Best plants for Autumn colour

As summer slips into autumn, the rich variety of colour in the garden ignites plants that may have taken more of a backstage role during the summer months.

It is hard to beat the vivid colours provided by Japanese Acers; varieties such as Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ (coral bark maple) develop wonderful yellow leaves in autumn and brilliant red stems in winter. Another fabulous choice is Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’, whose dark red leaves transform to a brilliant red in the autumn. Euonymous alatus is a large, spreading shrub that provides wonderful autumn colour, when the leaves turn rosy-crimson and purplish red fruits develop, eventually splitting to reveal orange seeds within. It is an excellent specimen shrub for the middle of a mixed border, or in the front garden. Ginkgo biloba offers rich, butter-yellow foliage in the autumn, and, with a number of dwarf varieties available such as Gingko biloba ‘Chris’s Dwarf’, it is a good choice where space is limited. Parrotia persica AGM is one of the finest small trees for autumn colour, when the rich green leaves turn to striking shades of yellow, orange and red. It will also thrive on chalk soils. Another fabulous choice for autumn colour is Cotinus ‘Grace’: a large, elegant shrub with spectacularly large, oval, magenta foliage which colours brilliantly in the autumn. Hydrangea quercifolia (oak-leaved hydrangea) are shrubs that offer a long period of interest, from the panicles of white flowers in the summer, through to fabulous red foliage through the autumn.

As well as beautiful foliage, autumn is also the time to think about planting those shrubs that provide wonderful, ornamental berries. Cotoneasters, Callicarpas and Leycestria are all fabulous choices. Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii is a deciduous, bushy shrub, whose tiny, white flowers in mid-summer are followed by gorgeous, jewel-like violet berries. If you are looking for a particularly compact specimen, then Callicarpa dichotoma is ideal, growing to just 1.5 metres, it provides clusters of deep lilac berries. For a taller variety, try Callicarpa shikokiana which grows to 8 feet and provides striking yellow and red autumn foliage, along with beautiful lilac-purple berries. Leycestria formosa is a good choice for berries too. Try Leycestria formosa ‘Golden Lanterns’ or Leycestria formosa ‘Purple Rain’ for their purple-black berries which follow white summer flowers in drooping panicles of claret-coloured bracts.

Backlit by low autumn sunlight, these plants give depth and interest when the pretty blooms of summer perennials begin to fade and, with so much variety on offer, your garden can continue to look fantastic, even as the days shorten.


(Blog post written by Jo Chamberlain)

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