Autumn gardening

Turn up the heat!

AS the days grow shorter and the nights get colder you can turn up the heat in the garden by planting for dramatic colour.

There are lots of beautiful trees and shrubs that will put on a stunning display before their leaves finally fall and among the best are Japanese maples, rowans and dogwoods.

Yet alongside these favourites there are other plants that are even more spectacular and which deserve to be more widely grown.

Take the common spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus). 

In autumn its neon pink seed capsules split open to reveal bright orange fruits. And then there’s the small rowan tree, Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ which has scarlet foliage and yellow berries or the new Mahonia nitens ‘Cabaret’, a recent introduction that has orange and red buds, yellow flowers and blue-grey foliage.

What all of these have in common is that they deliver a bright dose of clashing colour that can cheer up the garden, no matter how dismal the weather and the good news is that they are all easy to grow and none of them will get too big for even the smallest garden.

Autumn is a time for being bold, for throwing away the rulebook about which colours go together, and recognising that as daylight levels fall and the background fades to grey and brown, there is no better time to experiment with fiery shades.

Why not grow Callicarpa bodinieri alongside Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)?

The first produces violet beads that look as if they belong in a poisoner’s bible, while the orange fruits of the second are said to have sustained the armies of Genghis Khan.

And if you really want to cause a stir then plant bulbs of Nerine bowdenii in every free-draining, sunny spot. 

Nerine is a strumpet amongts the leaf litter. Each saucy flower is like a misplaced pair of frilly pink knickers, while another arrival from South Africa, Hesperanth coccinea ‘Sunrise’ is as subtle as a 1960s Avon lipstick.

These are the sorts of flowers you expect to see growing at the height of summer and not blooming in defiance as winter appears over the horizon, but the weirdness doesn’t stop there. 

When the leaves of the white-stemmed bramble (Rubus cockburnianus) fall, they reveal ghostly stems, in sharp contrast to the razor wire branches of the winged thorn rose ‘Rosa pteracantha’, which has thorns like great red teeth that glow in the low rays of the sun.

Pack all of these into the one garden and you’ll have a seasonal spectacle that will last until the darkness of winter finally falls.

Agnes Stevenson