25. October 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Autumn Colour explosion

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Ginkgo, Euonymus, Schlitzahorn © Isabelle Van Groeningen
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Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung – auf Deutsch lesen – Almost overnight the annual autumn show started. In the past week we have observed our surrounding landscape becoming increasingly colourful from day to day. Even along Berlins’ leafy streets, numerous oaks and acers have reached luminescent shades of orange and red, whilst butter-yellow lime tree leaves confetti litter the pavements. As part of our Wood theme this autumn, I want to write more about some of the finest trees in the spotlight right now. 

Linden Allee © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Linden tree avenue

The time and degree of colouring varies from genus to genus, species to species and from tree to tree. In addition, the season and the location will also influence the overall effect. Some trees are reliable colour explosions, some less so. Some are supposed to be but turn out a disappointment. I had planted a Parrotia persica in my parents’ garden, promising them an annual firework, but at best the tree turned a mediocre yellow, skipping the technicolour range of colours it should display.

Carpinus betulus © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Carpinus betulus

Sunshine affects the degree of colouring that reveals itself in the leaf as the green chlorophyll disappears in autumn, but genetic variance also plays a role in seed-raised plants. The four hornbeam obelisks that stand sentinel by the entrance are still deep green. One trained as espalier outside my office, is already completely yellow. Why? They have different genes, one is the normal type, the sentinels are fastigiate forms and are growing in different conditions: one is in a large pot, the others in full ground.


Reliable early colour – providers are always Euonymus and Acers and are the ones that really set the garden Academy aglow now.  As part of our Wood-theme this autumn, we have displayed several trees in the central corridor. Everything was still very green in there until a few days ago, when the Snakebark Maple, Acer davidii suddenly turned a glorious yellow. This develops into an exceptionally fine tree with very attractive new shoots in spring, reaching 10 meters.

Outside there are many Japanese maples showing the huge variation their foliage can attain. They are all particularly suited for the smaller garden, their elegant habit making them ideal trees to create a focal point. The feathery foliage of Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum‘ is just turning a gorgeous orange, whilst the leaves of Acer palmatum ‘Sangokaku’ are coral red, matching the colour of its bark. Acer palmatum Shaina’ is also matching its dark red bark, with glowing deep red leaves. A similar luminous deep red splash comes from Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’, and even darker red from Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’. But the Japanese maples are not the only ones to provide such a display. In our car park stands a large Acer platanoides. But its autumn colour is particularly fine, which makes me think it could be a particular selection that was planted by our predecessors, but unfortunately there is no label or record of what it could be. Coming down the road, its light beacon draws you in.

Judas trees

Cercis chinensis 'Avondale' © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’

I am very fond of the rounded heart-shaped leaves of the Judas trees – they somehow have a pleasing, satisfying appearance with the smooth edges and rounded, generous hearts. The Chinese Judas tree Cercis chinensis ‘Avondale’ is a compacter form which will reach about 2 meters, making it ideal for the smaller garden. It is particularly richly flowering and will do so from an early age. Cercis canadensis ‘Royal White’ requires more space. Usually widely branched, it can reach about 7 meters in height and width, making it also a good focal tree where space allows. The pure white flower clusters also appear before the leaves come. If your garden is large enough to accommodate proper, landscape-changing trees, you should grow Cercidiphyllum japonicum. This large tree with stately upright habit, not only enchants me each autumn with its almost translucent yellow leaves, its very distinctive scent, which can also be smelled in spring, always captivates me. If you find your nose following a mouth-watering smell of candy floss, you know there is one in the vicinity. A beautiful old one growing next door in the university park, has reached the end of its life-span and has been shedding its leaves very early these past few years,  but the young one in the Japanese Garden is just doing its bit at the moment and its distinctive scent greeted me as I approached my office this morning. It stands next to the beautiful Prunus yedoensis and opposite an Amelanchier lamarckii which are both glowing orange right now.

Trees – Fruit and leaf

There are several trees that provide a double act: They have good autumn colour with the added bonus of colourful fruits, making them valuable bird-trees. The crab apples may not be renowned for their great autumn colour, but thanks to the contrast with the small red apples, the effect can be eye-catching, like in Malus ‘Adirondack’. This small upright tree is especially useful for small gardens as it flowers opulently in spring. Hawthorns are similarly valuable, especially Crataegus prunifolia. Do not be put off by their black thorns, as it is a wide-crowned tree that will give you much pleasure. Its white flower display in spring is very showy, the bright red fruits in autumn highly attractive and much loved by blackbirds, and the leaves look as if they are on fire right now.

