The Plant List: Japanese Maples / Other Shrubs and Trees

Autumn foliage brings out the poet in most of us. Who can resist the amazing colours that appear once the days start to wane and nighttime temperatures chill out. The magic happens as leaves stop synthesizing chlorophyll and start revealing all their glorious and extraordinary underlying colours. It is a new though elegiac moment in the garden.

But plants with blazing colours look inarticulate and uncomfortable when they are jammed into the garden willy-nilly. Autumn foliage should be in combinations that move gracefully from the deepest reds to the most intense golds. To get the best out of autumn colours, there are a few cautions to observe along the way.

This is a great time of year to buy plants so you can observe what the leaf colour will actually be like. When the tag says red, is it a red with blue over-tones or yellow? Will it go with the bricks of your house? Some reds look awful up against the ubiquitous red brick of Canadian architecture. You need gold colours, even neon tones to stand out against the more prosaic tones of the brick. But any house with wood details or possessing a neutral stone can take just about any bright colour combination.

It?s always a good idea to buy small plants, especially trees and shrubs, so they have time to acclimatize. But if you are thinking mainly of extraordinary autumn colours this should become a major rule.? You?ll be able to see them turn and then move them around avoiding any glaring clashes that offend your eye. Moving a great big tree because it doesn?t quite sit well with the thing next to it is folly. The great big tree is going to suffer. When they are small you can move them around as easily as big perennials.

Think about combining the tonal values the way you do when painting walls: bright orange lends itself to being next to a red with lots of yellow in it, or even better purple foliage. I like to mix in purple-black foliage plants with brighter deciduous trees and shrubs it not only leavens some of the eye popping quality, it usually improves the look by being such a contrast.? Ninebark (Physocarpus ?Diabolo?) with deep almost magenta purple leaves is a perfect foil for most larger trees and shrubs in just about every tonal value. The pure black of an elder called Sambucus ?Black Lace? will look superb with any of the plants listed here.

Look for good autumn leaf colour when you are buying woody plants this time of year, and make sure you have lots of plants and vines with berries to keep the birds coming back into your garden all winter long.

The Plant List

These are trees and shrubs for autumn which are absolutely guaranteed to dazzle.? Most flaming colours last less than two weeks but what a glorious show.

  • Japanese Maples: These small trees have a variety of leaf shape and autumn colour and this list is confined to my favourites.
    • Acer palmatum ?Sango-kaku?: the pink of spring, light green of summer give way to one of the best golds known in autumn.? Make sure the plant goes into winter well watered and deeply mulched. In some areas it should wrapped.
    • A. p.? ?Scolopendrifolium?:?? deeply cut leaves medium size with an umbrella shape. Turns bright yellow.
    • Acer palmatum ?Dissectum Atropurpureum? turns slowly from a purple to an almost orange really be careful with this spectacular plant because it doesn?t go with all the autumnal tones.
    • A. shirasawamun ?Aureum? The gold of the leaves becomes more intense and then it slowly turns red.
    • A. p. ?Shinedoshojo? has firmer larger leaves than most other Japanese maples and it doesn?t wimp out in the heat of summer, the red is a scarlet (touch of blue) and it?s gorgeous.
    • A. p. ?Evergreen? Another good cut-leaf Japanese maple which turns a pure gold.
  • Other shrubs and trees:
    • Fothergilla gardenii: a small (less than 2M) shrub with serrated edged triangular leaves.? It turns such an astounding range of neon tones in autumn that should be be placed very carefully.
    • Cornus nuttallii is BC?s native plant and no wonder it produces masses of spring flowers and turns a brilliant gold. Very showy.
    • Aronia x prunifolia ?Brilliantissima? a surprisingly underused beauty.? The leaves turn a glossy scarlet with big pinkish berries.
    • Barberry (Berberis thunbergii ?Aurea?) turns brilliant red in autumn so you get a lot of colour out of one plant.? B. t. ?Golden Ring? not only turns red it also has red berries.
    • Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) has deeply cut large green leaves that turn almost magenta in autumn and hang on well in to winter.
    • Cotinus coggygria ?Little Lady? turns yellow and orange.
    • Katsura (Cercidiphyllum magnificum) has heart-shaped leaves which turn a glorious gold. Since it?s a small tree (10M) it makes a great vase-shaped screening plant.
    • Disanthus cercidifolius has bluish leaves that turn a true purple in the autumn with a tiny flower that?s almost a rose-red in mid autumn.? This is one of the most interesting shrubs available for the garden right now.