There’s plenty of fabulous autumn colour around at this time of year, but it doesn’t just have to be deciduous trees that star. They’re brilliant if you have the room, but not everybody does. Why not think outside the box and get some autumn colour into your garden using some of these often overlooked, common garden plants? Head Gardener, Dan, shares his favourites.
Deciduous grasses really come into their own in autumn. Strong, tall, upright species such as miscanthus hold their dried leaves, stems, and flowers all the way through into the following spring. Many go gorgeous shades of straw yellow, brown and auburn, and look particularly good when planted together in a mixed border where the different colours can combine together to create a really rich autumn-scape.
Evergreen or semi-evergreen species should also not be overlooked. Try Carex testacea ‘Prairie Fire’, a shaggy little grass with masses of wispy, orange-tipped leaves. It looks good all year round, but you really notice the intensity of its foliage in autumn when attention tends to turn towards orange, reds and browns.
We all know herbaceous perennials die back in autumn, but why not think of these as providers of autumn colour too, just like their larger woody cousins? Hostas are one of my favourite providers of ‘surprising’ autumn colour. Many species go a golden yellow or orange colour before disappearing completely. Admittedly, it’s often a fleeting display (dying hosta leaves tend to go mushy quite quickly) but so much of our autumn display is.
With hostas, bigger is usually better when it comes to autumnal impact. There are many large-leaved cultivars freely available from good garden centres and nurseries. Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ is one of the best, with broad leaves up to 18” long and lovely yellow tones as it dies back.
Dried flower heads
Dried flowers can make a brilliant display in autumn. Famously, you should always leave hydrangea heads un-pruned until the following spring, as they can provide new buds a little bit of frost protection when it’s cold. Personally, I don’t think this is necessary now with our milder winters, but I like to leave the dried flower heads in place anyway; they are so delicate and interesting to look at outside of the main flowering season.
In my opinion, the best is the climbing Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris. In addition to its flowerheads, it too has wonderful foliar colour come leaf fall – a lovely butter-yellow – so it really packs a punch at this time of year.