October in the garden: Flamboyant foliage to brighten our days

Gardener Amanda Armstrong.

Gardener Amanda Armstrong. - Credit: Amanda Armstrong

By Amanda Armstrong


If you’re thinking of planting for autumn colour, now is the best time to take a look at the fiery shrubs and trees available and to make your choice. In spring and summer we tend to forget the later days of autumn but when they arrive with their sense of melancholy, fading light and spiders’ webs so precariously spun around the garden, the sight of autumn foliage can bring its own special sense of joy.

A visit to any of our wonderful local nurseries or garden centres will provide ideas. If space allows, Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) or the Sweet Gum (Liquidamber styraciflua) will provide magnificent autumnal colours in shades of red and burnt orange. Another suggestion would be one of the flowering cherries, in particular Prunus sargentii. Its profusion of pink blossom in the spring contrasts well with the deep mahogany of the bark and now, in October, its leaves are turning to vibrant shades of bronze and red.  

Acer leaves.

Acer leaves. - Credit: Daniel Cooke

On a smaller scale there are the Japanese maples (Acer palmatum). Available in a wide range of sizes, some of which can be grown in a container if your space is limited. Or the medium-sized shrub, Disanthus cercidifolius, with autumn leaves of purple, crimson and orange. 

Smaller still are the azaleas and some hydrangea species, such as Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Merveille Sanguine’ whose autumn leaves turn a brilliant, scarlet red. And for ground cover, seek out a little-known rose - Rosa nitida. A healthy plant that provides deep pink flowers throughout the summer, followed by hips and red-tinted foliage in the autumn. 

Rowan leaves.

Rowan leaves. - Credit: Yoksel Zok

Plant position is important though. The evening sun will illuminate many of these plants and turn the leaves transparent, further highlighting their glorious colours. An ideal position would be one in which your chosen plant not only benefits from the fading sunlight but that can also be enjoyed from the warmth of your home.

So whether you have space for a large, majestic tree, a touch of ground cover or just a small container, by choosing the right plants for your garden you can turn what could be a dreary month into the most bewitching of natural art.

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