As the leaves turn and fall, elderjuice gardening guru NAOMI FORD chooses her five favourite plants for autumn.
My five choices for the best autumn plants stand out because they are either great for wildlife, provide a late clamour of colour, or are just a little unusual. They would all also happily fit into an average sized garden.
1. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)
This is my first choice because it is both a pretty and colourful tree in autumn, which is also excellent for wildlife. The bright red berries, which come in early autumn and the gradual colouring of the leaves, shutting down for winter, provides a lovely and attractive splash of colour as the days shorten. The birds love the berries and waxwings feed on them when they come over in hard winters. Mice, squirrels, hedgehogs and other animals also readily eat the fallen fruit.
2. Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
Holly came in a very close second because the bright red berries together with the dark green leaves not only look colourful but remind one of the approaching Season of Goodwill, together with the warmth that goes with it. Holly is also a useful plant for wildlife as the berries provide birds with food for winter, while the foliage offers some of the smaller species a prickly refuge from predators such as sparrowhawks. There are some interesting variegated varieties of holly which are very attractive if a more unusual plant is preferred.
Most of the repeat flowering rosas will give colourful floral displays in autumn if they are dead headed in late summer/early autumn. Perhaps the most well known and longest flowering of these would be Rosa chinensis, which sometimes produces flowers into December providing both colour and scent after the summer season of abundance has past. Once the flowers have gone their red hips provide both colour, looking particularly attractive in the frost, and food for birds and mammals; wood mice being very partial to the fallen fruit.
Clematis is not often thought of as an autumn plant but there are a few species such as Clematis tangutica, with its pretty yellow flowers, that flower right through to the end of October or early November. After flowering, their attractive, fluffy seed heads are useful for birds as they use them to line nest boxes for winter roosting. It is perhaps interesting to note that more of our birds are starting to use nest boxes in the winter months for safety and warmth. Goldfinches often feed on the seed heads.
5. Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi)
I have chosen these as they add an unusual splash of colour to the garden and remind me of Halloween; indeed they make very good indoor decorations. They are an interesting addition to the back of boarders where they will attract attention from neighbours and friends.
There were many others on my short list and deserving of particular mention are acers, nerines and chrysanthemums for their splashes of bright colour, and Cotoneaster, pyracantha and elder for their value to wildlife.