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How to create a Colourful Autumn Garden


October brings a wonderful richness of colour to the garden and the clear sunny days and night frosts that we often get at this time of year lead to the intensity of colour in leaves and shrubs. For me, the ideal autumn garden is not only one that’s ablaze with clusters of fiery red and orange berries hanging on branches of pyracanthas, cotoneaster and viburnums, but is full of beautiful seed heads, and stunning foliage.

It’s very hard to beat Japanese maples for reliable autumn colour and foliage. There is a variety to suit every garden, and some will grow happily in a container placed in a sheltered spot. Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ gives some of the best red leaves of any tree firing up with warm, eye-catching tints at this time of year. A. palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’ – the coral-bark maple – turns a stunning yellow and makes a very attractive focal point in winter. For ideas, head to Westonbirt Arboretum near Tetbury this autumn where grouped plantings of Japanese maples show off their effect to the best.

Although leaf foliage commands the autumn scene, it is by no means the sole contributor of colour. An excellent backdrop plant is the Michaelmas daisy Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’ whose mauve flowers are alive with bees and butterflies gilded by autumn sunshine. Combine with the upright, feathery plumes of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ferner Osten’ which lends a lightness to a planting scheme. It can reach nearly 2m in height so it requires space and sunshine to really show off.

As a general rule, autumn-tinting plants need sunlight to perform really well. If they are placed in the shade, they get lost. The best position for autumn and winter planting is backlit by the sun, where the brilliance of colours can be best admired. If space is at a premium, make discerning choices and sidestep plants that are too big or only contribute for two weeks in October. The one thing the garden in autumn should never be is boring.

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