In the Garden - November 2013


Callicarpa - Credit: Archant

Colourful Combinations

Autumn colours in the garden can be an awesome sight, but many of the best deciduous plants with good autumn colour, can drop their leaves relatively quickly. For a display that is just slightly more enduring, why not look at a combination of plants with persistent and colourful fruits.

Callicarpa ‘Profusion’ makes an exquisite back drop with its many clusters of bright purple berries. A great contrast are the shiny, black fruits of Aronia melanocarpa, also known as the Black Chokeberry. The clusters of succulent berries remain suspended on woody stems for a long time after leaf drop. This shrub also produces superb autumn leaf colour.

Not many herbaceous plants produce colourful and long lasting fruits, but Actaea pachypoda, from North America has pearl-like berries on prominent red stalks and is quite a feature at the base of a large shrub, finishing off the display perfectly. Some other fruiting shrubs with persistent berries include Berberis, Cornus, Cotoneasters, Malus, Pyracanthas and Sorbus. Many of these also have good autumn leaf colour, which makes for an excellent combination.

Eye-catching conifers

We don’t usually connect autumn colour with conifers, but once you have seen a golden coloured Larch in October you won’t forget it; especially if you see it in it’s native habitat in the European Alps and the Carpathian Mountains. This would be Larix decidua, native in Europe and introduced to the British Isles in the early 1600s. Larix kaempferi, the Japanese Larch, is an important timber tree these days; butter yellow and very elegant in its growth. Pseudolarix amabilis is another great colouring conifer. The common name, Golden Larch, says it all. Often grown in the Mediterranean, it likes hot summers and remains slower growing in the northern climate.

There are just over a dozen conifers in the northern hemisphere which colour up in the autumn and shed their needles. Well known ones are the Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), which was thought to be extinct until 1941 when it was rediscovered in China. The Swamp Cypress (Taxodium distichum) looks very similar, however can grow in water and very closely related is the Taxodium ascendens or Pond Cypress from Louisiana and Florida. This is more narrow in its habit - as the name suggests - but equal in its stunning autumn colour.

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The best known colouring conifer is, I think, Ginkgo biloba or the Maidenhair Tree from China. It’s classified in the conifer group however looks like a broadleaf tree. It has become a rather popular street tree in Europe and is certainly a curiosity in it’s own right. Fan-shaped, golden leaves stun in autumn and, when we have a heavy frost, the tree seems to shed them in one big, clean swoop.

For small gardens I would recommend one of the slow growing Ginkgo cultivars like Ginkgo biloba ‘Compacta’. With Larch I would go for either Larix kaempferi ‘Blue Dwarf’ or Larix decidua ‘Corley’. Colouring is just like their big cousins but habit is much reduced and can fit into a small town garden.

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