Below are our 12 favourite plants from the garden in late October 2016. Many will already have been in flower/leaf interest for a short period, and, of course, overlap with the previous fortnight’s favourites. It’s increasingly a time when flowering plants are few and far between, and highly valued. Plus any autumnal leaf colour begins to hit its peak.
1: Sorbus dodong “Olympic Flame”. A vigorous grafted form of Sorbus, with a habit not dissimilar to S. sargentiana. Upright and columnar with swept up branches. It has attractive mid green leaves. As yet no fruit on our 2 trees, but it’s in late October when it reliably colours up. In 2016, it has been its’ best year to date, and the lack of strong winds and rain has meant that the leaves have persisted well – in a more usual autumn, the leaves don’t stay on the tree for very long.
2: Acer japonicum “Aconitifolium.” A very reliable star performing Acer, in our copse. Many of our Acers are slow growing, naturally restricted by being placed beneath mature European larch trees, which suck out moisture during the summer months. Every year it is the first Acer to colour up, and consistently has the most reliable deep red/purple leaf colouration. The new growth is very attractive on emergence as well, and it reliably produces seeds, though I’ve yet to be able to germinate any successfully.
3: Saxifrage fortunei rubrifolium. A late flowering Japanese origin Saxifrage, which would make it into our top dozen plants for the whole year. Quite late into leaf in spring, the large bronze coloured leaves have a deep red underside. Very easy to split and divide, it enjoys our wet conditions and high humidity thriving both in nearly full sun, and better in quite dense shade. By the beginning of October the first flower shoots are obvious, and by the end of the month, as the Acers start to show autumnal leaf colour change, it is at its peak. Planted where it can capture late afternoon slanting sunlight, it is a star, in big drifts. It even attracts many late season insects, including honeybees in significant numbers for the first time in 2016, which visit for the bright red pollen.
4: Acer palmatum “Dissectum”. Another grafted, named Acer which delights throughout the year with deep green, finely divided leaves. Slow growing, it forms a tumbling dense mass of foliage. A few days after A. “Aconitifolium” begins to change leaf colour, it reliably begins to turn the most fabulous orange/yellow. The change never lasts long, as the leaves quickly shrivel, but it is a highlight of late October in the garden.
5: Miscanthus sinensis “Red Feathers” This is another Miscanthus clone close to M. s “Silver Tips”, but with a slightly later flowering time, and plumes that maintain their deep red colour. Foliage starts to turn colour, into yellows, heading into November.
6: Hamamelis “Robert” One of our most recently acquired Hamamelis, ( perhaps 3 years ago?) it has lovely large orange coloured flowers over the winter months – maybe December to February, though this varies with each year. But it also develops wonderful reliable yellow/orange foliage tints in autumn, whereas many of our other Hamamelis simply turn yellow, before leaf drop.
7: Euonymus europaeus “Red Cascade”. We have a few forms of Euonymus around the garden, and it is in late October that this one reliably colours up, in shades of red. In addition on an older shrub or smaller tree, there is the bonus of the striking fruits – bright pink which split to show the bright orange seed covering membrane.
8: Zelkova sinica/carpinifolia. Over 20 years ago, I discovered a wonderful place ( pre internet !) which sold pre-germinated tree seeds. It is no longer in existence – the owner emigrated to New Zealand. It carried a huge range, and for some tiny amount of money, early in the New Year, a succession of small cardboard boxes arrived at our veterinary clinic in Bristol. The first time I was racking my brain as to a wedding we knew of – it looked like a sample of wedding cake, so small was the box. Inside, amongst damp peat in a minigrip sealed bag, were seed stratified and at the point of germination. Potted on, I eventually had large numbers of tiny trees to plant out down here. Many failed because of poor protection early on, but it’s very satisfying to now have a tree like this growing, from one of those packets’ contents. But I’m not sure what species it is – we have many Z. serrata, from the same source, but this is the only tree with this form. It has a much tighter form, with smaller leaves and always reliably colours up to butter yellow in late October.
9: Hydrangea macrophylla pale blue form. Another medium sized Hydrangea where we have lost the cultivar name. It flowers reliably with masses of heads of palest cream blue flowers, which intensify in colour through late summer, before taking on faintly turquoise tints as the flowers fade. Sometimes these even later turn to purples. All lovely, but it’s star turn is in autumn, when quite reliably the leaves often take on purplish tints, as the flower heads dry and change to pale brown. Such leaves often exist beside bright green, and pale yellow, on the same plant, which makes for a stunning effect.
10: Crocus speciosus “Conqueror” I hesitated to include this late flowering Crocus, but it really is a lovely thing. Planted for the first time 2 years ago, like many bulbs, only a proportion survived into the second year. However unlike many bulbs cultivated in the hyped up conditions of the Dutch bulb fields, it seems to grow even bigger in year 2 or 3 than initially, as well as seeding around. So I shall persevere, and maybe plant more. But do read this brilliant article on it, on the excellent Paghat website. Click here. The problem is that the several inches long pedicel (flower tube) needs support from surrounding ground cover, or they flop over too easily in wind or rain. The perfect accompanying plant is a bit tricky to find!
11: Liquidamber Styraciflua “Lane Roberts” . Probably the best tree for autumn colour in the garden (Liquidamber), because of the range of leaf colours found on the tree at any one time, together with the length of the leaf colour display. Whilst many spectacular Acers, and ” Olympic Flame” above have more vibrant leaf colour, the display rarely last for more than a fortnight, before the leaves drop off, or shrivel. With “Lane Ronberts“, (on the left below) the whole process can last for many weeks, with colours intensifying to deep clarets…
12. Cotoneaster dammeri This low growing creeping Cotoneaster was planted behind our long house on a recently dug out shale bank (nearly 20 years ago!). It has gradually spread, and now covers much of this 30 yard long area, co existing with native “Fox and Cubs”, and Geranium procurrens. It has tiny flowers which are loved by many bees and flies in June/July, but it’s now when the glossy green leaves take on autumnal tints, and the long lasting red berries are prominent that it’s a star performer – as well as very successfully stabilising the friable, steep bank as it runs over it, rooting at regular points.
Thanks for reading.