Late Autumn Colour

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!