CULTURE

Autumn colors in country and garden

Almost every deciduous plant species produces a range of autumn color shades as it sheds its leaves, so when considering the combination of plants that will give your garden color throughout the year, don’t forget the trees and shrubs with brilliant autumn foliage. Other plants produce bright berries, while some rose bushes are dotted with vitamin-rich rosehips – not to mention the bright flowers of autumn. At the moment, vines are turning from green to dark red, and gardens and balconies are glowing with chrysanthemums (also known in Greece as Ay-Dimitriatika as they flower around the feast day of St Dimitris, which falls on October 26). Sleepy mallow (Malvaviscus arboreus) produces bright red blooms in November. Autumn flowering plants among the native Mediterranean species include the bright pink corm (Colchicum andirium, kolhikoin Greek) and its lilac-colored cousin, Colchicum cupani. The crocuses are in their element this month, from the rare Crocus goulimyi of the southern Peloponnese to the common Sternbergia, as are snowdrops (Galanthus cilicicus, skoulariki). But it is the trees that put on the most brilliant performance. Mountain forests that have escaped the ravages of fire are a mass of color, ranging from pale green and yellow right through to burnt orange and brown, from the gold chestnut forests around Mt Dirfi on the island of Evia to the wine-red or yellow ash (Fraxinus sp., fraxos) of the plains and riversides of the north. Plum trees growing wild in Greece also put on a show; varieties growing in the mountains include the Greek plum (Prunus pseudarmeniaca, agriokoromilia), the Macedonian plum (Prunus cerasifera) or the «wild» plum (Prunus domestica). Fast-growing and pollution-tolerant, linden or lime trees (Tilia sp., flamouria) are popular as shade trees in streets and parks; their autumn foliage is yellow. Highland forests are habitats for the small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata Miller), broad-leaved lime (Tilia platyfyllos Scop.) and silver lime (Tilia tomentosa Moench). The smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria, chrysoxilo, sinnefo) grows in most wooded areas of Attica. Its leaves, similar to those of the Judas tree, turn a wonderful red/yellow in autumn. Greece has nearly a dozen varieties of maples, including the Norwegian maple (Acer platanoides, neroplatanos), which flourishes in the mountains throughout mainland Greece and the Peloponnese, and the Greek or Heldreich maple (Acer heldreichii Orph, agrioplatanos), which is sometimes planted for shade in village squares and city parks. The sweet gum (Liquidambar orientalis likidambari), similar to the plane tree, originated in Asia but is self-propagating on the island of Rhodes, particularly in the famous Valley of the Butterflies. Its leaves turn spectacular shades of red, yellow and purple in the autumn. But not only deciduous shrubs give color in autumn. Many conifers enrich their natural greens, grays and blues as winter approaches. Rosehips, fruit, berries The spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus) is a hardy but pretty shrub with narrow pointed leaves that turn a bright red in autumn, when it also produces pink fruit that splits to reveal orange seeds. Many deciduous varieties of cotoneaster have a show of autumn leaves, but they are mainly grown for their clusters of small, spherical berries in reds and oranges. In Greece there are three varieties: Cotoneaster vulgaris, with round red berries, is found on rocky ground in the north, the mountains of the Peloponnese and Corfu; Cotoneaster nebrodensis grows on the mountains of the mainland, particularly Ziria and Helmos in the Peloponnese, and on the island of Thasos; the Cotoneaster nummularia, with furry red berries, is an Asian variety that is found in the mountains of Crete. A close relative of the prickly firethorn or coral tree, Pyracantha (pyrakanthos) is an evergreen covered in autumn with bunches of large, bright berries in whites, reds, oranges or yellows. And among the wild roses of Greece, the hedgehog rose (Rosa rugosa) produces large tomato-shaped hips in autumn. Forest walks Discover the colors of autumn on walks into the countryside now that the weather is cooler. The Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature (www.eepf.gr, tel 210.322.5285) is organizing a walk in the forests of Mt Parnitha on Saturday, December 4. Atrapos, an alternative mountain tourism organization (www.atrapos.com, tel 210.671.8559) is going to the eastern slopes of Mt Parnassos on November 21, and the following weekend to Ancient Olympia and the ash forest of Foloi.