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When deciding on which plants to buy, the overriding factor for most people is not how good they are going to look, its how they look now that’s important. And to be fair who can blame you, especially when plant retailers are constantly barraging you with nursery fresh specimens, resplendent in seasonal (and some times non-seasonal) blooms on a week to week basis. The truth is that flowers sell plants and every nurseryman worth his salt one knows it.
However flowers are often short lived and by buying solely on face value you can be missing out on some of the ‘slower burning’ plants that have changing and often just as exciting ornamental effect occurring at differing times throughout the year. With a handful of background knowledge mixed together with a splash of forward thinking you can create some fantastic displays of seasonal colour that are as vivid and spectacular as any flower.
The key is in the seasons, and as they change our plants requirements will be changing too and no more so than in the way they make preparations for the on coming depths of winter. Watch carefully as evergreens can change before your very eyes drawing on brightly coloured pigmentation that helps to protect its foliage from cold damage. Perhaps the best examples of this are cultivars of Nandina, Cryptomeria, and Berberis - in particular the vicious, yet stunning looking julianae variety.
Don’t make the mistake of ignoring deciduous plants just because their displays are shorter lived. Not only are their colours just as vibrant, and in many cases more so, their autumn mortally can make them all the more precious. Perhaps more importantly you can find a far greater selection and range of colour. If its reds you want, you can’t be without the rich, fiery brushstrokes of the Euonymus alatus, Hydrangea quercifolia and Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’. If you are looking for something a little larger then nothing will beat the rich scarlet to almost deep purple autumn foliage of the superb Liquidambar styraciflua. For climbers choose the bold Vitis coignetiae or anything from the Parthenocissus family as all of these will give a great show, although my personal favorite is the more succulently leaved ‘Henryana’ variety.
Although rarely considered when choosing a plant for the garden, good bark effect has the ability to bring an autumn/winter garden to life. Not just from maturing trees but from what would normally be considered to be humble shrubs. Perhaps the best ranges of colour from a single species can be found within the Cornus family, especially as it includes one of the few plants to give a near black colouration - Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’. If you only have space for just the one plant then consider Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ as, rather greedily, it tries to get almost all the colours onto one plant making it one of the most spectacular choice for the winter garden. To get the most out of your Cornus cut back, almost to ground level, each year in early spring.
AUTUMN EFFECT - Flowers
Colchicum varieties - Autumn crocus
Clematis tangutica – orange peel climber
Asters - Michaelmas Daisies
Erica carnea (My favourite is ‘Myreton Ruby’)
Sarcococca – christman or sweet box
Autumn Effect – Bark
Betula youngii – snow white bark
AUTUMN EFFECT - Foliage
Euonymus europeus and elata
AUTUMN EFFECT - Berries
Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’
Ilex varieties – holly female only
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