See what I did there in the title? Terrible pun I know but I couldn’t resist. Back in the Nineties I travelled to the White Mountain region of the USA to experience the Fall firsthand. My husband still jokes that it’s the only time in my life I’ve ever been speechless!
Clear blue skies, golden sun and hyper-saturated foliage colours gave the impression that the whole New Hampshire landscape was on fire. The effect was unutterably beautiful.
Back home in the UK I was a woman on a mission. I had to capture some of that beauty for my own plot.
Through research I discovered that the quality of autumn colour in the New Hampshire region depends on two things: the combination of tree species and the climatic conditions.
The sugar maple, red oak, mespilus and viburnum are the trees responsible for the famous vivid red and purple hues of the Fall but their colourful magic is dependant on warm sunny days followed by cool nights where the temperature doesn’t drop below 7-8°C.
So now I had two problems. No way could I guarantee perfect weather conditions in the UK and then there was the small issue of space…the smallness of the space being the issue! I would not be able to shoe-horn a Red Oak or a Sugar Maple into my suburban garden.
So I hit the books and the garden centres and gradually I compiled a list of solid autumn performers which will put on a dazzling display regardless of the British climate.
Now my garden is brim full of glorious, fiery autumn hues and with a little planning and my ‘approved’ list you too can bring a little of the Boston Falls to British suburbia.
Japanese maples Varieties of Acer palmatum – both green and purple – colour well and are small enough for most gardens. They do prefer acid soil so if you live on lime they perform better in a pot. They need shelter from chilly winds, which can scorch their leaves.
Dogwood, Cornus alba The leaves begin to turn pink in late September and you also have the benefit of bright red or yellow whippy stems afterwards, depending on the variety.
Euonymus alatus A quirky plant which has corky, winged outgrowths on its stems. This is a quiet plant for most of the year but produces the most brilliant crimson leaves in autumn plus purple – red fruits which split to form four winged lobes with a bright orange seed in the centre. There is also a compact variety which only grows to 1m so is suitable for small gardens.
Berberis thunbergii and its varieties are around 2m tall, make a great hedge and take on spectacular hues around October just before the leaves fall.
Coloured leafed heathers These work hard all year but are at their best when burnished by the autumn chill.
By Rachael Leverton