Now is the time to be planning and planting for next Autumn! I realise that we are barely out of this year's autumn, but if we do not act now, the vibrant autumn show will fade from our minds as winter sets in.
We've had a lovely autumn - the weather has been mostly dry and relatively warm for the time of the year. And with it the vibrant autumn foliage combined with colourful fruits, striking bark and show stopping flowers of late flowering shrubs and herbaceous perennials has certainly grabbed my attention. A last hoorah before the silent, sleepy starkness of winter beholds us.
So here are a few trees and shrubs you might consider planting as you plan for a future autumn.
Of course, you cannot go wrong with an Acer and there are many to choose from that suit different sized gardens. Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' is a small tree that has year-round interest, so perfectly suited to a small garden where every plant has to earn its keep. Pale green-tinged pink leaves in spring, mature green before turning butter yellow with red margins in autumn. And if that is not enough, the annual growth is a vibrant coral red, that sings in winter after the leaves have dropped.
Plant the Acer so that it is back lit with the seductive, low winter sun and combine with an evergreen grassy ground cover, such as Carex divsula or Hakonechloa macra. Other plants that will combine well with the acer include Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight', which will give you flowers and then the flowerhead in later summer going into autumn and winter, depending on your conditions. Neat Ilex crenata mounds will contrast with the loose structure of the acer and the shutlecock-shape of the semi-evergreen Dryopteris eythrosora, whose crosiers unfurl with pinky-copper-tones that will combine well with the young foliage of the acer.
Though lost relatively early, the buttery-yellow autumn leaves of Birch add to the rich autumnal tapestry of our landscapes. And the beauty of birch is the year-round appeal that these trees offer. The colouring of the bark, which often peels freely, can range from stark white of the often overused Betula utilis var. jaquemontii to a white with pinky-hues of Betula albosinensis and even a chestnut brown of Betula utilis 'Bhutan Sienna'. The annual growth of our native Betula pendula can have purple hues especially when viewed from a distance, en-masse.
All combine well with dogwoods that are regularly coppiced to give vibrant coloured winter stems, heathers, and a grassy evergreen ground, such as Hakonechloa macra. But if you don't want to do the cliche winter planting, Betula sp. grown as a multi-stem tree would work well in a herbaceous perennials and grass border, providing the all important structure and winter-interest.
Other trees and shrubs good for autumn include:
Rhododendron luteum, Aronia melanocarpa (or the hybrid Aronia x prunifolia 'Viking'), and Amelanchier lamarckii, which all have vibrant yellow, orange, red autumn colouring of their foliage. The edible blueberry, Vaccinium corymbosum 'Duke' has particularly striking autumn red colouring to its leaves. All these shrubs have more than one season of interest: spring foliage colouring, flowers (R. luteum flowers are scented too), berries, and scent.
Whilst the autumnal foliage is the first to catch our eye, colourful autumn fruits and striking bark and stems all contribute to that last hoorah before the quiet season of winter is upon us.
Rachel Bailey, a garden designer and gardener in Scotland.