‘Cherry pick the best!’ – Garden pro shares top choice of plants for autumn foliage

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A variety of plants are propagated for their autumn foliage, but some offer more vibrant displays than others. To ensure your plants don’t fail to deliver a colourful display, a gardening expert advised on exploring a range of varieties to “cherry pick the best”.

A Parrotia persica, also known as a Persian Ironwood, is a good choice shrub for the autumn, according to Carol Adams, a garden expert, who is head of horticulture and biodiversity at Trentham Estate in Staffordshire.

During the autumn months, the leaves provide a colourful display of red, yellow and purple. 

“It’s a good deciduous shrub to use because it provides such good autumn foliage colour,” explained Carol.

The shrub can also be used to create a screen in the garden to provide privacy.

The Japanese Maple, also known as an Acer palmatum, are often propagated through grafting and are chosen for their intense colour.

“It’s a really good time to buy those and you can cherry pick the best one at the garden centre or nursery that has the best autumn foliage colour,” explained Carol. “Because you get a little variation between the parent plants.”

A variety of Witch hazel, or Hamamelis, can provide colourful foliage during the autumn and produce spider-like scented flowers in late winter.

Among the varieties, Carol suggested choosing a Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Westerstede’, a Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Pallida’, or a Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’.

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When choosing small trees to feature in a garden, Carol advised opting for varieties which have developed multiple trunks and are multi-stemmed.

“The benefit of that is it provides lots of bushy growth,” said Carol.

Crab apple trees can be grown as large shrubs or small trees. They can be planted in the corner of a garden, in a front garden, or in a container.

“The benefit of crab apples is that you’ll have the blossom in the spring time, then you’ll get good autumn foliage colour, and then berries, which in their own right are really nice to look at and the fruit will often attract wildlife into the garden,” explained Carol.

“They can be really popular with Thrushes and Black birds, and if you’re lucky maybe Fieldfares and Redwings visiting from Siberia looking for feed at this time of year.”

Crab apple trees can also be grown as a pleached hedge, which is a technique used to grow trees into a narrow screen or hedge.

A Sorbus Aria ‘Lutescens’ whitebeam, is a deciduous tree, which produces dark berries during the autumn.

“It has lovely white foliage and almost looks like magnolia when it comes into growth,” explained Carol, who advised planting the tree along the boundary in a garden.

To create an effective screen for privacy, Carol suggested planting a row of crap apple trees, hornbeam or fruit trees.

“If you wanted to grow your own fruit trees, you could grow them at height and put them on a vigorous rootstock,” she said, adding that the technique can offer an effective way of creating privacy without taking up too much space in the garden.

A Cercidiphyllum japonicum, or Katsura tree as its more commonly known, releases a strong scent which resembles the smell of candyfloss.

“It has the most amazing fragrance this time of year,” said Carol. “As it drops its leaves in their yellow state it emits a really strong smell of sugar.”

To find out more about the gardens at Trentham Estate, go to: https://trentham.co.uk/estate-gardens.

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