Large trees

Liquidamber styraciflua © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Liquidamber styraciflua

Most of the above described trees are suited to the smaller garden, but some of you may have space for something big, that will be a tree that will provide much pleasure for generations to come. Much to my delight, the local authorities have been planting several Liquidambar styraciflua in the street. Their upright habit makes them look slim and elegant, and it is one of the very best for autumn colour. The leaves will go from green to yellow, and then progress through the entire range of oranges and reds, to finish with deepest purples like a full-bodied delicious red wine. In addition, it is one of the trees that promises to be useful as climate tree, coping with hot, dry summers. Another tough tree is the maidenhair tree. These will develop a lush yellow autumn colour. Ginkgo biloba ‘Obelisk’ is a bushy but slender, columnar form. Another fascinating tree that has just turned yellow is Liriodendron tulipifera, whose soft orange and green tulip-shaped flowers in early summer give it its name: the tulip tree. This will make a large handsome tree, with deeply grooved bark. Its large distinctive leaves have a unique characteristic: the point is missing (apparently, the devil bit it off, as he was jealous of this simply perfect tree!)

Not everybody has the space to plant a large tree, but there are also plenty of smaller ones that may well fit in your garden. It is so important to for us to plant trees. They are beautiful, provide flower, autumn colour and much valued shade on hot summers days. They are our green lung, they absorb noise and dust, they provide habitats for so many organisms that all contribute to the large ecosystem we so heavily rely on. I may be repeating myself, I am sorry to do so, but it is just such an important issue, and now is the best time to look out and plant the next generation that will shape our landscapes.

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18. October 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Late-flowering Asters in the Foerster Garden

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Foerstergarten Oktober 2020 © Isabelle Van Groeningen
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Foerstergarten Oktober 2020 © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Foerstergarten October 2020

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzungauf Deutsch lesen – Last Sunday I went to the Foerster Garden in Bornim on the edge of Potsdam. Over the past 30 years I have visited it on numerous occasions, every visit an enjoyable one. There is always something beautiful that attracts my attention, regardless of season. During the long summer months it is continually billowing with flowers from  many of Foerster key feature plants like Delphium, Phlox and Helenium cultivars, but I particularly love visiting in autumn, as the garden is exceptionally colourful. Even in the second half of October, there are still numerous perennials only just starting to flower. These late perennials, combined with grasses and some good dried flower structures, set against a glowing backdrop of autumn colour, can almost make it look kitschy at times.

Colour in the Autumn Garden

Some years ago, the autumn garden was re-instated. A garden area which had become a parking area, was put back to its original purpose: A garden dedicated to late colour. Amongst large Miscanthus stand bold groups of asters and Chrysanthemums such as the pale-yellow Chrysanthemum ‘Poesie’ that provides a fresh complement to the blues of the asters. other late stars find their place here too. Leucanthemella serotina is a delightful autumn-flowering tall daisy, with clean white petals, and sunny yellow center. Think about where you plant these, as the flowers turn their faces to the sun, though backlit they can be equally beautiful. In the nearby rockgarden there is a similar fresh white daisy, but this one growing to 35cm, instead of reaching 1,80m, Arctanthemum arcticum. There is also a pale, softest pink form A. arcticum ‘Roseum’. Both are perfect autumnal front-of border plants, or for a rockery.  In the shadier areas of the Autumn Garden the Anemones add a clear, clean touch, fronted by the intense blue Ceratostigma plumbaginoides and bold Bergenia which are used to support the lanky necks of autumn Crocusses.

Senk Garten Leucanthemella serotina © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Senkgarten Leucanthemella serotina

Massed planting in the Sunken Garden

I must admit to always having had my reservations about the way many perennials are massed together in the sunken garden. Several cultivars of one genus will be planted together, to create a large bold mass of flowers. Particularly the plants of which Karl Foerster selected numerous cultivars are massed like this. My worry is that it then leaves holes in the border at certain times of year, though here that has never bothered me. On the contrary, this time I loved a bright, bold bank of different asters, supplemented with some very showy dahlia and  pinkish-red Chrysanhemum indicum ‘cinderella’, that really drew the eye and created a warm, happy feeling at the sight of so much cheer!

Astern-Gruppe © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Group of Asters

Which Asters are flowering in the second half of October?

Several Dumosus-Asters are reaching their peak. These are mostly hybrids related to the novi-belgii group of asters:

  • ‘Apollo’ flowers white, fading to soft violet-pink, reaches 40 cm, and is a vigorous healthy cultivar
  • ‘Herbstgruß von Breserhof’ bares lilac-pink flowers, 40cm, floriferous and healthy
  • ‘Zwergenhimmel’ can reach up to 50 cm, pale violet blue, with numerous flowers, and is also strong and healthy
  • ‘Mittelmeer’ is a delightful soft violet-blue, which creates a fresh and bright effect, thanks to its numerous flowers. It has proved to be not quite as healthy as the previous three cultivars, in the 2005 trial conducted by the German Perennial Plant Trials Staudensichtung.
  • ‘Starlight’ proved only moderately healthy in the trials, but produces good-coloured purple flowers.

Amongst the taller asters, suited to a position in the second or third row are some good colours.

