08. November 2019 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Late Autumn Colour

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Cotinus coggygria 'Golden Spirit' © Isabelle van Groeningen

Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’

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The gardening season is striding into its final phase. Even those trees which until a few days ago were still pretending the season is not over yet, are now succumbing and start donning their colourful autumn coats. Even Berlin’s most resilient street tree Populus simonii is starting to show a few yellowish leaves. This lovely tree develops a gently weeping habit as it matures and is always the first one to come into leaf and the last one to drop its green coat. These valuable characteristics I appreciated greatly in our old flat, as it screened me from prying neighbour’s eyes for a big part of the year and kept the relentless summer sun from the windows.

Smokebush – Cotinus

Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple' © Isabelle van Groeningen

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’

By now there are some really spectacular plants whose bright colours lighten up the grey autumnal skies. All Cotinus are good for their late autumn display. During my student days at Kew, it was the magnificent Cotinus obovatus that stole my heart. A medium-sized tree originating from North America, this is possibly one of the most luminous of all. It always looks as if lit up by fluorescent neon lights. For the smaller garden, Cotinus coggygria is perfect. Right now, the carpark is lit up by my favourite red-leafed form ‘Grace’. It is larger and not quite as dark red, as the more widely known ‘Royal Purple’. In either case, their red leaves will turn a bright orangey-red colour by late autumn.  (There is also a yellow leafed form ‘Golden Spirit’, which can bring a limy luminosity to a shady, dark corner.)

Reliable garden shrubs

Prunus 'Trailblazer' © Isabelle van Groeningen

Prunus ‘Trailblazer’

A small tree often planted for its very early blossom and red foliage that compliments the red-leaved Cotinus very well is Prunus cerasifera ‘Trailblazer’. If space allows, plant different flowering cherries to have an extended blossom time as well as an extended autumn colour season. Also the edible cherries are attractive. The sour cherry ‘Morina‘ is lovely right now. As with Prunus, you cannot go wrong with the genus Viburnum.  At the moment our elegantly tiered Viburnum plicatum ‘Mariesii’ decorates the entrance red. V. nudum ‘Pink Beauty’ is coming to the end of its show.


Parrottia – Persian Ironwood

A large Parrotia persica occupies a corner of our carpark and is spectacular each autumn, though it has not given its best yet. This is a shrub with personality, with its wide, spreading habit, which makes it unsuitable for many small gardens.  The upright-growing form ‘Vanessa’ is a good alternative for those looking to add early (red) flowers in late winter and great autumn colour that takes you through the entire autumn colour palette on offer.

Parrotia persica © Isabelle van Groeningen

Parrotia persica


Enkianthus perulatus © Isabelle van Groeningen

Enkianthus perulatus

My personal heroes of the season are Enkianthus. Being an Ericaceous plant, this requires a light, humous-rich soil to be happy. Clipped E. perulatus is a plant we often use as a structural element in our designs. They become densely twiggy. The white bell-shaped flowers nest in amongst the blonde little twigs before the fresh-green leaves appear. They finish off the season in the most spectacular way as their deep red foliage illuminates the dark grey skies. Even without foliage, the dense shrubs are easy to read in the landscape, but it is right now that their fieriness really does stand out a mile.

E. campanulatus on the other hand grows into a very gentle, elegant small tree with a light transparent crown bearing soft pink bell-shaped flowers in early summer, and develops an equally fierce riot of autumn colour as perulatus does. Both originate from Japan.


Another reliable member of the Ericaceous or heather family is Vaccinium. These are the blueberries. At this moment in time, V. ‘Heerma’ is turning from yellow to orange, whereas ‘Bluecrop’ and ‘Brigitta Blue’ are scarlet red.

Vaccinium mix © Isabelle van Groeningen

Vaccinium mix

Go and enjoy the colours this weekend, as soon it will be gone, and remember that planting time is not yet over!

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03. November 2019 by Isabelle Van Groeningen

Protect garden and plants from frost

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Rosa pimpinellifolia - mit Frost © Isabelle van Groeningen

Rosa pimpinellifolia

(Deutsche Version) Clear skies have finally caused the night-time temperatures to drop below zero. This means the end for some plants that do not tolerate frost, it also meant stunning mornings with plants glistening in the crisp early morning light as each minute detail is amplified by the tiny ice crystals that have formed overnight. For Berlin this is a relatively rare phenomenon. Not that we do not get frosts, but usually the air is rather dry in winter, so that fewer ice crystals form. The heavy hoarfrosts that used to be a regular occurnece in our English garden, are a rare event.


The first frost victims

Rosa 'Munstead Wood' © Isabelle van Groeningen

Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’

I am always astonished to see how frost-proof some flowers are. The last of the heavily scented, dark red David Austin roses ‘Munstead Wood’ was coated in a thick layer of ice in the morning, by afternoon the flower looked as if nothing had happened. The nasturtiums on the other hand were a sorry, soggy mess. They do not tolerate any frost at all. Cosmos was also past its best, the new hybrid ’Cupcakes’ looking like jellyfish.

Bring in your dahlias

Dahlia © Isabelle van Groeningen


Dahlias too got frosted. Now is the time to dig them up and dry them off in a cool, dry shed or garage before storing them in a cool, dark place for the winter. A box lined with some newspaper and filled with leaves will do. Make sure you label them so next spring you know which ones go where in the border. As you clear annuals and dahlias, use the opportunity to plant your bulbs, if you have not done so already!

Overwintering frost-sensitive plants

Bougainvillea © Isabelle van Groeningen


Our wonderful gardening team has been busy this week with their annual giant tetris-game: bringing in all the frost-sensitive plants, and fitting them into the limited space available. We do have many greenhouses, but not all are guaranteed frost-proof. Although many will tolerate a few cold nights, all the citrus plants, Oleander and Bougainvillea have been brought inside. Also the succulents like Agave, Aloe and cacti are now under cover. The high water-content in the gel-like center of their leaves will not cope with much frost.

Plants need a rest

Evergreen plants like olive trees do not go fully dormant, but they do require a period of rest during these darker months where the daylight levels are low and the temperatures low. You cannot overwinter them in a dark cellar. Therefore you must keep them cool, stop feeding them, and do not water them too much. Just keep them slightly moist. If standing too warm, the will continue to grow, producing long, weak and etiolated shoots that will collapse when moved back outside in spring.


Make sure you switch off and drain your external taps and irrigation systems!


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