At this time of year, I’m drawn to planting what is looking good right now. Many of the perennials that can be planted now will be way past their best and will only put on a show next year. Of course, I know that Dahlias, Echinaceas, Rudbeckias and many grasses are looking great right now, but I can’t just plant these as there would be no colour in the garden in early summer.
That said, when a client has paid for their garden to look beautiful, it is quite a hard sell to turn up with a trolley full of empty looking pots saying, “Trust me, in June your garden will be alive with colour.” Much easier to use a few plants that are looking great right now and punctuate the garden with Autumnal colour which will come back every year, looking bigger, brighter and more beautiful as the year passes.
But what to choose? Well, a few years ago I visited Kew Gardens in October and marvelled at the different colours on show. This was a great education in the importance of Autumn colour. What follows is a selection of the photographs I took, with many of these plants appearing in subsequent garden schemes I have planted.
The most striking tree on that day is planted very close to the main entrance at Kew. A mature Cotinus coggygria with leaves aflame. I don’t think that I’ve seen a more spectacular Autumnal display since.
Coming second in the ‘most spectacular tree’ category that day was a Liquidambar styraciflua. This is a plantsman’s favourite for Autumn colour, but it does grow into a good sized tree, so probably not ideal for a small garden. Last year I planted Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’ in a client’s garden in Kent and it didn’t disappoint. She was very happy with the tree before its leaves turned in Autumn, but once she saw its leaves in October, she was delighted. You can see more photographs of this garden at http://www.medlarandcob.com/gardens/bold-and-beautiful/.
At Kew, I visited the Pagoda and planted there on a west facing slope was what has become one of my favourite shrubs – Euonymus alatus (Winged Spindle). Its leaves had turned a beautiful red and pink. Where some of the leaves had fallen, you could see its strange, corky bark, running like wings along its branches. It remains my go-to shrub of choice for Autumnal colour.
On the same slope, and often planted in combination with the Euonymus and a selection of clipped Berberis was a bit of a marmite of a plant. If you like your Autumnal colour exclusively golds, reds and bronzes, it may not be for you. However, if you like your gardens bright and cheerful, we may have a new plant for your garden – step forward, Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii.
Its purple berries may be just the thing to light up your garden on a grey October day. Or you may think it gauche. I guess that it depends on what sort of person you are. And that is one of the most difficult parts of any garden designer’s job.
Nigel is an award winning garden designer with studios in London and North Yorkshire. As founder of Medlar & Cob he uses modern, intelligent design to create timeless British gardens rooted in tradition. Take a look at his blog here here - medlarandcob.com/m. You can follow Nigel on twitter @medlarandcob. Read more posts by Nigel.