Two personal favourites are Aster novi-belgii ‘Le Vasterival’ and Aster laevis ‘Anneke van der Jeugd’. They have similar airy characters, with fresh-coloured flowers. Both share the bad habit of producing extensive runners. This can be stopped by giving them a root barrier. The problem can be a blessing in gardens where voles are problematic. The survival chances of plants with such invasive rootsystems are much higher.

Another novi-belgii aster that caught my eye is ‘Schöne von Dietlikon’. As it comes into flower, the yellow centre changes to a warm orange red colour, that creates an attractive contrast with the purple petals.

A few novi-angliae cultivars bring good colour contrast in the predominantly mauves, purples and blues of the autumn asters.

  • Aster novi-angliae ‘Herbstschnee’. A floriferous mass of pure white flowers making it a useful brightening plant
  • Aster novi-angliae ‘Rosa Sieger’ has a delicate almost salmon pink colour that also adds great fresh-ness at a time of year borders can quickly look tired
  •  Aster novi-angliae ‘Andeken an Alma Pötschke‘ has long been one of my absolute favourites, as I am so grateful for its punchy bright flowers.

In total contrast to the above, there is a small, low-growing Aster that is perfect for tumbling down the edges of a wall or over the rim of a pot: Aster pansus ‘Snow Flurry’. It has tiny starry white flowers and a very neat compact habit.

Aster pansus 'Snowflurry' © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Aster pansus ‘Snowflurry’

Your garden should not be dull at this time of year! Go out and visit a garden or nursery, and find yourself some heart-warming colour!

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10. October 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Biodiversity at Great Dixter

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Great Dixter Eingang © Isabelle Van Groeningen
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Great Dixter Eingang © Isabelle Van Groeningen

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzungauf Deutsch lesen – The travel restrictions may make life difficult for many and be frustrating at times, but there has been a positive outcome: many lectures have been taking place on the internet instead of in front of a live audience. Not only can more people participate, many of these events can be viewed at a later date. One of these gems are a series of fascinating lectures about Great Dixter given by Fergus Garrett.

Fergus came to Great Dixter in 1992 as head gardener to Christopher Lloyd. Although Fergus became Chief Executive of the Great Dixter Charitable Trust after Christo’s death in 2006, he remains very much of a hands-on practical person.

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04. October 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Autumn is the perfect time to plant: Container-grown or field-grown plants?

Categories: About gardening, Autumn, english, Seasons | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Herbstliches Topfdisplay © Isabelle Van Groeningen
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Herbstliches Topfdisplay © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Autumn container display

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzungauf Deutsch lesen – I promised to write more about planting as there is much more to it than just digging a hole and sticking a plant in. Young plants are like small children: they are much more likely to thrive and develop into strong adults, if you give them the appropriate care at the start of their lives. It also involves so many decisions. Not only which plant to choose, but what size, and as a container-grown or a field-grown plant? 

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28. September 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Naturalising Bulbs

Categories: About gardening, Autumn, english, News, Seasons, the garden academie | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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Crocus tommasinianus verwildert unten Viburnum

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung auf Deutsch lesen – This week saw the start of autumn: the halfway point to the shortest day of the year. The summer weather has really held until this point, but the forecast for the weekend shows it is well and truly over. Much cooler day-time temperatures, much needed rain and chilly nights. I must admit I am now ready for this cosier time of year, where one can stay indoors without having a bad conscience. Time to catch up with all the indoor tasks that have been put aside, waiting for a rainy day.

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20. September 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Autumn = Planting time of trees

Categories: About gardening, Autumn, english, English Blog, Seasons | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Pflanzzeit Bäume - Liquidambar styraciflua © Isabelle Van Groeningen
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Pflanzzeit Bäume - Liquidambar styraciflua © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Planting time of trees – Liquidambar styraciflua

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzungauf Deutsch lesen – “Wood” is our theme this autumn at the Garden Academy, and follows on from the summer dedicated to the Rose. We have chosen this subject to highlight the importance of woodlands and the valuable role trees play in our lives. At a time where precious woodland habitats are increasingly threatened and trees struggle with drought, heat and various pest and disease problems, it is high time we take a new approach to these vital plants, without which mankind would not survive.

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12. September 2020 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Wonderfully scented Hyacinths

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Hyacinth 'Delft Blue' trio © Isabelle Van Groeningen
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Hyacinth 'Delft Blue' trio © Isabelle Van Groeningen
Hyacinths ‘Delft Blue’ trio

Flagge Deutschland für deutsche Übersetzung – auf Deutsch lesen – Scent in the garden is one of life’s great pleasures. Often it catches you completely by surprise. Walking through a garden you suddenly stop and start sniffing about, as your nose has hit a cloud of delicious intriguing perfume. I have watched people stop, walk back and snuffle about, nose up in the air, until they have identified the source of this unexpected delight. Many of the early-flowering plants produce powerful clouds of scent that help to attract early foraging insects like bumble bees.

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