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Down to Earth: Paint your plot in autumn's palette

Though flowers may be fading, autumn can still be a season full of colour in the garden, writes Cambridge designer Robert Barker

Robert Barker recommends plants for autumn interest (41865274)
Robert Barker recommends plants for autumn interest (41865274)

Whether you are embracing the changing of the seasons or still in denial that summer is over - some are, I see, still walking to work each day in their shorts! - we all have to face the fact that autumn is officially here.

This wonderful spectacle that nature provides can lift our spirits and help delay the dreaded winter blues and Christmas madness. Unfortunately, however, some think autumn is the signal for our gardens to slowly fall asleep and hibernate until next spring - but a well-designed garden should provide interest throughout the year.

The beauty of autumn is that colour can be introduced into our planting schemes in many different forms. Leaf, flower, stem and fruit all can provide interest in your garden at this time of year.

One of the most famous genus to provide autumn and winter interest is the dogwood (Cornus) and rightly so with its wonderfully dramatic stem colour. A favourite of mine is Cornus alba ‘Elegantissima’ with its beautiful white margined ovate leaves that make way to show deep red stems.

When designing gardens for clients I create plans using plants that will provide structure, form and texture throughout the year and these are crucial during the autumn and winter. They provide a garden with a strong foundation and can act as a foil for prettier plants. Take evergreen ferns and grasses, which can soften schemes, provide texture and movement. On mild winter days, ferns such as Dryopteris affins and semi-evergreen grasses such as Hakonechloa macra are illuminated by the low sun.

Robert Barker recommends plants for autumn interest (41865275)
Robert Barker recommends plants for autumn interest (41865275)

Another excellent garden design trick is to make sure that you are not too snap happy with your secateurs and loppers with certain plants. Certain plants, once the flowers have faded, turn a wonderful copper/rust colour and, unless we have a particularly wet winter, they remain upright. This provides wonderful interest for your garden and,when combined with green architectural structural planting, such as yew topiary, gives your garden a completely different look during the autumn and winter months.

The copper-headed faded flower of most hydrangeas, for example, offset the fiery red leaves on the trees at this time of year perfectly. On a side note, I confess that I am slightly obsessed with hydrangeas, especially the large mop headed Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ and the more textural Hydrangea quercifolia.

No matter what the weather throws at us this month, do your best to offer up some appreciation for those unsung heroes of our gardens; those background plants that have been working hard behind the scenes, patiently getting ready for their moment to shine.

See robertbarkerdesign.com for more.

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