A BLAZE OF AUTUMN COLOUR
It is good to see an excellent year go out in a blaze of colour. Deciduous trees, shrubs and ground cover have all gone into there final flurry of colour before winter arrives. Although summer could not have been better, autumn was not as warm and sunny as we had hoped for, so foliage colour is good but has been better. However colour can still be found in the wealth of berries from rowans to cotoneaster, rose hips, pyracantha and snowberry. Pyracantha can be grown as a free standing large shrub or trained against a wall or fence where it is perfectly happy with some spur pruning to keep it in bounds. It is fine on a north facing wall where it turns bright red in autumn and early winter as it covers itself in orange and red berries. Then the many forms of cotoneaster will create a mass of red berries on evergreen bushes from the tall Cotoneaster frigidus to the ground cover dammeri.
Hopefully this display will last well into winter, only being reduced as our wild birds enjoy their winter food supply. Reports of reduced blackbird numbers have been echoed around my garden as I have not had any problem this year with loss of outdoor grapes as my local blackie devours the crop as fast as he can. He has been absent, and as yet not replaced with any of his young family. Thus this year I have three and a half demijohns of Brant grape wine brewing happily from a very vigorous yeast.
This year has been brilliant for berries on nearly all plants.
However as winter sets in, remaining berries on rowans and cotoneasters are often rapidly lost as hoards of waxwings arrive from the continent and gobble their way up north devouring every berry in sight.
My rowan Joseph Rock is absolutely covered on large bunches of bright yellow berries to be admired for a few months as local birds prefer red berries. However those waxwings are not too fussy about colour. Some shrubs such as the snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus with white tinged pink berries and Pernettya with pink, white and mauve berries are largely ignored as a food supply for birds. These bushes remain an attractive garden feature all winter, though by early March when all the other berries are gone the birds have little
The arrival of autumn is usually first seen on maples and horse chestnut trees, then rowans, with ash usually the last to colour up. Beech trees have both size and brilliant colour, and although birch may just be a small tree it looks great mixed into woodland fringe plantings with rowans, elderberries and field maples. There are so many different maples with excellent attributes that they will form a feature all by themselves in a later article.
Plants are selected for our gardens for their floral beauty, shape, function, ground cover or may be our particular favourite. Plants having good autumn colour is often of secondary importance, so we benefit when they are both attractive in flower or with berries and have autumn colour.
Hammamelis mollis and deciduous azaleas come to mind when you buy them for their flowers, but then get the bonus in autumn with fiery foliage on the dying leaves.
The upright cherry, Prunus Amanogawa, and most of the other cherries have all got exceptional autumn colour as well as their spring blossom.
Even many fruit bushes go dormant in a fanfare show of dazzling colour when they lose their leaves. Blueberries turn golden, saskatoons turn orange then red, chokeberries go deep scarlet and even my outdoor grape Brant turns red around the huge leaf margins before falling off.
I recently planted several outdoor grape vines, and it is great to see that they also are colouring up just nicely as autumn takes a hold.
As the edible landscape movement gathers popularity so our school kids see, harvest and learn how to use natural fruit from the environment, other plants such as rose hips and the sea buckthorn Hippophae rhamnoides, brambles, hazlenuts and many other edible plants will find their place.
Down at ground level, some varieties of heathers such as Calluna vulgaris Goldsworth Crimson, Golden Feather and Gold Haze really brighten up with golden and orange rusty coloured foliage once they get a bit of frost.
Plant of the week
Prunus subhirtella autumnalis is the autumn flowering cherry. It may not have the huge impact of some of the spring flowering cherries, but it is a very welcome sight to see a flowering tree with pale soft pink flowers in November. It will continue to flower all winter if there is a few days of sunny mild weather, but a cold frosty snap will stop the flowers. This cherry tree is very hardy and will grow on most soils reaching over twenty feet on maturity. It also has excellent autumn colour.
Painting of the month
Bridge over Brafferton Burn is a small oil painting with a winter landscape image appropriate for this time of year as we head towards the festive season. Other snow scenes, landscapes, flowers and figures are being finished off as I get ready for my winter exhibition in my studio at the end of November.