The dog days of summer are long gone and the garden is definitely making sleepy noises. The Dahlias still stud the ground with jewels, due to maniacal deadheading. The ferns and ivies are holding up their end with cloaks of colour but when I walk around outside, I can almost hear the snuggling sound of plants preparing to pull the quilt over their head.
Cercis canadensis (redbud) ‘Forest Pansy’
Some of the most intense dazzle is down to the trees. The bright autumn grass is robed in butter yellow leaves from the ancient edible cherry. Acers (sycamore species) are always spectacular, even the bog standard type. These get big. Very large. Colossal, in fact. They shed dull, dusty spinners full of seed by the bushel and that glorious seasonal show of scarlet and auburn will turn brown and dump itself in your garden and next door’s plot. If you want to stay on speaking terms with your neighbours, stick to ornamental types. My favourite for pretty foliage shape and vivid shades is Acer aconitifolium; the Latin means a maple that has leaves like an Aconite, or monkshood. The scientific names are easy really, crowded in mystique but logical in essence; all fur coat and no drawers.
Ferns, ivies & Italian arum
Since they take up room and require winter maintenance, some nurseries are practically giving away trees. Look for something gobsmacking in a modest garden, since you want a lot of bang for your bucks. Keep it small, since you don’t want to invite a specimen that will hoick your foundations aloft within a decade. That said, I once saw a full sized Liriodendron (tulip tree) in full bloom at approximately seventy feet (twenty metres). The vision left me speechless and drooling, so utterly breathtaking that it would be worth sacrificing the house. Since it would take more than thirty years to reach full height, I should be past caring and I’m still given to daydreaming on occasion. Should you find one, consider Stewartia pseudocamellia, which has white flowers, similar to a Camellia. The flaking bark is daubed like a pointillist painting and the fall shades are fabulous. There are some very sexy Sorbus (rowan or mountain ash) boasting frothy cream flowers followed by gorgeous berries and startling drifts of colour, around this time of year.
Quercus robur (English oak)
When you get tired of visitors trekking the scrot through your hall, you may wish to sweep up deciduous bounty before it sticks to their shoes. Shred the leaves with a lawnmower, then stuff them in plastic bin bags and make some holes to allow in air. Fungus is the agency by which decay takes place, as opposed to compost which uses bacteria to rot. The resulting mold is useful for mulch or soil improver. If this is too much faff, or you have no room for unsightly sacks of slowly festering gunge, after maceration, bung the leaves on the compost heap. You could just spread sweepings on the borders but be aware that the first blustery day will see your treasure distributed all over the district. Deflect spousal criticism of imagined odour or actual obsession by referencing the benefits to come; you are increasing horticultural cosiness and on nights like these, he wouldn’t want to part with his duvet, either.