Keeping on Keeping on

Keeping on Keeping on

We may be nearing the end of October but that does not mean that the garden needs to be running out of steam. There are many places that we can look for colour and interest and also scent. The stars of the show at the moment are naturally the deciduous trees.


One of the foremost genera for me is the Katsura tree or Cercidiphyllum japonicum. Ultimately this is perhaps a tree for the largest garden as it can reach a substantial size, indeed it is the largest tree in Asia. The leaves are rounded and at the end of the year turn wonderful shades of red, gold and orange. Best of all is the scent which is carried powerfully all around the tree and smells variously of burnt sugar or toffee apples. It is by no means one of the fastest growing trees so you could plant one in order to enjoy it while it is relatively young. There are also dwarf cultivars which are really just very slow growing forms of the species including ‘Boyd’s Dwarf’, ‘Herkenrode Dwarf’ and ‘Kreukenberg Dwarf’. These could be accommodated in even an average garden.

Sorbus is another genus which I defy anyone not to love. The family is broadly split into two groups, the Aria section of white beams and the Rowans which have light foliage made up of many leaflets. These make excellent garden trees as they do not cast too deep a shade as to exclude things from growing underneath. At this time of year the foliage is deeply alight and glowing. There are a huge number of cultivars with different leaf shapes, berry colour etc. If I had to pick one it would be Sorbus commixta which hails from Russia, Japan and Korea. It has a rather columnar habit with orange red fruits and the cultivar ‘Olympic Flame’ is perhaps one of
the best of all trees for autumn colour.

Viburnum xanthocarpum

Amongst the best shrubs for berries are the Viburnums and amongst this family the Guelder rose or Viburnum opulus holds a chief place. The large maple like foliage positively glows in autumn along with glistening fruits which take on a translucent quality. My favourite is V.o. ‘Xanthocarpum’ which has orange yellow fruits that stand out  like pearls on a necklace. Undoubtedly, the most unusual if not downright sinister fruits belong to Decaisnea fargesii which hails from China and the Himalayas. The flowers are
yellow-green borne in May but by September and October large groups of metallic blue pods like oversized broad beans hang beneath the foliage. The shape and colour gives the plant it’s common name of drowned or dead man’s fingers. Inside is a squishy mixture of pulp and seeds.

Decaisnea fargesii


Now is the best time to plant bulbs but it is also the best time to enjoy one in particular. Nerine bowdenii, a species of flowering plant in the Amaryllidacae family. Planted shallowly in full sun the narrow strap shaped leaves give way to clusters of bright pink flowers held in large umbels. The plant itself originates from South Africa though it is reliably hardy unless waterlogged and it is worth making sure there is good drainage. Clumps will increase rapidly and can be divided after flowering. After a disappointing summer it is reassuring to know that there is still so much to enjoy.

Ross Underwood