Autumn is the season for spectacular, blazing foliage, and you don’t need a vacant house wall or garden the size of an arboretum to enjoy a display of fabulous colour on your own patch. For instance, you could bypass the stunning, but rampant Virginia creeper for a more modest vine.
All varieties of grapevine take on burnished tones to some degree before leaf-fall, but Vitis Brant has attractive veined foliage that turns rich marbled shades of crimson, ochre and orange, and offsets the bunches of sweet black grapes a treat. This is the vine to set up on a pergola or pillars, so that the low rays of the sun shine through the leaves, making the colours glow like stained glass.
The smaller, neater leaves of Vitis vinifera purpurea are an unusual deep damson from spring to autumn, at which time they grow dramatically darker, becoming a dusky purple. The small, tight bunches of grapes look almost too perfect to be real.
Amongst its many other assets — small, neat glossy leaves, white flowers in summer with that intoxicating jasmine fragrance — well-behaved climber Trachelospermum jasminoides takes on rich, rusty-red tints come autumn. Star of Toscana, the new variety of this indispensable evergreen, is similar, but has flowers of a gorgeous creamy yellow and is destined to be just as popular in London gardens as its white-flowered relative. Both reach nine metres over time, but can easily be clipped back after flowering.
Small town gardens can’t afford the luxury of a tree that has just one memorable moment in autumn, but Amelanchier lamarckii (snowy mespilus) performs through most of the year. No wonder it needs a rest come winter. In spring, a flurry of the prettiest starry white flowers appear, mostly on bare stems, and these are followed by the new coppery-red foliage which turns green in summer, and is accompanied by edible deep purple fruits. In autumn, the leaves take on bonfire licks of orange and rich red.
Japanese maples, with their exquisitely shaped leaves, are the great staple for sensational autumn colour. You can’t go far wrong, whichever variety you choose, if you simply go to a garden centre or nursery and pick out the colour which most appeals. The advantage of growing them in a container is that you can shift them into the wings in winter, as well as keep them compact, although they are slow growers by nature.
To make a real seasonal statement, pair two contrasting colours together, such as Acer palmatum Atropurpureum, with purplish-red leaves that turn a brilliant, almost luminous red in autumn, and Acer Orange Dream — a new, small maple that has the prettiest pink-tinged green leaves in spring, which mellow to a soft gold. And when those leaves do fall, they leave behind striking scarlet stems.
Bring in a few shrubs that provide coloured foliage earlier in the year, too. Cotinus Ruby Glow is a new compact cultivar introduced by Hilliers, under two metres high. It not only has those familiar deep plum rounded leaves and smokebush clouds of deep pink flowers, but come autumn is claimed to produce the most vibrant display of all cotinus varieties.
Settle Cornus alba Sibirica Variegata into a border and you can have elegant, fresh green and cream variegated leaves in spring and summer that are suffused with pink and crimson in autumn before falling to reveal another fine feature: stunning, bright red stems. Cut a third of them back to ground level in spring for the most vibrant bark. Berberis thunbergii f atropurpurea Admiration, at a maximum height of 50 centimetres, makes a splash of bright colour for most of the year, with small, glossy leaves that start out a glowing vermilion with fine yellow edging, and in autumn take on deep crimson tints.
The patio table can make a nod to fiery foliage, too, with a wide, low bowl filled with several varieties of heuchera — the ruffled, veined leaves creating an autumnal rainbow of golds, marmalades, crimsons and deep purples. All the shades of autumn in one pot.
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