RHS Garden Wisley's plant of the month for October

The mountain witch alder is floral and fragrant in spring, and a bright and beautiful delight in autumn

Fothergilla major Monticola GroupSome plants are good for a short but spectacular season. Other plants are worth their place in the garden because they offer a double whammy. Fothergilla major Monticola Group (the mountain witch alder) is one of those plants. It bears fluffy white, bottle-brush flowers in May that have a lovely fragrance to boot, and now, in the autumn, it stands out like a beacon with its beautiful colours.
 
You might think the leaves look familiar. Why? Perhaps because they are reminiscent of its cousin, the witch hazel Hamamelis. In fact, a number of the shrubs and trees in this family are well known for their delightful displays at the end of the season when their foliage takes on the hues of yellow, orange and red (and spidery, fragrant flowers, of course, at other times of the year).
 
So why is Fothergilla major Monticola Group so special? Just look at the colour of its leaves!
 
Fothergilla is from the swampy, woodland areas of the south-eastern USA, and finds the conditions of the Wild Garden at Wisley very much to its liking. It has thrived here for a couple of decades and is a beautiful round shrub, about 2m (6½ ft) high. It nestles alongside hostas and Gunnera, under oak trees and magnolias. But it grows elsewhere at RHS Garden Wisley too, in more open and less damp areas. If you fancy a go, you can find them for sale in the Plant Centre – you won’t miss it, not at this time of year, not with those leaves!

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