In spite of a couple of severe Atlantic storms many of our trees and shrubs are still showing glorious autumn colour. Near our home the roads are lined with beech and chestnut trees, the richness of the colour is fading a bit but they still look great. The motorways too have been planted with a mix of deciduous trees and shrubs that are showing vivid colours as far as the eye can see. Our road is lined with silver birch trees which display a delicate range of colours at this time of year.
The colours in our own garden are on a more modest scale, but we have chosen a range of plants to give us good colour at this time. In the front border a combination of Berberis, Euonymus alatus, Rosa rugosa, Rhus typhina ‘Tiger eyes’ (dwarf stag’s horn) and Virginia creeper give an intense display of reds and oranges early in the autumn. These have now mostly handed over to a large Forsythia which is beginning to show its finery. Many gardeners do not value the Forsythia as its enthusiastic growth often means it outgrows its space, and as it’s trouble free there’s no challenge in producing a healthy specimen. I welcome its lively habit, and its profusion of small yellow flowers early in the year are a real delight, its autumn colour is a bonus. It does need to be kept pruned as it can spread and get very tall and dense.
In the back garden the Sorbus (mountain ash) tree and Acer (Japanese maple) ‘Orange dream’ give a dazzling display along with the low spread of the Spiraea japonica. Some of the fruit bushes also produce a nice colour, the blueberries are particularly fine, but the currants also show nice shades of yellow and pale orange.
I love the idea of a specimen large shrub or small tree in the front garden. We decided that the ideal candidate would be an acer, with delicate foliage from spring to autumn, magnificent autumn colour and an intricate bare shape in winter.
We bought a lovely Japanese Maple Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’ with beautifully decorative leaves, their red/orange tips fading to yellow then green, and intense autumn colour. It is small, growing to under five feet, good for a small front space, it is frost hardy in the ground and happy to grow in sun or semi-shade. So far so good.
We planted it confidently in our north-facing front garden. It looked well in the beginning, but it hated the spot, it got cold and shivery from the wind and its lovely red tips got wind burn. We left it for two seasons in the hope that it would acclimatize, but it was so unhappy that we felt bad every time we passed it.
In the winter of the second season we dug it up and transported it carefully to the back garden where we placed it next to the holly. Here in the holly’s strong embrace it is growing happily, sheltered from the cold winds. It is now about eight feet tall as we’ve never pruned it, it brings light to that corner and it is magnificent in the fall.
The front garden location has proved more difficult to find a suitable shrub for. We placed a small crab apple tree there, but in spite of its toughness it was not happy either, so it now resides with the other fruit trees in the back. The Witch Hazel that has been in the space for about eight years seems to be dealing with the uncongenial conditions. It is starkly bare in winter, producing delicate pale yellow flowers in January and February when the rest of the garden looks as if it will never see growth again.