As we all know, good autumn colour is weather dependent, so it will come as no surprise that I worry each year about the quality of Aberglasney’s colour show with us being situated in wet and windy West Wales.
Having previously worked in Worcestershire, which almost always gets brilliant autumn colour due to the cold, dry, weather it gets, you can be lulled into a false sense of security thinking vibrant displays are guaranteed. The colour at Kew Gardens when I worked there were also variable – some years were far better than others. In West Wales, it’s usually brilliant or very poor, mainly down to wet and windy weather that either keeps the leaves green or knocks them off as they turn. The length and impact of autumn colour is all about how long those leaves can stay on the trees.
The best ways to try and ensure good autumn displays is to make sure the plants you grow earn their keep. You can do this by growing plants that you know will always produce good autumn colour, or by growing plants that do two jobs – for instance, trees and shrubs with great autumn colour that also have spectacular flowers or fruit.
Two trees that never seem to let us down in Wales are the Japanese Maple and Persian Iron Wood, commonly known as Parrotia. Acers are also reliable and always colour up, even in a poor season. There are thousands of different varieties, but Acer palmatem are the most reliable. If you’re looking for trees that do two jobs, then snake barked Maples or paper barked Maples are great options as they have very interesting stems in winter months.
Ornamental cherries are also worth a mention as they provide both blossom and autumn colour. Two of my favourites are Prunus serrula ‘Dorothy Clive form’ and Prunus rufa as they also have ornamental bark which I find particularly lovely. The same can be said of ornamental apples as they also have blossom, autumn colour and often produce good fruit.
Many flowering Dogwoods give stunning autumn colour, strawberry-like fruits and a fantastic flower show in the summer. The Amelanchier, or Snowy Mespilus as they’re sometimes called, are grown for their autumn colour but also produce very good floral displays. There’s a wide choice available: Amelanchier lamarckii is best known for its autumn colour, whereas Amelanchier ‘Ballerina’ is noted for its summer flowering.
Deciduous Azalea are a great garden choice as they give wonderful displays in May and a great autumn colour shows later in the year. They mix very well with evergreens and look good en masse. They come in a good range of colours and are hardy in comparison to other larger leaved varieties. Rhododendron luteum does very well at Aberglasney; it flowers for a very long time and is heavily scented.
With careful thought and planning, you can have plants that give multiple different displays throughout the seasons and that come into blistering colour in autumn months.
Tips for the Week:
- You can still plant bulbs – it’s not too late for Tulips
- Winter mulching is always a good idea after cutting back
- Divide and cut back perennials if they are dormant
- If you’re thinking of planting trees, November is the month for deciduous types once they’re dormant
- Tree and perennial seeds can be sown in trays outside in a cold frame
- It’s not too late to plant wall flowers
- Tender perennials can be lifted and wrapped for the winter (Dahlia, Canna, Banana etc).