Thursday, 30 October 2014

Autumn Fire

Now that autumn has well and truly arrived, and if the recent storms have left anything worth seeing, we can bask in all the glory of the changing colours in the garden.  It may be short lived, but it is all the sweeter for that.  And the warm, sunny weather in September is giving us quite a spectacle this year as, like in Hollywood, the hero goes out with one final glorious act.

Given their scale, our deciduous trees and shrubs are the most obvious, but the finery of autumn colouring can be found on most plants that die down for the winter as the lifeblood seeps back into the plant, revealing a range of hues in orange, yellow and red.

I think that it adds a dynamism and energy to any garden if you can plant to track and experience the changes in the season. As the points of interest change as you pass through spring, summer, autumn and winter, you can almost feel time moving and really tune in to the rhythms of the year. It also means that there is always something to look forward to, and that sense of anticipation can really intensify the pleasures enjoyed from having a garden.

The other thing to bear in mind is that autumn interest doesn't just come from leaf colour. As we move through autumn and the leaves start to drop, the berries of many plants start to become more noticeable. The hedgerows around me were alight with hawthorn that had turned a bright yellow which was setting off, brilliantly, the glossy red haws. The same is true of shrub roses with their fat red hips, euonymus with their bright red fruits and with crab apples, now ripe for picking.

No matter the size of a garden, there is always something that can be included to give interest for this time of the year. If you have space, large trees such as birch, beech, rowan, field maple and liquidamber are some of the most majestic for autumn colour. However, even if your garden won't accommodate such large trees, some of them still can be incorporated in the form of hedges.

Some of my favourites within the 'shrub' layer include euonymus, acers, witch-hazel's and the katsura tree, Cercidiphylum japonicum. Euonymus alatus turns a deep scarlet in autumn, and colouring to pale yellow and orange are the related Euonymus planipes and Euonymus europaeus, both of which also have fleshy red fruits that spilt open on the branch to reveal their bright orange seeds. The many species and varieties of ornamental acers offer an almost endless spectrum of autumn colour as do the numerous varieties of witch-hazel, which have the added benefit of giving a splash of much needed colour in winter. Cercidiphylum japonicum, on a still autumn day, gives off a scent of burnt sugar as the leaves fall, introducing another dimension to the garden at this time of year.

Of the herbaceous perennials occupying the ground level planting, one of the most spectacular has to be Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow' that turns a fiery red and orange in autumn. However many grasses such as molinia and miscanthus turn varying shades of orange, red and yellow and look magnificent with the soft autumn sun shining through the stems and seed heads. The same is true of Solidago 'Golden Mosa', where the bright yellow flowers fade to cream feathers atop stems of yellow and orange. Right down at ground level, many varieties of bergenia turn scarlet red as the temperatures drop and just now my bugle, Ajuga reptans is fading from dark bronze to bright red.

With clever selection and positioning these plants can be used to provide a number of autumnal focal points, either enticing you to go outside to see them close up on a bright crisp morning or merely to enjoy them from afar from the warmth of the house as they brighten a dull, overcast and 'dreich' day.

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