Autumn foliage favourites

Posted: Monday 22 October 2012
by James Alexander-Sinclair

I have just returned from the Pacific North West. The trees were pleasingly autumnal - or I believe they were, as the rain was quite relentless.

Red acer foliage in autumn

I have just returned from a mini-tour of the Pacific North West, from Victoria in British Columbia to Spokane in Washington. I had a fine old time, giving lectures and being entertained by lots of very lovely people.

The trees were pleasingly autumnal and sharply coloured - or I believe they were, as the rain was quite relentless so I only caught glimpses of them in little windows of clear skies. Autumn colour in the Pacific North West is particularly spectacular, because the soil, such that there is on top of the rock, is acidic. This is mainly due to the area’s coniferous forests, as pine needles have a very low pH value. 

Soil is in short supply here, but gardeners often supplement it with compost (or compooost as they say in America), made from fish by-products mixed with timber leftovers. This is usually made by the local authorities rather than at home. A small compost bin full of rotting salmon heads would not go down well with the neighbours.

These are my top five shrubs and trees for autumn colour, based on what I’ve seen over the past few days:

Winged spindle, Euonymus alatus - I saw this shrub everywhere: in car parks, service stations, roadsides and parks. The foliage is livid pink, as bright as a king prawn that has somehow ingested a searchlight. Fabulous colour.

Witch hazel, Hamamelis mollis - this shrub produces red, orange or yellow flowers in very early spring, before lapsing into leathery greenness for the summer. Then, wham-bam-round-of-spam, it explodes into glorious orange in autumn.

Boston ivy, Parthenocissus tricuspidata - a climber of great beauty and exceptional vigour, Boston ivy clings to brickwork without requiring any support wires. It can quickly cover the walls of a house, which is good news if your brickwork is a bit rough or unappealing. Thereafter, it is simply a matter of trimming it to stop it coming through the window frames.

Acers - I saw a lot of beautiful acers, but unfortunately none had much in the way of labeling, so I have no idea which varieties I was looking at. Unhelpful of me, I am sorry. But there are loads of great acers. One of my favourites is Acer palmatum var. dissectum. It has the finest cut leaves of them all, and there is both a purple and a greener-leaved variety. Both can be grown in a pot, provided said pot is a decent size and is watered regularly.

Chinese dogwood, Cornus kousa var. chinensis - this is a corking plant, related in name and lineage to our shrubby dogwoods (the ones with the bright red or yellow stems) but way ahead of them in spirit. Not least because of its fabulous fruits, or drupes. A drupe is something that holds its seed inside a stone, rather than simply inside the flesh of the fruit (like a peach or a plum, rather than an apple or a pear).

If you like a spectacular autumn (or 'fall' if you want to go native), then the Pacific North West is an ideal destination. Just remember to take an umbrella.

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happymarion 23/10/2012 at 11:39

The amelanchiers here are looking super now and the liquidambers are coming on The European spindles are just about to open their pink seedheads to show their bright orange berries. Autumn colour is good this year, especially the shrubs like hydrangeas and spireas.

Lovetogarden 23/10/2012 at 12:35

Hi Happymarion.

There is a posting about Autumn colour with some lovely photos, Called appropriately Autumn Colour. I agree with you, things are looking wonderful and getting better by the day.


donutsmrs 23/10/2012 at 18:02

I really love the Autumn, such beautiful colour. I still have Fuchsias in flower and I purchased some lovely chrysanthemums from Lidl just the other day and they are looking really lovely. And you are righ lovetogarden, it does get better every day.