Carol Klein on the garden delights that autumn brings
It’s a season of burnished colour and harvest when branches are bursting with fruit and berries
‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” wrote John Keats in his Ode to Autumn. This brief line captures the essence of the season. For many it’s their favourite time, the year accomplished, rounded, brought to its climax. Unlike winter which ‘takes a grip’, autumn’s progress is gentle and gradual, letting us down lightly.
Each morning as I look out of the bedroom window there are subtle changes, hardly discernible. Are the leaves of the Acer palmatum ‘Ōsakazuki’ slightly redder, and as for the foliage on our weeping Katsura tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum pendulum, is it really more pink and amber than it was yesterday?
The brilliant yellow stars of rudbeckia and helianthus are still unapologetically vivid, their uncompromising colour demanding to be noticed, yet all around them, their fellows are gradually subsiding into a melee of amber, russet and ochre.
This is the season of harvest and branches are dripping with fruit and berries. In spring we were concerned about how the adverse weather might affect the harvest. There was torrential rain, freezing temperatures and gale force winds. Yet that was replaced by weeks of wall-to-wall sun.
By May, not only was hawthorn blossom blooming, it was also burgeoning. We’ve had several good blossom years in the last decade but none as good as this. Hedgerows up and down the country were afroth. Those same branches that bore prolific blossom are turned crimson now, laid down with berries.
One of the upsides to travelling around the country is having the opportunity to see a wealth of plants both in the wild and in gardens right through the year. It makes you focus on each seasonal change.
In May, driving up to the Malvern Spring Festival, orchards
‘Each morning as I look out of the bedroom window there are subtle changes, hardly discernible’
were awash with blossom. At the end of September we saw the fruits the blossom created at the Malvern Autumn Show. It’s always a celebratory affair, and this year the aroma of apples and pears pervaded the whole event.
Gardeners seem to be more and more aware of what a wise choice it can be to include a fruit tree within their garden. Not only are they highly ornamental, with gorgeous blossom, but they yield a bountiful harvest and often have good autumn colour, too.
At the show, in the countryside and in town and city streets, rowans have made a magnificent display this year. Sometimes the vivid orangey-red berries of our native mountain-ash Sorbus
aucuparia are stripped from the trees by hungry birds. It’s fairly early in the season but it must have been a summer of plenty as so far they’ve survived. In my friend Veronica’s garden, the dainty branches of
S. hupehensis ‘Pink Pagoda’ are adorned with generous bunches of small, deep pink berries.
Where there are berries there must have been flowers, and the umbels of dainty flowers which precede the berries of many varieties and species of sorbus are pretty enough in their own right. In S. vilmorinii they’re creamywhite with a touch of pale pink and are followed as the leaves turn crimson and red by clusters of small, pink berries.
There are a host of sorbus with pink and/or white berries, some with yellow and many with orange or red berries. Most have colourful foliage, too. Our own rowan is a match for any of the more exotic species and our native spindle,
Euonymus europaeus has much to commend it and can give a good account of itself beside its Asiatic counterparts. In the selection
E. europaeus ‘Red Cascade’, the autumn colour is brilliant and the fruits are prolifically produced. They consist of quartered fleshy capsules which open to reveal vivid orange seeds which hang down as they ripen. Both the berries and foliage of
Viburnum opulus, our native guelder rose, are in evidence now. There are several examples of it in our own native hedge.
For sheer fecundity, crab apples ‘Golden Hornet’ and ‘John Downie’ are hard to beat; they turn November into a month of colour and fruitfulness. If you want something more unusual, the berries of Clerodendrum trichotomum are positively unreal with a turquoise sheen. Now’s the time to get out and see nature’s bounty in parks, gardens, the countryside, or just walking down the street.
‘Pink Pagoda’ is a beautiful rowan with bunches of pink berries