Loving Autumn

autumn leaves

Autumn Colours

If autumn colour is a wonderful feature in your part of the country, Jim Fogarty has some great design ideas to make the most of this colourful time of year.

One of the positive things to come out of the recent years of dry, hot summers is the resilience of many deciduous trees. Deciduous trees cope with shock and extreme weather conditions by dropping their leaves and going into a period of dormancy. This mechanism allows them to shed leaves, reducing the amount of water used and lost through evaporation. Deciduous trees also play an important role in shade creation and seasonal temperature control around our homes. Aesthetically, they offer brilliant autumn displays in cool climates, which can turn a bland autumn garden into a showpiece.

Views & vistas

The changes in foliage colours in autumn are a great way of drawing attention to certain areas of your garden. It might be at the end of a long path, or outside a living room window. The vibrant reds or yellows become features in your garden that stand out against the evergreen foliage.

To maximise views, autumn colour can be used to play with depth and perspective in your garden. Deep crimson autumn foliage tones can darken the backs of garden areas, which draws the focus towards the foreground of the beds, giving the illusion of deeper garden beds.

If you want to make your garden feel more personal, use golden tones at the back of beds to bring the garden in closer to you. One of the most effective areas to utilise autumn colour is down the side of your house, where seasonal colour can highlight views from many windows in your house.


A tree or shrub in glorious autumn colour will often draw you out into the garden. This helps provide interaction in a garden and is a great way to encourage visitors and children to explore and enjoy the space. Locate autumn foliage so that each feature plant or tree connects visually with the next as a way of encouraging movement through the garden. You can also use autumn colour to create a rhythm in your design, letting your eye bounce along the garden beds. This is a clever way of visually connecting different areas of your garden together.

Surprise elements

A feature deciduous plant can be discreetly located along a pathway to act as an element of surprise. A bright display of golden foliage can be a delightful discovery as you walk amongst dark green foliage or areas in shade. To achieve this, locate a feature plant where it is hidden from the main view, adjacent to a garden path where it can be enjoyed in all its glory. Weeping trees are ideal as they don’t take up much space and the foliage can drape down over the edge of a path for maximum effect.

Leafy carpets

One often forgotten attribute of autumn foliage is the carpet of leaves left on lawns, paving, decking and driveways. Autumn leaves can be a very attractive addition to any garden if they’re appreciated for what they are. Scattered along a garden path, autumn leaves are an interactive way of enjoying the seasons in a garden, especially for children, and they are an attractive way of softening hard areas of paving or concrete.

Colour beacons

On a dull, overcast autumn day, or at that moment of twilight before sunset, bright autumn foliage works brilliantly as beacons of light in your garden. Larger gardens can benefit from highlights of autumn foliage set deep into the garden to act as highlights against a drab sky. Early morning mist also forms an attractive backdrop to vibrant colour displays of foliage on cold autumn mornings.

Compost gold

Mulching is of course an important part of spring and summer gardening. Buying mulch every year can be difficult on a tight budget, so it makes sense to utilise autumn leaves for composting, or even for spreading on other parts of the garden as a mulch in the heat of summer. Autumn leaves combined with compost and a little Dynamic Lifter can be effective in retaining soil moisture on days of extreme heat.

Plant choices

As well as trees, autumn colour comes in shrubs, groundcovers and climbing plants. Deciduous climbers are perfect for small gardens or tight spaces such as down the side of your house and large shrubs can be used effectively as trees in small garden rooms and courtyards. There are so many to choose from but some of the best selections for autumn colour include:

Acer campestre (field maple)

A. ‘Crimson Sentry’

A. japonica (full moon maple or Japanese maple)

A. palmatum (Japanese maples)

A. rubrum ‘October Glory’

Betula sp. (birches)

Cercis canadensis ’Forest Pansy’

Cotinus sp. (smokebush)

Diospyros kaki (persimmon tree)

Fagus sylvatica (common beech)

Ficus carica (fruiting fig tree)

Ginkgo biloba (maidenhair tree)

Pistacia chinensis (Chinese pistachio)

Prunus sp. (Cherry tree)

Pyrus calleryana ‘Chanticleer’

Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii’ (weeping elm)