October is when all of nature seems in tune. Delicate blossoms display against mounds of fresh new foliage.
Irealise anew how important are the permanent fixtures of shrubs and trees in the garden, and their placement in regard to one another.
Confined to bed for a time last spring, I was struck by the beauty of the differing shapes and colours outside my window: the horizontal layers of the Mariesii viburnum and Shimizu-Sakura cherry contrasting with mounded and upright specimens. How lovely too was the vertical punch of the pagoda-mimicking Chinese toon with its shrimp pink leaves, all enhanced by the sparkle and scent of many treasured viburnums.
Shrubs and small trees with pink new foliage are rare but attractive additions to the spring display.
They are particularly pleasing among toning magnolias, prunus, rhododendrons and viburnums.
Chief among these pink-leaved glories is the elegant Chinese toon ( Cedrela
sinensis), with its improbably pink ferny leaves, tiered horizontally on a very upright little tree.
In light soil and full sun, the toon tends to sucker, but when deeply planted in good cool loam that is south-facing, it has never done that with me.
It also holds a secret: when young, they are edible, tasting mildly of garlic and are widely used in Asia in stir-fries and salads.
A recent discovery is a shrublet with truly beautiful peachy pink foliage,
Alchornea trewioides. It is also from Asia where it highly prized as a garden plant. This is a gem that deserves to become much better known.
Many maples also sport pink-leaved hybrids. Acer ‘Esk Sunset’ is my favourite but there are many others.
Similarly, dwarf Berberis thunbergii ‘Rose Glow’ has pink-and-cream splashed leaves which would make a nice little hedgelet in front of a pretty pink and white border.
These plants, when combined with silver-leaved centaureas, artemisias, senecios, grey-leaved hebes and the white-felted foliage of Stachys ‘ Bello Grigio’, can make a delightful rose and white scheme may be created to which tulips such as the cherry-striped double white ‘Carnaval de Nice’ or ‘Pink Impression’ may be added.
Viburnums are a huge and diverse race of flowering plants.
Some deciduous, some evergreen, they may be found flowering in every season of the year. Happily, they are also ridiculously easy to grow, having no particular or special needs.
Some are prized for their evocative fragrance. Most sport reddish autumn leaf colour and many bear attractive clusters of berries that may be red, orange, yellow or blue.
But it is the ones that add their charms and floral feasts to October that I want to mention as they make such glorious additions to the spring garden.
Fondly remembered from childhood is the Chinese snowball tree Viburnum
macrocephalum f. macrocephalum, which is also known as the embroidered ball tree in Asia. The rounded heads of petalled blooms that gradually change from green to white do resemble snowballs hanging low to tempt children and I well remember happy “snowball fights” with my Christchurch cousins.
These enticing horticultural gems gradually develop from smaller emerald spheres, becoming iced-lime globes that are wonderful in flower arrangements before they reach their snowy perfection.
Viburnum x burkwoodii smothers itself with waxen clusters of gorgeous pink and white blooms for two months. Possessed of the most seductive powdery fragrance, it forms an airy, twiggy shrub that is semi-deciduous, depending on the climate. The Korean spice viburnum ( Viburnum
carlcephalum) makes a more compact bush covered with perfumed globes of spicy sweetness. Many gardeners and experts consider it to have the best scent of all virburnums.
Dwarf white ‘Eskimo’ is another useful late-flowering scented hybrid. Architecturally perfect is Viburnum
plicatum ‘Mariesii’, which lacks scent but provides one of the most satisfying shapes with its low-topped broad outline of tiered branches and layered leaves. The white flowers resemble lacecap hydrangeas while the whole construction imitates a graceful old-time crinoline as it dips and sways in the breeze.
A relative newcomer to me, with possibly the most beautiful flowers of all, is Viburnum sargentii ‘Onondaga’. Mine has formed a columnar pillar studded with circular platters of crimson and white blooms resembling the finest embroidery or porcelain. The ruby red fertile centres edged with lacy florets are so perfect in colour and construction, they might have been fashioned by Fabergé or Sèvres. The attractive new leaves are claret coloured and in autumn the flowers turn to clusters of translucent scarlet berries beloved by the birds.
A pair of these viburnums would make stunning sentinels guarding a path or gateway opening.
How lovely are the leaves, colours, shapes and scents of this special season.
How lovely is October.