A wild west wind has brought the breath of autumn's being to the garden.
Leaves are changing colour, helped by a damp summer followed by a sunny autumn, adding as many tints and tones to the garden as late flowers.
One of my favourite small plants for leaf colours is the Chinese plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides. A herbaceous perennial about 30 centimetres high, hardy - to -20 degrees Celsius, brrr - it's covered by gentian blue flowers from late summer, darker but similar to those of the evergreen South African creeper Plumbago capensis that I love but that sadly doesn't love me - it can't handle the Tablelands frost.
Chinese plumbago's bristly leaves turn deep, rich, ruby red in April, contrasting well with Euphorbia wulfenii's glaucous foliage.
It's an invaluable ground cover for country gardens as it will grow anywhere, including dry shade, though the leaf colour is better in full sun. It is easily propagated by division of root suckers in spring.
Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is another beauty for both sun and dry shade, though beware spines. It has dark red autumn leaves and if you're lucky, decorative red berries. Good, low growing purple leaf forms include B. atropurpurea 'Nana' dark purple, and 'Rose Glow', pinky purple.
Smoke bushes (Cotinus) are big shrubs (three to four metres) but a gold leaf form, 'Golden Spirit' grows slowly to about shoulder height and has beautiful autumn colour, the gold leaves splashed orange and eventually crimson. Mine is happy in full sun with an occasional drink in summer.
'Golden Spirit' doesn't sucker like most smoke bushes so there is no danger of it spreading. The best way to propagate it is by layering - push part of a low branch into the ground and anchor it with a heavy stone or a rock while it forms roots. It can then be detached from its parent and replanted.
Spiraea prunifolia is a medium sized, deciduous may bush with glossy, oval shaped leaves that colour well in autumn, lovely against the setting sun.
This is another obliging shrub that will grow anywhere and its slender, upright form makes it easy to fit into a quite small space.
It is wreathed in double white flowers in spring. Prune after these have finished if it gets too big for its boots by removing canes from the base. Easily reproduced from semi-ripe summer cuttings.
Crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) develop red and purple leaf colour in autumn and a wide range of small cultivars is available. Colour can depend on their position in the garden, my best small tree is in half shade.
Good autumn colour is often associated with red leaves with but yellow is equally striking. The glossy foliage of my pomegranate trees (Punica granatum) is turning bright buttercup yellow as I write. My trees flowered this year but so far no fruit, maybe they'll jump into action summer.
It makes sense to shop for autumn colour now. Trees especially vary in performance - sweet gums (Liquidambar styraciflua) are notorious - so buy in autumn when what you see is what you get.
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