Shrubs for autumn flowers and foliage

By Andy McIndoe

By late summer many flowering shrubs have had their day.

Deciduous subjects may be starting to show autumn tints and cooler damper weather seems to give evergreens a fresher feel. However there are some that come into their own as the days start to shorten.

Abelia grandiflora is one of the finest evergreen flowering shrubs blooming from late summer through autumn. Its arching red-brown stems with small, shining deep green leaves grow to form a large mounded shrub which is light and elegant in habit. Clusters of pale pink fragrant flowers appear from late summer. They are highly attractive to bees and late pollinators and make a wonderful display against the foliage.The salmon pink calyces remain after the flowers have fallen; just as attractive as the blooms. This hardy shrub grows well on most soils and thrives in sun or semi-shade. The species is a large grower, but smaller cultivars are available; look out for them.

Abelia grandiflora

As the sun gets lower in the sky blue flowers become more visible. Perovskia, Russian Sage usually blooms well into autumn and lavenders often put on a second flush of flowers, if cut back soon after the first flowering. Caryopteris is a real star of autumn, but is at its best on chalk or dry alkaline soils. If pruned hard in late winter the fine new stems produce clusters of sparkling flowers in the leaf axils. There are pink and white forms, but the blues are the ones to grow. Caryopteris ‘First Choice’ is an excellent cultivar with bee friendly sapphire blooms and attractive narrow leaves.

Caryopteris 'First Choice'

When grown in a sunny spot Ceratostigma willmottianum excels with stunning rich blue plumbago-like flowers and attractive autumn foliage tints as the season progresses. This is a versatile shrub that could grow to a metre or more in a sheltered spot, or it can be cut back in winter to maintain a much smaller form. In severe weather it can be reduced to ground level, but will re-grow from the base like a hardy fuchsia. The flowers are particularly popular with late butterflies.

Ceratostigma willmottianum

Clerodendrum trichotomum ‘Carnival’ is a seldom seen shrub that deserves much wider use.It has attractive soft green and cream variegated leaves and clusters of white flowers with bright pink calyces in late summer or autumn.Like other clerodendrums the flowers are fragrant, but the foliage when brushed has an unpleasant smell of rubber. This is an advantage: the plant is entirely deer proof! Although late into leaf, the foliage stays in great condition throughout the summer months.

The smoke bushes are some of the most attractive foliage shrubs grown in gardens.Known for their smoky flower panicles produced in summer their real show starts when the foliage starts to colour. Cotinus ‘Grace’ is one of the largest and most vigorous and never fails to deliver a magnificent show of autumn colour as the foliage turns to flame red. Cotinus is pruned in winter, but beware of hard pruning as this can produce very vigorous long shoots that are unruly in smaller gardens.

Cotinus 'Grace'

Fuchsias are long-blooming shrubs that only stop flowering when the days get really cold. They dislike hot dry weather so the cooler damper days of autumn bring a new lease of like.Fuchsia ‘Mrs Popple’ with its showy red and purple-blue flowers may not be to everyone’s taste, but the quality of its floral display is undeniable.It is a great subject for a container in a shadier spot, or to plant with purple foliage shrubs or heucheras.

Fuchsia 'Mrs Popple'

Heptacodium miconiodes is a fairly fast growing large shrub which can develop the stature of a small tree. The unusual slightly curled leaves hang down from the branches, more so as summer progresses. Clusters of white scented flowers appear at the tips of the shoots in late summer. They resemble the blooms of privet, but much larger and are often likened to lilac. After the foliage falls the peeling bark of mature shrubs is attractive through winter.

Heptacodium miconiodes

Of course many hydrangeas make a magnificent show in late summer and autumn, their faded flowers remaining attractive right through winter.Apart from the widely grown varieties of hydrangea there are numerous choice species and cultivars that are worth condidering. Hydrangea aspera and its variants are a little choosier than many hydrangeas, but well worth growing if you have the right conditions.These are woodland plants that like some shelter, light overhead shade and reasonable moisture in the soil during the growing season. They reward with velvety foliage and exquisite lacecap flower heads in late summer.

Hydrangea aspera

The pheasant berry, Leycesteria formosa is at the other end of the scale as one of the toughest, easiest plants to grow. It often arises unexpectedly from seed dropped by birds that have transported the juicy purple berries. It is particularly at home on damp sites and often colonises stream banks.If trimmed and tidied after leaf fall the green stems are attractive in winter and good alongside red-stemmed dogwoods.

Leycesteria formosa

Known as chaste tree Vitex agnus castus is a native of the Mediterranean region, so is a good choice for hot, dry situations.The delicate palmate leaves are soft grey green and often late to appear. Spikes of lavender-like flowers appear at the tips of the shoots very late in the season. The species is lilac-blue in flower, but the white form, Vitex agnus castus. ‘Albus’ is worth seeking out; a good shrub to grow with cistus, lavenders and other sun lovers.

Andy McIndoe

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