Life Gardens

Friday 27 April 2018

Gardening with Diarmuid Gavin: How to perk up your garden in the brisk autumn

As flowers die back and leaves drop, there's a new attraction bursting into life in the garden

The berries of the Guelder rose
The berries of the Guelder rose
The flowers and berries of the Spindle tree
Pyracanthus fruits
Snails are searching for places to hibernate.
Leaves and fruits of Callicarpa bodinieri or Beautyberry

Diarmuid Gavin

The crisp autumnal chill has firmly arrived, but luckily it's mainly dry and the sun is still shining. In the garden, we savour the golds and reds of deciduous leaves and search for other aspects of beauty which shine from plants at this time of the year.

Blossoms we have enjoyed throughout the summer are now either withered or have transformed into fruits. Some of these fruits create wonderful displays - adding yet another dimension of interest to your garden into the autumn and through the winter.

Berries are the seasonal jewels of the garden, adding some sparkle, colour and variety to beds and borders. They can provide great ornamental value and also wonderful sustenance for birds and other wildlife as they forage for food through the colder inhospitable months of the year.

My star performers in the berry category are a varied bunch. Because of its sheer reliability, Pyracanthas (right inset) always shines. It boasts heavy crops of bright orange, red or yellow berries. These make great displays. However, as its thorns make it a challenging specimen, it must be dominated - pruned to a shape that pleases, trained as flat as possible against wall or fence rather than allowed to do its own thing. (On the plus side, it's a great deterrent for undesirables who may try to climb over your garden boundaries).

The Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus, main picture) is a wonderful deciduous shrub with grapevine-like leaves. It bears large white clusters of pom-pom flowers and its subsequent fruits are a bright, glassy red - like bunches of shiny marbles. The autumnal foliage colour is an added bonus as the yellowing leaves turn a gorgeous red. The smaller cultivar, Viburnum opulus 'Compactum' is perfect for even the smallest of plots.

My absolute favourite is the Beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri) 'Profusion' (above inset). It will loiter unnoticed for most of the year but come autumn it produces berries of a remarkable lilac-purple hue. Floral arrangers love it and will often plant in groups for good cropping.

Also producing berries in the pink to purple colour range is Prickly heath (Gaultheria mucronata). And let's not forget the Spindle Tree (Euonymus europaeus, far right). Its crimson red fruits split open displaying the orange seed within, a sublime combination.

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides, right), familiar to those gardening in coastal situations, forms a great windbreak against salt-laden air. It has a thorny structure with narrow silvery leaves and bright orange berries.

The hips of the Japanese rose (Rosa rugosa) are another great injection of colour in the garden as the evenings begin to disappear to darkness, displaying bright orange and red against lime green leaves.

Cotoneaster rothschildianus has delicate light yellow fruits and, being an evergreen, is useful for all year foliage.

I can't leave out another favourite - heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica). This is actually not a bamboo at all but, with a similar growing habit, this shrub is a great all-rounder. It is evergreen in the sense that it doesn't lose its leaves but its foliage turns reddish purple in spring and autumn. Panicles of small white flowers produce red berries for the winter.

Honourable mention must go, also, to Fatsia - with its black berries - and the most traditional berry of all, holly.

So, when much of the garden is shedding its clothing, keep your eyes open and see what other wonderful displays nature provides.

This week in the garden:

Slugs and snails will be searching for spots to hibernate in for winter. They love decaying leaves or hiding out under old logs. So, clear some of this debris out of your garden to lessen the impact of these pests on your Hostas next spring. But don’t be too tidy and remove the pests altogether — our hedgehogs need to eat also!

Greenhouses are probably fairly empty, so now is a good time to clean out and disinfect to prevent any of this year’s bugs or diseases overwintering.

Take a look at your lawn — if there are any bumps or hollows now is a great time to repair them. Infill with some topsoil, make sure it’s flat and firm and sow grass seed over the top.

Crocosmias will have finished flowering now. It’s the perfect time to lift, divide and replant into freshly-prepared soil.

It’s an excellent time to plant evergreen shrubs.

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