A South American fuchsia, Himalayan indigo and the Virginian witch hazel are among the autumn-flowering joys of the shrub garden
As the season winds down and we start to think more about planting bulbs, dividing perennials and moving shrubs – the October practicalities – we may look around the garden and see colourful autumn leaves, Michaelmas daisies and not much else. But there’s colour to be had in a wide variety of late-flowering shrubs.
Hardy fuchsias are coming to the end of their long season but can be exceptionally colourful at this time of year. Because autumn growth is slow, the stems between the leaves are short and so the flowers that hang from the leaf joints are packed closely together in the shoot tips. The old favourites including Fuchsia magellanica cultivars such as ‘Riccartonii’ (scarlet and violet), ‘Sharpitor’ (white flowers, variegated leaves) and ‘Versicolor’ (scarlet and violet flowers, grey and cream variegated foliage) are the ones to look for. Hailing from southern Chile, these exotic blooms do surprisingly well in coastal situations, especially in western areas.
Look out too for the scarlet flowered, rather sage-like Colquhounia coccinea with its apple scented foliage; it’s a great autumn treat for a sheltered wall. Also enjoying a sunny wall is the Himalayan indigo, Indigofera heterantha (see photo), with purplish pink pea flowers and even though it may be cut back in hard winter it almost always regrows.
We’re finally getting round to valuing the autumn virtues of the hardy plumbago (Ceratostigma willmottianum), and in particular 'Forest Blue' (see photo) whose intense blue flowers open on low twiggy bushes as the leaves take on scarlet tints. At the same time, on the boldly evergreen Fatsia japonica, the branched heads of white flowers (see photo) are opening and attracting a variety of late flying insects. Fatsias are Japanese relatives of our common ivy - compare their flowers and their relationship becomes readily apparent.
Finally, a shrub that’s rarely grown but whose autumn scent is captivating. The American witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, has spidery yellow flowers which line the bare branches – just as the familiar winter and spring Asian species do - but which open in autumn. Look for any of the cultivars which are occasionally available, or for the straight species. You’ll be very agreeably surprised.