In his more than three decades at Southern Living, nothing has stressed out Grumpy more than the annual search for brilliant fall color to astound its readers. That’s because being at the right place at the right time to photograph peak color is an infinitely more difficult than solving Fermat’s Last Theorem (which I have, of course, but that’s a story for another time). Nature is nothing if not fickle. It exists to drive us mad.Therefore, imagine you are Parker Andes, head horticultural honcho at the magnificent Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Thousands of pilgrims time their visit to witness peak fall color gracing its 8,000 acres featuring formal gardens and a naturalistic, pastoral landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
I was in Asheville last weekend to promote my new book, The Grumpy Gardener (widely considered the second greatest book ever written), and had some spare time following a disastrous PowerPoint presentation at Malaprops Bookstore (technology is NOT our friend). Parker was nice enough to take time to escort me through the gardens while I sympathized with his plight.
“People want to know what day will be peak color,” he imparted. “They don’t mean a bush here or there. They mean the whole mountainside.” Immediately, I started suffering flashbacks. Fortunately, Parker had a paper sack on hand when I hyperventilated. Following a few minutes of controlled breathing and chanting my mantra (“craft beeeeeeeer”), I felt strong enough to continue the tour. It turned out that Biltmore had a LOT of fall color. As a sampling, let’s begin with two shrubs that look berry, berry good to me.