Far from being a time when the garden gently runs out of steam, the arrival of autumn brings with it the magic of colour change in the garden. Many trees and shrubs spend the summer blending into the surrounding foliage of our gardens. However, as days shorten and temperatures drop, the foliage of these plants will suddenly explode with a riot of colour as the leaves start to break down before winter.
At the onset of autumn the green pigments of deciduous leaves start to fade, allowing the reds, yellows and oranges to burst forward. Any plant that marks the onset of autumn with a fanfare of glorious leaf colour is worthy of serious consideration in any garden. Popular plants for the best autumn foliage include Japanese Acers, Cotinus, Euonymus alatus, and Cornus kousa, Fothergilla, Parthenocissus and Vaccinum.
Planted amongst the vibrant colours of autumnal shrubs, ornamental grasses bring a welcome softness to the garden. As grasses are never static they can create a wonderful feeling of motion. Their graceful movement catches the low autumn light in their foliage and flower heads, and the accompanying rustling sounds, create a calm and relaxing atmosphere.
As well as a valuable food source for overwintering birds, grasses provide a useful architectural element to the garden in autumn, providing background interest and a wide range of colours from subtle greens and blues to gold, silvers and bright pinks.
Most grasses produce flower heads at the end of summer to early autumn, they pass the rest of the season with pale glistening seed heads that look stunning on a cool frosty morning. Shorter evergreen grasses such as Carex will combine well with winter bedding to give height and a contrast in texture that won’t fade as we edge closer to winter.
It’s not only foliage that gives autumn its distinctive colours. Fruiting and seeding is the culmination of a plant’s efforts during the growing season. Plants that produce berries are prized by gardeners for their colour and shape but their true purpose is to be as attractive as possible to entice birds and other wildlife to ensure they get eaten. Not only will the berries provide the birds with a valuable food source during the coldest months of the year, the animal’s digestive system enables the seeds to be scattered and dispersed elsewhere, ensuring the plant species continued survival.
For the best brightly coloured berries Pyracantha and Cotoneasters provide a good starting point with berries available in red, yellow or orange. Other easy to grow berried shrubs include Callicarpa, Clerodendrum, Gaultheria, Hippophae, Holly and Viburnum.