How to Get the Best Autumn Colour in Your Garden

Published on October 24th 2020
A close up of a smoke bush tree
The mellow tints and hues of autumn are spreading through gardens, woods and hedgerows as plants withdraw chlorophyll from their leaves, revealing the warmer pigments beneath.
Against this rich backdrop, late-flowering perennials display their final blooms before the first frosts and vibrant berries take on their vivid autumn colours.
Here are a few of my favourite plants with brilliant autumnal flowers, foliage and berries.

Flowers for autumn colour

Asters like A. × frikartii 'Mönch’, Symphotrichum novi-belgii ‘Jenny’ and S. ‘Little Carlow’ are producing their last hazy purple flowers in my back border alongside Salvia ‘Amistad’, Helenium ‘Waltraut’ and Dahlia ‘Happy Single Date’.
A close up of Dahlia 'happy single date'
Dahlia 'Happy Single Date'
Alongside the greenhouse, Anemone hupehensis 'Splendens’ has sent up a profusion of soft pastel pink blooms from a large container where it is planted with that other autumn favourite: the sedum.
I have always grown purple-leaved stonecrop Sedum telephium ‘Purple Emperor’ (now known as Hylotelephium telephium ‘Purple Emperor’) in containers as it tends to become leggy in the ground. From August to October, it displays a froth of pinky-white flowers above the deep plum-purple foliage.
This year I’ve added the delightful white flowers of H. spectabile ‘Stardust’ in pots and the alpine H. cauticola ‘Coca Cola’ to the green roof. Asters, stonecrops and Japanese anemones are all ideal for adding an important supply of late nectar to the borders, extending the season for pollinating insects.
H cauticola 'coca cola'
H. cauticola ‘Coca Cola’
Another attractive autumn star is the low-growing woody perennial Ceratostigma plumbaginoides or hardy plumbago. This azure beauty with its sultry red autumn foliage popped up in our side border late this summer, producing a mass of vivid blue flowers just after the fading of the Russian sage and globe thistles, almost as if I planned it. But I hadn’t – serendipity beat me to it—one of the many joys of gardening.

Plants with beautiful autumn foliage

Although I grow dogwoods for their dazzling winter stems, Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire'’ also has tawny orange foliage which remains on the shrub until well into autumn.
Someone pruning A dogwood tree
Another overlooked shrub with striking autumn foliage is the blueberry. We grow six varieties of blueberry in the fruit cage to give us a succession of berries over the summer and once their fruiting is over, I bring the pots onto the patio so the fiery red and orange leaves can create a blazing background for the last dahlias of the season.
The spectacular smoke bush comes into its own this month too. I love Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’, but my absolute favourite is Cotinus ‘Grace’. With its lustrous orange and red leaves, this smoke bush creates a fiery spectacle in the garden that epitomises the drama and beauty of the season.
A close up of cotinus coggygria
Cotinus coggygria
If flame-red foliage sets your autumn heart alight, add heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica ‘Fire Power’) to a sunny or partially shaded border. This bamboo-like evergreen shrub has pinnate foliage which gradually reddens as autumn progresses, finally taking on blazing red and purple hues that complement the glossy scarlet berries.

Plants with colourful berries

Wildlife-friendly trees and shrubs are at their best now, adorned with brightly-coloured berries that entice birds like redwings, song thrushes and fieldfares into the garden.
A small redwing bird perched on a rowan tree branch
A redwing on a Rowan branch
Hawthorn, spindle, whitebeam, guelder rose and rowan also provide food for birds through autumn and into winter.
Wall shrubs like pyracantha and cotoneaster are so easy to add to the back of borders where they will cover walls and fences with clusters of yellow, orange and red autumn berries.
Several years ago, a small flock of waxwings descended on next door’s cotoneaster one memorable morning, alining in the silver birch outside my study window in a pause from feeding to digest some of the hundreds of berries they can consume in one day!

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