Fiery foliage late in the year
Words: Graham Rice
Shrubs that bring fiery tones to September and October gardens are especially valuable. Sometimes their autumn colour may be their main, or perhaps their only feature. Often it follows a floral display earlier in the season. But with our increasing appreciation of late season flowers, a choice of autumn colouring shrubs which can be planted with them to add solidity and substance as well as provide fiery colour will help create lively plant associations.
Acer palmatum 'Ōsakazuki'
A favourite Japanese maple both for its elegant habit and its large, deeply cut fresh green leaves – but in particular for its stunning autumn colour moving through pink to orange to brilliant red and all backed by dark, almost black branches. Happiest in a sheltered position in humus-rich, neutral or lime-free soil. Allow a good view, do not crowd with other plants. 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft); eventually 6m (20ft)
Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Ballerina'
Combining colourful new shoots, prolific flowers and bright autumn colour, ‘Ballerina’ is also valued for its resistance to fireblight disease. In spring, the new shoots are heavily bronzed and then large, pure white flowers are carried in great quantities in April and are followed by fruits which mature from red to black. Finally, the foliage develops red, orange and yellow tones. Ideal in the back of the border. 3-5m (10-16ft)
A vigorous and bushy shrub for the back of the border, the new growth is tinted in reddish copper maturing to fresh green. In summer, large purplish pink heads of flowers cover the plant, like clouds of pink smoke. In autumn the orange and red leaf colour is stunning. Happy in full sun or in a little shade with any reasonably fertile, moist but not waterlogged soil. 1.2-6m (6-20ft)
The spectacular crimson and wine red autumn colour of this modestly sized shrub is preceded by attractive bluish green foliage from spring onwards. Its close relationship to witch hazel (Hamamelis) is clear when the slightly scented, spidery reddish flowers open along the branches in October. Happiest in full sun or partial shade, acid soil is essential and humus-rich conditions are advisable. 2.4-3m (8-10ft)
In May and June this rather upright shrub is covered in clusters of small dainty bells varying in colour from cream with pink veins to dark red. Then, in autumn, the otherwise unremarkable dull green leaves first turn yellow then orange and then finally bright red. Needs an acid, humus-rich soil in sun or partial shade. No need to prune. 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft)
A pleasing, relatively slow- growing, green-leaved shrub with interesting winged stems for much of the year, in autumn the plant comes to life. There are small, reddish purple fruits all along the branches but at more or less the same time the whole plant turns an extraordinarily vivid pinkish crimson. Tough and adaptable, and happy in most soils in sun or partial shade. 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft)
Fothergilla major Monticola Group
A relatively slow-growing, slightly upright shrub with white, scented, bottlebrush-style flowers in spring as the glossy foliage is opening. In autumn, the whole plant combines scarlet, orange and yellow in a brilliant blend of fiery colour. Flowering and foliage colour is best in full sun but the plant is also happy in partial shade. Another plant which insists on acid, humus-rich soil. 1.5-1.8m (5-6ft)
Hamamelis × intermedia 'Arnold Promise'
A star of the witch hazels, this rather upright, vase-shaped shrub features a profuse display of sweet and strongly scented lemon yellow flowers in February and March followed in the autumn by turning foliage in yellow, orange and red. A superb specimen shrub, for fertile moist but not waterlogged soil in sun or partial shade. Prefers acid conditions, but will take lime in deep humus-rich soil. 1.6-2.4m (6-8ft)
This large and spreading shrub/ tree features broadly-spreading branches which in early spring are lined with clusters of red flowers. Then in autumn the large and glossy leaves turn yellow and gold and red, often with purplish tints. The bark of older specimens peels in greyish tones. Best in deep and fertile soil, with the best autumn colour in lime-free conditions. 3-3.6m (10-12ft)
A dramatic shrub whose bold branching and suckering habit makes a striking winter sight, then the large divided leaves, up to 60cm (2ft) long, have impact all summer. In autumn the leaves turn fiery orange and red and female plants have clusters of red fruit all winter. May spread a little over-enthusiastically. The more compact ‘Laciniata’ has more finely cut foliage. Happy in full sun and any reasonable soil. 3.6-4.5m (12-15ft)