Disanthus cercidifolius AGM provides some of the best autumn colour in the garden, brightening up gloomy corners with fiery tints of red, gold and orange.
The heart shaped leaves of this lovely shrub start to colour in late September when they turn to a deep burgundy followed by coppery gold, orange and red making the whole plant glow in the autumn sunshine. Resembling starfish, the rather unusual maroon coloured flowers appear as the foliage drops.
We have a lovely specimen in the Stone Garden and another in Lock’s Trail where they flourish in well drained, fertile, acid soil. Disanthus is perfectly hardy when dormant, but if your area is susceptible to severe late spring frosts, it will need protection to avoid damage to the young leaves.
In the Stone Garden, the deep purple of Acer palmatum and of Astelia nervosa 'Alpine Ruby' harmonise with the early autumn colours of the Disanthus. Red, yellow and orange foliage will provide a stunning combination; try growing dogwoods, witch hazels, spindles or sweet gums nearby. In the Stone Garden, we have the overhanging orange foliage of the cherries, Prunus 'Kursar' and red-orange Prunus 'Tai-haku' AGM.
Blue flowers look particularly good with the autumn foliage of Disanthus; in the Stone Garden we have planted Gentiana makinoi 'Royal Blue' and on Lock’s Trail, the violet blue flower spikes of Liriope muscari 'Big Blue' enjoy the shady conditions. Here it is also under-planted with toad lilies and the grey green heart-shaped leaves of Brunnera which mimic the shape of the Disanthus leaves and provides a contrast in colour. You could also try the aster, Symphyotrichum lateriflorum var. horizontalis AGM with pink-brown disc-florets which harmonise with the Disanthus.
If you can provide lime-free soil and shelter from late spring frosts, the bright green summer foliage and the vibrant autumn colours of Disanthus cercidifolius will brighten up any shady corner in your garden.
Read Stephen Lacey's article on creating autumn colour
Reasons for poor autumn colour