Autumn is an underrated season in the garden.
Spring may be a fresh beginning for most plants with new shoots and colourful flowers appearing at every turn. But far from being a time when things wind down at the end of the year, autumn can be every bit as colourful as spring or summer.
Flowers last so much longer in the cooler days and glowing fruits often hold well into winter, with the autumn palette of leaf colours rivalling any spring display.
Last week I spoke of a small selection of my favourite trees for autumn foliage; an Acer, an Alder and the Liquidamber.
But I quite understand that not everyone has space for another tree in their garden – however wonderful they may be. So this week is dedicated to those who either have smaller gardens – or to tempt those who think that their garden is ‘full’.
There are lots of reasons for selecting a shrub. Flowers tend to feature high on the agenda, as do attractive fruits, such as berries.
Form, or shape, may be the criteria, particularly if the shrub is being used as a focal point, or to frame a view. Foliage shrubs of ‘gold’ or ‘silver’ may be used to brighten up a planting scheme, and strong leaf colours such as purples are always popular.
However before the curtain falls (well, the leaves) at the end of the season, shrubs often push the boat out and surprise us with a final whoosh of colour.
Here are three of my favourites – these are all fantastic in the autumn, but also look good the rest of the year:
Euonymus alatus is commonly called the ‘winged spindle’ due to the corky outgrowths from its stems. Like our native spindle it has the most fantastic pink fruits which open to reveal the orange seeds within.
The foliage is of a good deep green all summer, but on a structured shrub which can be used to give the effect of a small tree.
As soon as the nights start to chill, the foliage begins to flush cerise red, before turning vivid crimson.
We have one in a border by the patio; it is among the first of plants to signal that autumn is on its way, but then holds its leaves as if to encourage others to follow suit.
Ceratostigma willmottianum, is the hardy plumbago of which I wrote a few weeks ago. It is still producing the most intense bright blue flowers but the deep green leaves are now turning the most stunning shades of reds imaginable. I know this will impress for many more weeks!
Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’ is a dwarf sumac with long fern-like leaves on copper felted stems reaching just 120cm (4ft).
Golden yellow colour throughout the summer becoming vivid orange-yellow in autumn.
The stags-horn sumacs have all looked particularly good this year, but this is probably one of the most eye-catching of all autumn foliage shrubs. I have one in a large blue ceramic container on the patio, and it looks great!
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