As Halloween becomes a memory, the fireworks of the plant world prepare for their annual colour explosion.
Many direct factors combine to affect the quality of autumn colour; weather, temperature, and soil conditions all have a bearing on the depth and brilliance of the colours.
Of course what appears to be a mystical display for our benefit is nature’s way of shutting down deciduous plants for the winter.
When temperatures drop and the days begin to shorten, resources stored within the leaves are slowly withdrawn and conserved for the following year.
The subtle hues we can expect over the coming days can be truly breathtaking and all who can get out to visit arboreta and parks should do so.
Butter-yellow and gold, through to tangerine, orange, and scarlet will predominate, whilst the reds can arrive as varied as ruby or crimson.
The most dramatic effects are achieved by combining several plants of contrasting tints but you will need a large garden (mostly free from lime) for just such a collage.
Alternatively, choose a single specimen.
I can suggest a particular shrub which will thrive on all soils (lime included) and if given a backdrop of dark-leaved evergreens will form a solid block of a single shade, shouting its presence in the still warm autumn sunshine.
This use of restraint and simplicity can prove more startling and effective than a multi-coloured scene.
My outstanding choice for all soils and all gardens is the winged spindle tree, Euonymus alatus.
This attractive shrub comes into its own in autumn when it reliably delivers resplendent colour.
The simply-shaped, dark green leaves which are paired up along the stems undergo a metamorphosis to become one of the most striking sights in the autumn garden.
They colour dramatically reaching a rich shade of pinkish crimson (of startling intensity) and droop rather elegantly from the spreading stems.
When a really hard frost arrives it will knock all the leaves off and the bare stems of the shrub will sit in a pool of red debris until they’re absorbed naturally back into the soil.
Another distinctive feature of this shrub is its distinctive bark; pronounced corky ridges which form elongated ‘wings’ grow along the surface of the stems and branches.
As well, coloured clusters of dangling ruby berries normally add to the decorative effect.
To cap it all its slow growth and medium size make this shrub a welcome addition to the smaller garden where it is certain to become a dominant feature in autumn.