thanks. I am happy you have been to the Smokies, any time of year they are magnificent. Interesting how the fall foliage begins up north and works its way down the US. Atlanta, a few hours south of us is said to be nearing peak. ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Janet says:

    I am loving the fall colors this year, for whatever reason, I think they are fabulous. I am amazed at all the dogwoods in my area…..and with this bold red foliage, they just pop.
    I need to learn the difference between Eastern Wahoo and Heart’s a Bustin’. Soooo similar.

  16. Lola says:

    Oh Ms Frances, I dearly love those maples. They have the most color of all. I sure wish I had the room for one Japanese Maple in my front yard where the Purple Leaf Plum was.
    That Pink Muhly is sure strutting her stuff. Mine is so nondescript being only in a black plastic pot. I’m waiting as I do want to put her in the right spot.

  17. Ellada says:

    I love those colors, red yellow, brown,…
    It is like a beautiful fire.

    And I am back on Blotanical, with my new blog.

  18. Some years, looking at autumn on blogs round the world, I get the impression that autumn is autumn is autumn but this year I am noticing a much greater variety.

    Iโ€™ve now used all the allotted space for photos on Pictures Just Pictures and have started a new blog so I can carry on. Itโ€™s called

    Message in a Milk Bottle

    Iโ€™ve given it a different look but its purpose is unchanged – a photo a day.


  19. linda says:

    Simply glorious Frances! How fortunate you are having such stunning fall color. What a sensuous delight Fairegarden is this time of year. I can imagine the sound of the wind stirring leaves and grasses, and the scent of fall through your beautiful photos.

  20. lifeshighway says:

    Beautiful photography that adds warmth to my day. You have an unique eye for color and composition. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  21. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Your garden is splendiferous in its fall finery! The seedpods on that Euonymus are way cool.

  22. Joy says:

    Frances girl I will always envy your Pink Muhly grass .. but the Japanese Maples are of course added to the list .. haha .. I am so hoping the two I planted this year will make it through our winter .. and to count on seeing all of the hellebore as well .. it is like a second Christmas in early Spring if every plant smiles at us at the right time ?
    I love all of the colour you have in this post .. the red berries make me think Christmas!!! then and there .. it is just something about that red red berry that is jolly ? LOL

  23. sequoiagardens says:

    Even as I revel in the arrival of full summer, I envy you the beauty of fall – always my favourite season! Jack

  24. I’m admiring your photos Francis, again!

  25. Dave says:

    Awesome Frances! Those berries on the Hollies had me saying “oooooh” the second I saw the picture. Don’t you just love the branching on those Japanese maples? And those dogwoods really are nearly perfect. Spring blooms, good foliage and shade through the summer, and beautiful fall color! Thanks for joining in the Fall Color Project. I’ll have the weekly post up tomorrow morning (sorry it took so long to comment – it’s been a busy couple weeks).

    Thanks Dave, for sponsoring the fall foliage. I know you are super busy, give everyone hugs from me. ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. Pingback: Home Gardening Solutions | More Fall Foliage Fun! (Fall Color Project 2010)

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