Get some Autumn colour into your garden
Plant out wallflowers for flowering next spring
Actaea simplex 'Brunette'
Someone asked me during the week which was my favourite season, because I am a gardener I suppose, and said that theirs was autumn. However that because I work outside so much, summer would have to be my season of choice. I need that little bit of heat and sun to strengthen my bones to see me through the colder darker days. I love all the seasons though because they are distinct and all have a gardening charm of its own.
It is apt at this time of year as we light our fires indoors that nature would see fit to start its own firey display of leaves outside. The sun also seem eager to join in by providing a quality of light that can turn insipid leaves into fanned embers. When planting plants that will provide autumn leaf colour a position that catches the early morning or late evening sun are ideal for showing off the plants display at their best because of the light quality I already mentioned.
Japanese maples and cherries are great and popular stalwarts for providing autumn colours along with birch, viburnums and many larger maples. But if look a little harder and with a bit of effort you will find some less common plants to brighten your October garden. A trip to your local garden centre, park or private open garden will provide great ideas for what is available, eye catching and different at this time of year for use in your own garden.
Our own humble native Euonymus europaeus, this is nothing like the variegated evergreen groundcover Euonymus, is a fantastic autumn plant but rarely garden planted. The cultivated varieties 'Red Cascade' and 'Scarlet Wonder' not only provide rich red autumn leaves but also produce rosy red seed capsules that split open to display orange coloured seeds. Very easy to grow and lovely in a woodland garden where it will make a large shrub. Euonymus alatus with its attractive winter corky twigs is smaller and displays crimson pink foliage.
Many will be familiar with the stag horn sumach, Rhus typhina, that is magnificently reliable at providing starlingly bright yellow, orange and red autumn colours. The lesser known and rarely planted but even more beautiful fern leaf variety Rhus typhina 'Laciniata' is a better option.
The Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, and the Boston ivy ,Pathenocissus tricuspidata, have long been grown for their autumn beauty and rightly so but if you are looking for a climber with a difference try Vitis coignetiae an ornamental vine. With heart shaped leaves up to 30 centimetres across in the summer it has a feel of the tropics and in autumn these leaves turn a brilliant crimson and scarlet.
The Katsura tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, produces pale yellow and smokey pink autumn colours and in addition to this it will fill your garden with a sweet sugary fragrance during this time. I first encountered this tree in Westonbirt arboretum on a field trip from college 35 years ago where it was smelt before it was seen and I have been under its spell ever since.
Iteas are another group of plants often overlooked. The evergreen Itea ilicifolia should be more widely planted in its own right but for autumn colour plant Itea virginica 'Herny's Garnet' and the dwarf version 'Little Henry'. Both flower white in July and back this up with a fine display of red purple foliage. The Oak leaved hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, is also an interesting choice and a talking point as in leaf it doesn't resemble a Hydrangea at all. In creamy white flower it does but it also produces fine autumn colours. 'Harmony' and 'Burgundy' are two varieties to look out for.
Finally my favourite autumn plant in my garden or just possibly my favourite plant of all , Nyssa sinensis. Not easy to find and can be difficult to grow and yet I have found it perfectly easy in my garden. It likes a lime free soil and once planted not to be moved, although again I did move mine when quite large and go away with it. Horticulture is not an exact science and I love it for that. The leaves are oval shaped deeply veined and 15 centimetres long, in spring they emerge red and turn to green. In autumn they take on a translucent red and orange in every shade imaginable.