For some, autumn marks the end of the gloriously warm summer months and an interlude into the cold depths of winter. But for many, autumn is also considered one of our most stunning seasons, offering the gift of crisp, bright mornings and vibrantly rich golden tones.
Clare Foggett, Editor of The English Garden magazine, describes why she finds autumn so inspirational and shares some of her favourite autumn plants and public gardens to visit at this time of year.
Clare Foggett is currently Editor of The English Garden, an inspirational monthly magazine that invites readers to admire some of the nation’s most beautiful classical and contemporary gardens through captivating stories and stunning photography. Available in both the UK and the USA, the magazine is a trusted source of inspiration on how to both design and maintain the perfect garden.
With 15 years’ experience in gardening magazines, Clare started her career as a trainee horticultural journalist at the Royal Horticultural Society’s members’ magazine ‘The Garden’. She has edited Garden News, Britain’s best-selling weekly gardening magazine and written for Garden Answers, Landscape and Yours magazines, as well as broadcasting weekly on Northern Ireland radio station Downtown.
Clare is a keen gardener and trained in horticulture at Pershore College. She has a passion for plants and beautiful gardens and is a former Chairman of the Garden Media Guild.
Too many gardeners watch autumn approach feeling sad that summer is over and dreading the winter ahead, but I’ve always found autumn to be the most optimistic time of the gardening year. It’s a time for planning ahead and looking to the future because it’s the best time of year to put new plants in.
Newly planted perennials and shrubs readily establish in soil that’s still warm from summer and moistened by autumn rain. Spring-flowering bulbs can’t wait to get in the ground and start the slow process that turns them from dormant, papery bulbs into flamboyant stars of spring. And it’s a lovely time of year to be outside, planting and taking stock of the garden: not hot and dusty like summer, but still pleasantly warm, with rich colours and evocative scents enhancing the autumnal atmosphere.
You need only visit a garden renowned for its autumn colour to see just how vivid and vibrant this season can be. Ramster Garden, in Surrey, is a tranquil woodland garden that was laid out in the late 19th century and has been cared for by generations of the same family since. Startling flame-coloured foliage, mainly of acers like scarlet Acer palmatum ‘Ōsakazuki’, stand out in glades of oak woodland. There are beautiful sculptures too, providing inspiration for placing sculpture in your own garden – nothing helps a piece look like it’s been part of the garden forever than a carpet of colourful fallen leaves around its base. Ramster is open to visitors and because it’s normally quiet, there’s no need to pre-book: www.ramsterevents.com
In North Yorkshire, the 100-acre arboretum at Thorp Perrow contains 51 champion trees, and enough autumn colour from its vast collection of trees and shrubs to satisfy anybody. Take it all in on a gentle stroll along grassy avenues past lakes and monuments. The arboretum is open and tickets don’t need to be pre-booked: www.thorpperrow.com
Grasses may not be as colourful as the autumn foliage of trees, but their shimmering flower heads and shades of bronze, straw and amber mean that many are at their best in autumn. Also in North Yorkshire is Scampston, home to one of Piet Oudolf’s earliest designs in this country. Drifts of ornamental grasses play on their best qualities, while naturalised late-flowering perennials continue to look good as autumn progresses. Scampston’s gardens are open for visitors and advance booking isn’t required: www.scampston.co.uk
In fact, there is a wealth of perennials that happily bloom throughout autumn, so the season needn’t be short of flowers either. Well-planted gardens like Great Dixter in East Sussex, Great Comp in Kent and The Picton Garden in Malvern, Worcestershire can all offer plenty of inspiration for floriferous late colour, but one of my favourites to visit is Coton Manor in Northamptonshire. The winner of The English Garden’s recent Nation’s Favourite Gardens competition, held in conjunction with the National Garden Scheme, it’s a masterclass in how to get borders to look good for longer. Owner Susie Pasley-Tyler coordinates a seamless flowering display in her colour-themed borders that starts in spring and continues well into autumn when asters, salvias, dahlias and aconitum shine. The garden is open with no need to pre-book: www.cotonmanor.co.uk
If you can’t make it to a garden to find autumn inspiration, here are some of my favourite plants for the season. If you’ve room, the katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) is beautiful year-round but it’s in autumn that it attracts the most attention. As its rounded leaves turn beautiful shades of pink, coral and gold before falling, they also develop the most wonderful scent of candy floss or burnt sugar. It’s a medium sized tree, reaching about 12m tall.
Rosa glauca is a beautiful species rose that has purple-flushed blue-green foliage and dainty pink single flowers in summer, with arching stems that give it a wild, natural look. It’s lovely at the back of a border, or in meadow grass. In autumn, it bears masses of orange-red hips. For berries, Cotoneaster horizontalis is hard to beat. Defy its name by growing it vertically against a wall to show off the herringbone pattern of its branches, or let it grow horizontally as a ground-covering shrub. Small white flowers that draw bees from miles around are replaced by masses of scarlet berries in autumn, which are loved by birds.
If snowdrops are the harbingers of spring, tiny Cyclamen hederifolium is the harbinger of autumn, when its butterfly-like pink-purple flowers appear just above the ground, soon followed by its silvery marbled leaves. There’s plenty of choice when it comes to autumn flowering perennials – dahlias, asters, rudbeckia and Japanese anemones are all good, reliable choices – but also seek out less well-known Actaea simplex (it used to be called Cimifuga simplex). Mounds of purple-bronze foliage are topped by elegant, slender spikes of pinkish white flowers that have a sweet honey-like scent.
For more garden inspiration, why not visit the Haddonstone Show Gardens?
Set in the beautiful rolling Northamptonshire countryside, these stunning Show Gardens feature a wide range of home, garden, landscape and architectural products.
Appointments are necessary and their friendly team will be happy to show you around.
Whether you’re working on a private residential or large commercial project, or if you are interested in home and garden products, our friendly and expert team are happy to discuss your requirements.