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Shrubs to bring autumn glory
7:00am Saturday 1st September 2012 in AdXtra
A look at a selection of autumn shrubs which will provide colour, structure and texture to your garden - plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.
By Hannah Stephenson
Autumn is almost upon us - and as the seasons change, rich foliage and berries become the focus of attention for many gardeners.
While ornamental grasses and the daisy-like blooms of heleniums and rudbeckias continue to provide colour, it's important to have some shrubs in your border which will provide the link between the end of summer and the beginning of autumn and beyond.
Indeed, you don't have to have a huge garden with masses of trees to enjoy a good autumn show because shrubs can provide the rich foliage contrast, fragrance and berries to create plenty of interest.
Of course, the most important thing is to make sure that you choose shrubs which will be suited to your soil and situation. Acid lovers such as rhododendrons and camellias won't thrive in alkaline soil, so stick to the shrubs you know will thrive.
If in doubt, look at neighbouring gardens to see which shrubs are thriving, which will give you some clue as to what will do well in your own garden.
Workhorse shrubs include hydrangeas, which flower in late summer offering large blooms in shades of pink and blue before the flowerheads change colour to a rich straw-coloured hue, maintaining their shape as they dry beautifully on the stem.
The dried blooms can remain on the shrub throughout autumn and winter, providing a structural focal point in the cooler months when much else has died down, and protect the emerging leaves from frost damage in the depths of winter. They don't need clipping until the following spring.
For continual interest throughout autumn and beyond, I'd plump for mopheads such as H. m. 'Madame Emile Mouillere, which has white green-tinted blooms that flower freely from the end of summer and turn pink progressively through autumn.
Hydrangeas like a semi-shaded spot and acid soil, so plant them in ericaceous compost.
One of my favourite shrubs is the castor oil palm Fatsia japonica, with its huge, deep green, tropical leaves all year round. It is among the toughest of specimens, growing in shade where nothing else will survive and it even bears greenish white flowers in the autumn, which stand out against the glassy, palmate leaves. Give it plenty of room because it grows to around 1.5m (5ft) high by 1.25m (4ft) wide.
Several autumn-flowering hebes are also worth including in the border, such as 'Autumn Glory', which at 60cm (2ft) x 60cm (2ft) is perfect for the front of the border, bearing purple flowers which withstand the elements and can flower almost up to Christmas. Hebes need a sunny spot and reasonably well-drained soil but are generally not fussy and don't need pruning.
Another autumn stalwart is the spindle bush (Euonymus alatus), a deciduous shrub known for its spectacular autumn colour, producing a crimson display of leaves. When the leaves drop, you can see corky flanges running up and down the stem which give the plant some winter interest as well.
If you want berries, of course there are many obvious candidates including cotoneaster, pyracantha and holly, but there are others, too, which will keep you in flowers, berries, scent and foliage all year.
Viburnum opulus, a compact 90cm (3ft) variety, bears white flowerheads in early summer and clusters of glassy red berries and red leaves in autumn.
Other shrubs with colourful autumn fruits include the Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion', which produces unusual purple berries, and Skimmia japonica 'Nymans', which bears bright red berries provided a male is planted next to a female for berry production.
Autumn colour shows up best with a solid dark background such as conifers and evergreen shrubs, so consider this when planning your planting.
Best of the bunch - Dahlia
They are among the boldest of flowers, their colour range varying from sizzling red and burnt orange to deep burgundy, yellows and pinks.
While not so long ago they went out of fashion, now they have come right back in, flowering freely from early summer until the first frosts.
And there are so many varieties, from dwarf specimens to giants which produce dinner plate-sized blooms, with curved or flat petals, single or double flowers, spiky or soft florets.
Varieties such as 'Bishop of Llandaff' have interesting deep bronze foliage. Dahlias are best surrounded by other plants in the border, where they can reinforce colour schemes and create focal points.
They are tuberous perennials but in warm sites most will overwinter successfully in the ground if protected with a thick straw mulch. But it's probably safer to lift the tubers in late autumn, store them in a frost-free place and then replant them in spring.
Some of the smaller types make great front of border plants and look great in pots and other containers.
Good enough to eat - Planting spring cabbage
You can have fresh cabbage all year round, but spring cabbage - also known as spring greens - plugs the gap from March to May, between the last of the winter varieties and the first of the summer ones.
Spring cabbage also occupies the ground once summer crops are harvested and grows well in containers.
Sow seeds outside in drills 2cm deep and 15cm apart, sowing thinly, aiming for a plant every 5cm or so, making sure you water the drill thoroughly beforehand.
Water frequently until the plants are established and cover with fine mesh netting to keep cabbage whites off them. Hopefully the plant will be large enough to withstand the cold when winter comes, but in particularly cold areas cover them with cloches for an earlier crop.
In February apply a light dressing of a high-nitrogen fertiliser as the plants start to grow. The spring greens should be ready to cut between March and May. Cut immature plants as 'spring greens', or leave some to produce firm heads and cut them whole. Good varieties include 'April' and 'Durham Early'.
Three ways to... Use ornaments effectively
1. Make sure that the ornament is in scale with its surroundings. One large piece may be sufficient to form a striking focal point on the patio.
2. Don't clutter the garden with too many small ornaments. A few small sculptures can be effective set unobtrusively among plants.
3. Pinpoint the area of your garden that cries out for more interest - the end of a path or a corner - and use an ornament to bring it to life.
What to do this week
:: Pick dried flowerheads and seedheads from plants including poppies, limonium and helichrysum. Hang upside down in bunches in a dry, airy room.
:: Trim back laurel hedges and cut privet, beech, hornbeam, yew, box and holly.
:: Keep celery watered and earth up trench varieties to blanch their stems.
:: Continue to harvest crops including courgettes and beans.
:: Take cuttings of shrubs including ceanothus, lavender and berberis.
:: Summer-prune damsons and gages after the fruit has been harvested, removing all fruited wood.
:: Pot up clumps of parsley, cutting off their leaves to encourage new growth for winter use.
:: Remove suckers from the roots of roses.
:: In the greenhouse, sow cyclamen seed to raise indoor flowering pot plants.
:: Continue regular mowing to keep lawns looking good and trim the edges each week.
:: Cover cherries and autumn-fruiting raspberries with nets to protect them from birds.
:: Make sure camellias are kept well watered or the flower buds they are forming now can drop prematurely.
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