Autumn Colour for the Garden Designer

The early summer’s been extraordinarily hot and sunny and I’ve seen some really spectacular flower displays. The weather has been hot and dry and many flowers flourished and then finished much earlier than normal. But there’s no reason for you to lose colour from your garden. As autumn arrives your planting design can have an equally spectacular display of foliage and berries.

Autumn flowering bulbs, berries on trees and shrubs such as Sorbus and Pyracantha and the dramatic reds, oranges and yellows of trees such as the maple family Acer pennsyvanicum, Acer griseum with it’s peeling red bark and Acer japonicum all offer brilliant displays of colour.

The maples are perhaps the best known of the autumn trees but there are many other species to choose from. Ornamental varieties of Crataegus, Malus and Sorbus can provide good colours and particularly good berry displays. Try Sorbus cashmiriana and Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ in small gardens for year round interest, not just the autumn. And of course there are many evergreen varieties of conifer with good sculptural shapes to compliment the bare branches of other trees. Conifers aren’t always the most fashionable plants with garden designers but they can be an important part of contemporary garden design with specimens of Taxus and Cupressus providing structure.

If you have the space for a larger shrub plant a Smoke Bush, Cotinus coggygria. There’s the soft red variety ‘Grace’ or the deep purple red ‘Royal Purple’. The students at our garden design school might ignore them as unfashionable but for long time gardeners like me you really can’t beat a Pyracantha or Cotoneaster for providing lots of autumn berries and an evergreen structure through the winter. And just as the last colours on the leaves fade and drop you can take advantage of the dogwoods and willows such as Cornus alba ‘Aurea’ for great stem colours. Some climbers also provide glorious colours such as Parthenocissus tricuspidata.

If your garden’s already overcrowded and you’ve not got the space for another tree or shrub, don’t worry. There are lots of perennial plants to help liven up the autumn border. Ornamental grasses have become justly popular in the past few years and as a result there are more and more varieties becoming available. Golden Wavy Hair Grass Deschampsia flexuosa ‘Tatra Gold’ is a great favourite of mine. It’s a good all round evergreen which always does well on Wimbledon soil with vivid yellow-green leaves and elegant summer flower spikes. And if you’re lucky you can get a late flowering of Dahlias, Rudbeckia and Kniphofia otherwise known as the Red Hot Poker.

So think ahead and keep an eye out for all the colours of Autumn. Don’t be afraid to experiment and certainly feel free to copy some of the great combinations of plants in other people’s gardens. This is the time of year when you need to be out tidying the garden, planting bulbs and getting beds ready for their winter rest. You might as well have some spectacular plants to look at while you do it.