Image: Grant McCurdy on Unsplash

The warmth of summer may be a distant memory, but autumn can be a spectacular month – especially on those bright clear days when everything glows. It’s a joy to see autumn trees in the park or countryside but there are plenty of smaller trees and shrubs that’ll light up your own garden with fiery shades of red and gold. There are shiny hips and berries a plenty in October too. Here’s my pick.


My new favourite tree for autumn colour is Parrotia Persica (Persian ironwood) whose large leaves turn from yellow to brilliant orange and pink– followed by clusters of bright red flowers. It also has striking grey peeling bark when mature and looks particularly stylish as a multi-stem. It’s spreading and can eventually get quite big (up to 6m) so it does need space. Amelanchier lamarckii is a smaller and more easily sourced tree that is also grown as a multi- stem. As well as stunning golden orange autumn leaves, it has white spring blossom and summer berries. Similarly acers (Japanese maple) are good trees for urban gardens that turn lovely hues in October. Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’ is a neat and elegant variety with purple leaves turning scarlet in autumn. As well as fab spring blossom, Prunus (cherry trees) also tend to have amazing colour this time of year. P. ‘Pink Perfection’ is a small, spreading cherry with gorgeous pinky orange autumn foliage. Finally Sorbus ‘Joseph Rock’ (Rowan) is another fab tree with magnificent scarlet leaves and clusters of yellow autumn berries. 

Stunning shrubs

One of the best shrubs for autumn colour are Cotinus (Smoke bush). C. ‘Grace’ looks stunning when the light shines through its pinky red translucent leaves. C. Coggyria ‘Royal Purple’ is a slightly neater variety with smaller leaves. For autumn berries pyracantha are hard to beat. There are red varieties but I particularly like the orange and yellow varieties such as ‘Saphyre Jaune’, ‘Saphyre Orange’ and ‘Orange Glow’. A tough thorny shrub – it’s best trained against a wall. Or for a real wow factor, try Callicarpa ‘Profusion’ which has clusters of amazing pinky purple berries in October, stunning against the golden/purple autumn leaves. It’s also great for vases. The shiny red hips on many species roses are another way of adding stunning colour this season. Rosa glauca has lovely clusters of deep red hips that contrast beautifully with the grey foliage. Finally, although not the obvious choice for autumn colour, hydrangeas look great when the white flowers take on pink tinges from September onwards. The paniculata varieties such as ‘Limelight’ or ‘Pinky Winky’ are particularly pretty.


Finally if I were to choose one flower for autumn interest, it would be cyclamen. The delicate white and pale pink flowers look stunning carpeting bare earth under trees. C. hederifolium is a hardy autumn flowering species with beautifully marbled leaves. It needs to be planted en mass to have an impact.

This article first appeared in the October 2018 issue of SE22 magazine.