The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness isn’t complete without autumn colour. But when you’ve seen the vivid scarlet, orange and gold tints lighting up leafy autumnal stately grounds most visitors feel a twinge of regret their own gardens can’t accommodate mighty oaks and maples or eye-catching exotics.
A real star is the katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), whose heart-shaped autumn leaves give off a strong smell of toffee apples as they start to decay.
But with only a small area to play with, you might think autumnal landscapes are beyond you. But if you don’t mind plant hunting there are quite a few unusual, compact shrubs that develop glorious colours in colder weather. The most valuable are those that provide other attractions such as flowers, fruit, berries or bare wintry shapes.
In some gardens it is practical to dedicate areas to seasonal displays, but when space is short you’ll need to introduce autumn colour to a spring and summer border.
A small tree or specimen shrub is good at the back of a border or as the centrepiece of a small grouping in the lawn. If making a new border, include plants with autumn appeal. Alternatively, plant something special in a tub or create a focal point further away from the house.
The thing to consider when shopping for autumn tints is how bold to be. A lot of people avoid leaves that merely turn pale yellow, as they can look as if they are dying off, and rather than cheering the garden up with a last blaze of colour they make plants look sick.
Since you only have a few weeks to enjoy the autumn garden my advice is really go for it – major on the loud reds, golds and oranges and even flashes of purple.
Don’t worry if you have clashing colours from late perennials or bulbs. There are times when you don’t need to be over picky about a harmonious scheme and autumn is the time to let rip.
Purples and yellows look good with reds, oranges and rich, ripe golds, and frankly I won’t argue with pinks and mauves either.
A few shrubs with decent autumn tints really need some late perennials, such as schizostylis, rudbeckia, phlox and red-hot poker to set them off.
If you haven’t planted late-flowering bulbs such as colchicum, autumn crocus, nerines and hardy hippeastrum, it’s worth doing so next year, since they’ll pack a big punch in a small landscape. The slight shock value gives you quite a tingle, which is made all the more electric because you know – since it’s autumn – that the impression is only transitory.
Enjoy it while it lasts.
Published at Sat, 30 Sep 2017 23:01:00 +0000