As seen in the wonderful garden of Radcot House, there are many plants that reach their peak in autumn, erupting into a blaze of colour. But sometimes less is more, especially in a small garden where it might simply take a single specimen tree or shrub to give the wow factor. There are hundreds of ‘good’ trees and shrubs for autumnal interest, but perhaps just a handful of outstanding ones. The following five, recommended by tree specialists Bluebell Nursery, are spectacular.
ACER PALMATUM ‘OSAKAZUKI’
Many of the Japanese maples turn brilliant hues in autumn, but ‘Osakazuki’ is one of the best. Eventually forming a small tree up to 5-6 metres tall, it has bright green leaves in spring that turn deep, vibrant crimson in autumn. It needs a sheltered spot in sun or dappled shade, and prefers an acidic soil. On neutral ground, adding sulphur chips around the base of the tree can help to acidify the soil (this also applies to Cercidiphyllum andLiquidambar).
A spectacular tree that can eventually reach 15 metres, C. japonicum has rounded, almost heart-shape leaves that are flushed pink when young before turning bright green in summer. In autumn, it puts on a brilliant firework display in red, yellow, orange and purple, and as the leaves fall, they give off a scent of caramelised sugar. Best grown in a sheltered spot in sun or dappled shade, it prefers an acidic soil, which intensifies the colour.
CORNUS KOUSA ‘MISS SATOMI’
This is often chosen for its summer colour, as it produces amazing pink bracts in June, but it is just as spectacular in autumn, when its leaves turn brilliant crimson and orange. An easy-to-please small tree, it will eventually reach about 5 metres tall, and needs an open, sunny spot and well-drained, fertile soil to be at its best.
LIQUIDAMBAR STYRACIFLUA ‘FESTIVAL’
PARROTIA PERSICA ‘FELICE’
The Persian ironwood tree is known for its beautiful autumnal tones, most turning shades of orange. But the unusual selection ‘Felicie’ is different, with darker, crimson-purple leaves that offer a contrast to other autumn colours. Eventually growing to about 10 metres, it is happy in sun or light shade in any fertile soil.