Autumn colour and structure in the garden

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Autumn is one of my favourite times of year, marking the transition from summer into winter.  Temperatures drop and days draw to a close earlier.  Some people date the start of autumn as the Autumn Equinox in late September.   Alternatively, autumn can simply be said to have arrived at the first signs of various changes around us – the tinting of oak or beech trees, ripening of sloes or elderberries and the arrival of winter migrant birds. A paradox for me is that whilst Autumn is a time for most plants to slow down and start to become dormant in preparation for Winter, it’s the ‘Spring’ of the fungus season. Take a walk in the woods at this time of year, especially a few days after heavy rain and you will see a myriad of fascinating different fungi fruiting bodies emerging.

Piet Oudolf planting at RHS Wisley in mid October

Piet Oudolf planting at RHS Wisley in mid October

I like the design opportunities that autumn brings.  When planning a new garden/outdoor space, I give a lot of thought to the flow from one area to another – how best to link spaces together, while creating vistas and focal points.  Whilst the main design structure may come from clipped hedges and shapes, it is worth remembering that structures can also be formed from grasses and herbaceous plant than can last long into the winter.  Many late flowering perennials such as Asters, Rudbeckia and Verbena’s, provide not only structure and colour for us to enjoy but are vital for extending the nectar season for bees. Grasses I particularly like to use include Calamagrostis x acutiflora Karl Foerster & Seslaria Autumnalis. They provide the foil and texture to show off the more colourful perennials to best advantage.

Later perennials and grasses on one our projects in the Chilterns. This image was taken mid September

Later perennials and grasses on one our projects in the Chilterns. This image was taken mid September

For me, the beauty of this more transient type of structure is how it changes and evolves as autumn wanes and winter arrives.  Even the pleasure of the space created when grasses and plants are finally cut down to make way for fresh growth in the spring is one of the joys of gardening.

For inspiration, why not seek out some autumn colours near you … our family favourites include the Ashridge Estate in Buckinghamshire, with paths taking you through woodland alleys and meadows – stunning vistas and focal points to be found.  It’s the time of year for mushroom spotting too (!

We are always seeking ways to help clients to enjoy every season in their garden/outdoor space.  If you are in London or the South-East, do call us on 01442 832666 or email me at  to explore ways of introducing more colour and structure all year round.

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