Oct 10-‘Fiery colours for dull, damp days’

Herts and Essex Observer – October Website Article


‘Fiery colours for dull, damp days’


FOR some of us autumn can be a bit of a depressing time of year. The light levels are falling and so are the leaves. But don’t despair there’s still a fabulous range of plants that can add spectacular colour to the garden as the days grow steadily shorter.


First for foliage colour has to be the Japanese Maples. Acer palmatum ‘Sango kaku’ is one of our favourites. Not only does it have vibrant yellow leaves in the autumn but it also has the added bonus of having amazing coral-red stems in the winter. Another, Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’, which is widely available, has purple, serrated leaves that turn bright red in the autumn.  This can look really dramatic as a focal point in any garden especially if you can afford to splash out on a large one. If you want a larger tree, why not try the ‘Snake Bark Maple’ (Acer grosserii var.hersii). This can reach 15 metres in height and is mainly grown for its interesting bark but it equally has great leaf colour in the autumn as the leaves turn vivid yellow, orange and red. Awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Award of Garden Merit’ (AGM) it’s a good buy if you have the room for a small to medium sized tree.


Maples are generally good for shady, moist, free draining spots but they do need to be sheltered and out of the way from strong drying winds and full sun otherwise their leaves can scorch.


One of the most spectacular of autumn foliage colour comes from the Liquid amber tree, Liquidamber styraciflua. This handsome tree turns a striking red, purple and orange in the autumn. It’s happiest in full sun but will also take some shade, but can grow quite tall (up to 25m) so be careful where you put it.


The dogwoods or Cornus are also worth a look. Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, has red leaves in the autumn followed by red stems in the winter. They are easy to grow and look great planted in groups, either in a border or by the side of a pond or lake. Cornus sanguinea ‘Mid Winter Fire’ looks like a camp fire bursting with flames with it’s orangey stems and red tips. All dogwoods do best in moist, sunny conditions. Try under-planting them with Euonymus ‘Emerald and Gold’, the colour contrast can be striking.


The barberry, Berberis thunbergii ‘Atropurpurea’, also has great purple leaves that will turn bright red in the autumn. It’s another plant that likes well drained soil in a sunny or part shady spot. Often the leaves tend to turn their brightest shades the more sun they get, so the sunnier the better.


Another great favourite is the burning bush or Euonymus alatus. This is quite an ordinary shrub for most of the year but in the autumn the leaves turn a truly spectacular fiery red. A must have once you’ve seen it. Euonymus planipes is similarly impressive with its crimson leaves. Having had the burning bush, why not try the smoke bush. Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ has purple leaves for most of the year but in autumn the leaves turn bright orange and then red before they fall. Again the colour is more intense in full sun. Try the ‘Golden Spirit’ variety if you want golden yellow foliage.


Of course you can also get fiery colours with berries. This year seems to be an especially good year for Pyracantha berries. The variety ‘Orange Glow’, is fast growing, with white flowers in the spring and masses of little bright orange berries in the autumn that seem to last ages.  The variety ‘Mohave’ has bright red berries and the variety ’Soleil D’or’ has yellow berries. If you want something a bit different then try Calliparpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’.  Also known as ‘Beauty Berry’, Calliparpa has the most amazing violet-purple berries which appear about now and last well after the leaves have fallen.


Our last recommendation is Amelanchier lamarkii or Snowy Mespilus. Another plant with a RHS Award of Garden Merit, this is a good value shrub that can turn into a very beautiful small tree. It has neat little leaves that turn red in the autumn, not to mention the delicate white flowers in the spring. It works well when planted in a lawn and kept neatly clipped and we’ve also tried it as a hedge. Good for most soils, it seems to favour chalky, alkaline soils which are free draining and it can reach 10 metres in height if left unpruned.


So there we go, there’s no excuse for a dull and depressing border. Just pop to your local garden centre and pick up a fiery beauty!





Did You Know? Leaves will start to turn yellow when the drop in temperature causes the chlorophyll in the leaf (responsible for the green pigment) to break down revealing the other existing pigments. The arotenoids will give a yellow pigment and the xanthophylls will give an orange pigment. The dark red colour comes from the breakdown of sugars in the leaf to anthocyanin just before the leaf falls.


Saying of the Month: “Just before the death of flowers, And before they are buried in snow, There comes a festival season, When nature is all aglow.”