Plants We Can Enjoy This Autumn
Every year in the garden brings something new, sometimes disappointment and sometimes surprises. This year I am disappointed that my only decent crop of apples came from my Spartan, a late pollinating red apple tree. This tree was not as affected by the rain responsible for inactive spring pollinators, unable to pollinate early and mid varieties and I don’t ever remember not having a wonderful display of crab apples in the Autumn. We are not enjoying the same golden season as last year. Some plants are stressed by the over wet conditions through our summer and others continue to make root growth and didn’t get around to flowering. I am not going to dwell on what hasn’t worked this soggy wet year, next year we will appreciate what we have all the more and because we do still have some wonderful shrubs and plants that more than make up for the disappointments .
I was lucky enough to visit Hidcote Manor Gardens recently and the hydrangeas were spectacular. The display in the Hydrangea walk was outstandingly beautiful and I came home determined to replicate some of what I had seen. These shrubs seem to have thrived this year. The Hydrangea areas were quite woody and wild at Hidcote and I happen to have an area of ground, though in need of a good impact clear out, which would offer me the space and is quite a dappled shaded area though not dark.
I am not looking to plant the showy bright mopheads (macrophylla) that are lovely and belong in a more ornamental garden but I want to plant the wild looking Aspera ssp Sargentiana, the fuzzy leaved giant with lace cap style flowers which can still retain their bluer tones in limey soil. I would also like to squeeze in, or should I say provide a large amount of space for, a H. Arborescens ‘Annabelle’. This is the most classic and compact of the arborescens, white beautiful and natural looking with heads that are large and bold. I may plant this by the fence which will provide a bit of support should it get heavy heads. This can be grown like a hedge and cut back every year to about 18”, the aim is to encourage strong stems that will support the amazing heads. One major excitement is the new ‘Pink Annabella’ an equally wonderful shrub.
I also want to get the oak leaved H. Quercifolia established. This has the most wonderful woody character and beautiful leaves with large white but graceful and delicate flowers. There is nothing brash about this plant and it is very natural. It hates cold wet feet when trying to establish so I will overcome this problem by adding some bark (not wood chip) to the soil or roughage. Once established it should thrive in my little woodland glade.
The Great Virgina Creeper
Possibly the most iconic image of a British Autumn is the Virginia Creeper burning the walls of quintessential cottages. Virginia Creeper is the mammoth of the Parthenocissus family. If this is perhaps a bit too vigorous you could plant a Boston Ivy which is another form of Parthenocissus. The leaves are a more rounded heart shaped rather than the three fingered leaf on the Virginia Creeper but they are equally vivid and just as spectacular and there are lots of varieties with slight variations in growth.
More Great Shrubs for this Autumn
It is lovely having a new space or large places to fill. There are so many good choices to fulfil our planting themes. I need another large space to plant a Rhus typhina, the staghorn as it is commonly known. The tips on this small tree’s branches feel like the buds of antlers. It is noted for its Autumn colour and this year it has not let us down as it is flaming. Again it is quite untamed and it can sprawl out but if you have a wild space its perfect.
Equally reliable for a blaze of colour is the Euonymus Atlas. This is a tough deciduous shrub easy to include in many borders and it has more than one area of interest which is a good criteria for planting it. Not only is the foliage in Autumn burning orange it also has lovely winged red fruits, hence its common name Winged Red Bush.
One of my favourite all year round shrubs I love to plant frequently is Abelia. I think it is a really good versatile and not overwhelming evergreen. It grows reasonably compact and gives me leaf colour all year round. X grandiflora ‘Francis Mason’ has a yellow leaf rather than green and reaches about 5ft in sun or partial shade and flowers late summer to autumn. What more could one want! More hybrids are arriving, Abelia x grandiflora ‘Confetti‘ and ‘Kaleidoscope’, it is the leaf colour which is exciting, variegated silver and multi-tones. We will know more about them in a few years but they look fabulous and they are a good cross breed.
Traditionally Autumn is a time for hips and berries and I can’t go without mentioning top of my list for berries, Callicarpa, with vivid purple berries. I love to see this shrub reach 5-6ft covered with purple, nothing compares to this colour. These berries last for ages and they must be bitter and hard as the birds don’t usually eat them until they are really hungry.