BLAZING WITH GLORY
Acers, maples and friends are burning with colour right now... here’s Diarmuid’s top picks
Last week on these pages we romped around the country, stopping off at many wonderful national treasures – gardens which make the most of changing seasons and burst with autumn colour.
Many of these gardens were once private aristocratic homes laid out at a time when they were the private pleasure zones of the establishment. In many cases the landscapes are vast with plenty of room to grow the gorgeous specimens whose maturity we can now enjoy.
However, most of us have smaller plots, so how do we fully achieve the magnificence that autumn can bring, using trees and shrubs which don’t require the room that enormous estates allow?
Here’s my top selection of tried and trusted
autumn beauties, plants that I grow myself, species whose beauty I can vouch for and which will suit the average domestic plot.
■ Acer ‘Aconitifolium’ The full moon maple is one of the best Japanese maples for autumn colour, its ferny palmate leaves turning vivid red and orange. For best results grow in dappled or partial shade with protection from cold winds. Beautiful as a specimen tree in a patio or courtyard situation. ■ Liquidambar (sweetgum tree) This produces some of the best autumn colours, a wonderful mix of plums, reds and orange maple-like leaves. However, as they grow above 22m in maturity they’re usually unsuitable for small to average plots. ‘Slender Silhouette’ is a lovely upright cultivar which, while it grows tall, remains slimline. Sweetgums prefer dampish, neutral to acidic soil. ■ Acer griseum (Paperbark maple) I never tire of the wonderful coppery peeling of this maple. And there’s more reason to love it in autumn as its leaves turn to a burning red and orange. A delightful specimen for any garden. ■ Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’ Grow the smoke bush for its beautiful purple foliage that turns scarlet in autumn. The smokey part of its name derives from the frothy plumes of delicate flowers in summer that can appear to be like a haze of smoke around the plant. It likes full sun in a moist, well-drained soil.
■ Rhus typhina I’m watching the stag’s horn sumach in my front garden turn a vibrant shade of orange. I think this is one of the most reliable autumnal small trees. If you want something a little bit different, go for ‘Dissecta’ which has finely dissected leaves, giving a more refined appearance. You will need to remove suckers.
■ Euonymus alatus Spindle trees are unrivalled when it comes to fiery autumnal colour. This, along with beautiful purple fruit that splits open to reveal orange fruit, and its interesting textured bark, makes it an outstanding shrub.
■ Cornus kousa ‘Miss Satomi’ This plant is a good choice where you have room for a tree to spread laterally but you don’t want it to grow tall. The branches are outstretched and leaves turn purple and deep red in autumn.
■ Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ Sorbus, or mountain ash, is a great all-rounder for the small garden. Lots of creamy flowers in spring are followed by wonderful yellow berries in late summer, and in autumn the pinnate foliage turns a deep crimson.
Spindle trees are unrivalled for fiery, autumnal colour
Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’
Cotinus ‘Royal Purple’
Cornus kousa ‘Miss Satomi’