Shades of Autumn
Remarkably all the shades of autumn effortlessly create a harmonious sense of calm. The foliage colour in rich reds and rusty golds is warm, bright and uplifting. It is vibrant without creating any clashing contrasts. The colour wheel reveals Mother Nature has evolved a technically perfect colour pallet. If we could only plan our other colour scheme this successfully.
Autumn colour peaks not according to a specific date but climatic conditions. I think this year there has been some magnificent colour in trees such as the Liquidamber tree. The drier weather has snatched too abruptly any pleasure to be had from those that require more moisture.
Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Worplesdon’ otherwise known as Sweet Gum Tree appears to be everywhere, crush the leaves and they smell sweet. It’s often confused with an Acer because the leaves look similar and it turns delightfully in autumn. Its pre-requisite is a large garden as it will grow at least 8m tall. This tree clearly deserves its AGM award from the RHS.
There are some classic images of autumn colour which are wonderful to recreate in our own space. I see chocolate box cottages on fire with colour clad in Parthenocissus a woody vine known commonly as Virginia Creeper or Boston Ivy. I also see the forests of Acers, the image of New England in the fall. We can bring some of these fabulous panoramic visions into our own space on a more suitable scale. I would be selective in my choice of Virginia Creeper as some can be quite invasive and creep into the brickwork. Parthenociss quinquefolia can climb 20ft easily. I would quite happily cover my garden shed with smaller varieties such ad Henryana or ‘Rubrifolia’.These reach about 10ft.
Acers are easy to choose, they like lots of moisture which is not usually a problem, so don’t plant in dry ground. The Japanese Maples tend to be small and ideal to mix in borders of shrubs and perennials. They have both intricate feathery leaves and graceful oriental form. They don’t overpower planting schemes as they complete the picture. Norwegian Maples are those we see in the pictures of American Autumns often growing natively with Liquidamber. Consequently these tend to be much larger robust trees. Again they have the most wonderful leaf colour and in addition we also have some varieties such as the Snake Bark Maple with fabulous snakey bark. I love Acer plantanoids ‘Crimson King’ (crimson red) and pseudoplantanus ‘Simon Louis freres’(silver with salmon tipped foliage)
My classic autumn shrubs have exceeded expectations. Cotinus (smoke bush) burns a dark red in front of my kitchen window, complemented by a Leycesteria formosa (Flowering Nutmeg) with long tassels of purple fruit planted next to it. Both are challenged for centre stage by the striking purple berries of the Callicarpa bush. The pigmentation is turning in my Berberis thunbergii from a dark red to almost a glowing orange against the back drop of green. Viburnum Burkwoodii bear green and orange gold foliage as it turns. Varieties of Cornus (Dog Wood) interspersed around my wild woody garden have leaves turning all shades and green, yellow and red stems gaining winter prominence.
Interposed around my garden I have small ornamental crab apple trees, Malus Rudolph and Malus Everest, which still host wonderful cherry red and amber berries. The yellow shades are enhanced by the piercing plumes of the spiky Mahonia Charity.
I am also enjoying the frothy texture of grasses I have interspersed in the mixed borders.
Texture is just as significant as colour. The texture of the feathery Acer leaves and the grassy fronds are the most straight forward but valuable way to add character and bring a finished feel to a garden, like curtains in a furnished and painted room. One of the best textures I have admired lately is the Astelia bankseii (silver foliage) or Astelia ‘Westland’ with bronze foliage. The spikes of frosted or bronzed twisted spears punctuate borders beautifully with a sense of drama. Ideal in shady positions, they will also hold you attention all winter.
This season is a dramatic celebration of colour. It’s never more apparent that garden interest is about so much more than purely what is in flower.