How to give your garden colour in all seasons

In her weekly gardening column Olive Ryan shares some tips on how to keep your garden in colour, all year around
How to give your garden colour in all seasons

Acer rubrum, a large tree that produces dramatic autumn foliage.

AUTUMN has certainly arrived over the past week or two with a noticeable drop in temperature and plants behaving accordingly. With any luck we will get some dry and sunny weather over the next few weeks so that we can all enjoy the change in leaf colour as the chlorophyll which gives the green colour to leaves recedes and the normally unseen colours of yellow, orange and red pigments can be seen in the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs.

It is a good time to take stock and look around at what plants are creating interest and drama in the garden and make a note for inclusion in our own gardens. 

It is always worthwhile to investigate how well a plant will perform particularly if space is at a premium in a garden.

Selecting plants that provide multiple seasons of interest ensures that maximum colour and pleasure is obtained when looking out of the window at different times of the year.

Spring flowering and good autumn colour for example or good autumn colour and attractive bark or attractive early spring foliage and good autumn colour.

Some trees to consider for autumn colour are: Acer or maple are one of the first trees that spring to mind when considering autumn leaf colour in the garden. Many produce vibrant autumn (and indeed spring) foliage colour and some have attractive bark to consider which is a great feature in the garden for the winter months. There is a huge range to choose from and it can be hard to know where to start. This genus of trees varies in size from parkland size trees like red maple, (Acer rubrum) to medium sized trees suitable to the average sized garden like the Japanese maples, (Acer palmatum) that are smaller in size some almost shrub like and then the very small weeping forms used in rockerys or adjacent to patios like Acer ‘Garnet’.

The biggest factor to consider when planting an Acer is shelter as they do not like exposure so best to get that shelter belt in place and established before introducing an Acer. They prefer a netural to acid soil but will tolerate an alkaline soil.

Crataegus x persimilis 'Prunifolia'.
Crataegus x persimilis 'Prunifolia'.

Some of the smaller japanese maples do very well in large pots. One stunning cultivar for autumn foliage colour is Acer x freemanii ‘Autumn Blaze’ and it lives up to its name, you feel like you are standing in the sun when standing beneath the vibrant orange canopy during the few weeks of autumn when it lights up the garden. It first turns red and fades to orange or yellow before loosing its leaves. It is a large tree getting to over 12m in height and spread so it needs some space to reach its full potential and also shelter as its branches can be quite brittle but it really is a show stopper during the autumn.

Sorbus or mountain ash are a great tree for providing spring and autumn interest in the garden. 

They produce beautifully scented dense corymbs of creamy white flowers in early summer usually followed by fruits of different colours in the autumn. They also have quite dramatic autumn leaf colour of reds oranges and yellows. Generally they would be considered a small to medium sized tree suitable for suburban gardens and their main growing requirement is a free draining soil. Some good species and cultivars for autumn colour and berries are Sorbus huphensis with red leaf colour and pink berries, Sorbus vilmornii is one of the smaller mountain ashes with pink fruits fading to white and good red autumn leaf colour and one of my favourites is Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ with its red leaf colour in autumn and yellow berries that are a favourite for the birds and never last long on the tree! A great choice of tree for supporting biodiversity in the garden.

Our native whitethorn and it’s relatives in the Crataegus genus are a great small tree to consider for several seasons of interest. 

They flower in spring and early summer, go on to produce fruits in the autumn which are of considerable value as a food source for birds in addition to adding colour to the garden and they also have attractive autumn leaf colour. A good one for the small garden is Crataegus persimilis ‘Prunifolia’ or the plum leaved hawthorn which is a small tree reaching heights of about 6m at maturity.

This tree has a lot to recommend it producing white flowers in May which are followed by larger than normal red fruits that persist on the tree well into the winter months. In addition the foliage turns dramatic and beautiful shades of orange and yellow before falling to the ground as the leaves return to the soil. This tree can also make a good hedging option. The great thing about growing this particular tree is that it is not fussy about soil or aspect and generally it will do well in most locations. It has some of the tough characteristics of i’ts native relative built in which makes it an ideal tree for most locations.

Take some time this week to consider where a tree might be an option to add somewhere in your garden.

Now is an ideal time as the planting season lies ahead and the availability will never be better than now at the start of the season with bare rooted plants an option for the next few months also.

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