If you have not planted it with bulbs, perennials or shrubs prized for their late season foliage or berries, the autumn garden can be a complete letdown after the excesses of summer. However, it is possible to create a head-turning spectacle, or at least adding a bit more interest, by plugging some gaps in your borders with plants.
Head to your local garden centre or nursery and you will find plenty of specimens that will quickly establish when planted in the warm, moist autumn soil. Not only will these plants light up your space for the next few weeks, but they will continue to give you a fantastic display of autumn colour for many years to come.
Many trees and shrubs are spectacular in autumn and the autumn months are the best time to buy them as you can see exactly what they look like.
Among the best for fiery foliage are graceful Japanese maples or acers. This large tribe includes Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Seiryu', whose bright green leaves change to orange-yellow with splashes of red, blazing red Acer palmatum ‘Ôsakazuki’ and Acer palmatum ‘Shindeshôjô’ – its pale green foliage turns vivid orange. Slow growing, these trees are perfect in tiny gardens and can even be grown in large containers.
Other trees to consider include Amelanchier lamarkii, for its blazing orange and red oval leaves, and Cercidiphyllum japonicum. Known as katsura tree, its glowing yellow foliage fills the garden air with a candy floss scent.
Best for berries
Berries hang pendulously from branches of trees in autumn and will continue to provide colour well into winter, so long as the birds do not take them all first. Perhaps the classiest berry bearing trees are sorbus. There are many to choose from; Sorbus hupehensis has white berries blushed with pink, while Sorbus vilmorinii produces clusters of pinkish berries. Another worth checking out is S. ‘Joseph Rock’ – its berries are a sunny yellow. All of the trees I have mentioned are ideal in a small garden and as a bonus, have gorgeous autumn foliage.
Crab apples are more exuberant than sorbus. Many of these trees have large, shiny fruit that hang in bunches like clusters of Carmen Miranda-style earrings. Malus ‘John Downie’ has orangey red fruit, Malus ‘Butterball’ has golden yellow crab apples, and Malus pumila ‘Cowichan’ is smothered with bright red fruit.
Bulbs in flower
Bulbous plants, such as nerines and schizostylis, are perfect for filling a few gaps in borders and will keep going well into November – plant in well drained soil and give them a sunny spot. Dainty cyclamen can be planted at the front of beds, in grass or under trees - many have specific requirements, but C.hederifolium is fairly easy going and simple to grow.
Find out how to grow cyclamen
Although most of us want our garden to look at its best over summer, it is worth planting a few perennials to keep the show going on for longer. Japanese anemones, Verbena bonariensis, cimicifuga, several varieties of rudbeckia and some sanguisorba are still looking good. When buying, choose plants that still have flowers to come, rather than those whose blooms are starting to fade. This way you will have plenty of colour to look forward to.