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September 2012

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Peeling bark, white rowan, purple berries and autumn cyclamen

One of the outstanding autumn trees, Acer griseum grows to less than ten metres high. Its beautiful peeling bark is a feature all the year round and in autumn, during September to October, it comes into its best with a fiery display when the leaves turn to orange and red. It is the best tree in my garden for autumn colour. The tree is versatile growing well in heavy limy soils in full sun or semi-shade. It has small three-part leaves which do not cast a heavy shade, allowing good scope for under-planting for autumn or spring effects, and it copes well in dry conditions, an added bonus.

Note Book  

 The Himalayan rowan, Sorbus vilmorinii is another excellent small tree, slow growing to just four metres high, eventually forming a pleasing specimen of open habit. It has fern-like foliage and, in autumn, produces masses of fine pink and white berries that last well into November - usually avoided by birds - and is accompanied by good leaf colour. This tree must be placed in moist, cooler, dappled or semi-shaded conditions as it dislikes arid dry conditions. Both of these trees can be planted in isolated positions to good effect. 

All gardens, no matter how small, can accommodate the small deciduous shrub Callicarpa bodiniari. Sometimes called beauty berry, it grows only to two metres high and is quite compact. Planted in an open sunny position, it produces a vivid display of lilac-purple or violet berries in September and October and is accompanied by good contrasting autumn leaf colour. As the fruits of most autumn berried shrubs are yellow, orange, crimson, scarlet or white, the callicarpas are all the more striking with their very unique colour. I have seven of these plants growing in close proximity and contrasting well with background red berries of cotoneasters.

 Plant under deciduous trees or shrubs a great display of autumn cyclamen. Corms should be planted in plenty of leaf mould. I have large areas devoted to these cyclamen and they provide a great floral display from mid-August to November and thereafter provide lovely ground cover right through the winter period. These are contrasted with the male fern which thrives in similar conditions and provide essential interest when the cyclamens are dormant during the summer months.

 I make sure to spread garden lime on these areas annually for its beneficial effects on soil structure and disease control. Other plants for good autumn display include the autumn gentian, Gentiana asclepiadea, and autumn crocus for moist, dappled shade conditions. The shades of blue provide a lovely complement to the pink and white cyclamens. Selinium tenuiflolium is a very refined cow parsley with filigree foliage, very hardy, tolerating semi-shade and producing panicles of white flowers in the autumn.

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