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AUTUMN'S OUTBURST; Enjoy Mother Nature's fiery displays as summer's green leaves turn to autumnal reds, oranges and purples.

Byline: DIARMUID GAVIN

after the exhilaration of reviewing your wonderful garden achievements last week, and the thrills of letting Mirror readers know of the awards they had won in our Top of the Plots competition, this week it's time to welcome the delights of a new season.

We've enjoyed a super summer climate - the colour and produce in our gardens has reflected that. And I feel that autumn isn't going to let the year down. So, get ready for more joys.

As the temperature drops, Mother Nature is warming up for her last great burst of extravagance - fiery displays of leaves swapping their fresh summer greens for vivid scarlet, crimson, burnt orange, smokey pink and deep purple. Favourite trees, such as oaks, chestnuts and maples, as well as the magnificent deciduous conifers, gingko, larch and metasquoia, are starting their annual autumn metamorphosis.

Most of us don't have room in our own gardens for these big species but we can appreciate them in woodland, parkland and botanic gardens.

However, our smaller plots are not bereft of great displays - even a small courtyard garden or balcony can still play host to this symbol of autumn. There are many nicely sized trees and shrubs that have great fall foliage.

So, appreciate the "big uns" during country walks, but here's my top list for those you can enjoy outside your back door!

Japanese maples, Acer palmatum, are beautiful slow-growing shrubs that may in time become small trees that provide some startling colours. The Acer palmatum var. dissectum has finely cut leaves that turn bright orange while the purple leaves of Acer "Atropurpureum" go a gorgeous red. "Osakazuki" outside my living room never fails to delight - it's just starting to change with the leaf tips turning orange; green leaves will turn a fiery scarlet shortly. All the Japanese maples do need protection from cold winds, so choose their location with care.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum is a species all on its own - there are no other members of the cercidiphyllum family - and I think it's in a class of its own, too. This large shrub, or small Katsura tree, hails from Asia and its leaves turn a delicious pink that have a sweet caramel smell when they are crushed. It's a great specimen shrub and good in most fertile soils.

Amelanchier lamarckii, snowy mespilus, is a lovely little tree for a small garden. Covered in white blossom in spring, its leaves transform from the young silky bronze through to summer green, dying in a blaze of rich orange and red. It could be used in a mixed hedging scheme but it does prefer acidic soil.

No roll call of autumn colour could ever be complete without the inclusion of Euonymus alatus - the winged spindle tree that produces the most intense crimson-pink. It's called winged because branches often have little corky attachments, or wings. The fruits are also a delight - deep red pods open to reveal bright orange seeds. Where space is at a premium, try "Compactus", which is a smaller variety.

Rhus typhina - the stag's horn sumach - always puts on a beautiful seasonal show. If you want something a little bit different, go for a cultivar such as "Tiger Eyes" or "Dissecta", both of which have finely dissected leaves, giving a more refined appearance.

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides is a low-growing small shrub. Known as hardy plumbago, its bright blue flowers are reminiscent of the plumbago you see growing profusely on the continent. With lovely red tints, this is attractive as edging at the front of a border.

Nandina domestica seems to shimmy on to every top 10 list of mine! This will be its third leaf colour as juvenile spring leaves tend to be red, changing to fresh green in summer, then deep purple tints in autumn. It looks like a bushy bamboo but is related to berberis or the barberry family, who also do a zingy autumn colour range, notably B. thunbergii.

So, remember to look down as well as up to capture the full brilliance of this annual foliage fashion show!

Look down as well as up for this annual foliage fashion show

CAPTION(S):

BERRY BLUE Ceratostigma plumbaginoides is a beauty

VIVID Acer palmatum "Osakazuki"

GLOW A perfumed Katsura tree (above); nandina domestica (below left); and the intensely crimson winged spindle tree

REFINED Rhus typhina "Dissecta"
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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion, Column
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 5, 2013
Words:721
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