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Last of the summer vines; Garden life.

SUMMER'S started to ease itself slowly into autumn. There's a feeling of change in the air. Daytime temperatures are much the same as a month ago, but now the mornings are heavy with dew.

There's a crispness in the air that seems to go with spiders' webs and bonfire smoke.

There are still plenty of summery flowers out in the garden, but they've been joined by those that bridge the seasons. Tough plants that will keep going until frost finally flattens them.

Hardy fuchsias always seem to me to be the classic autumn shrub - delicate looking but able to survive whatever the weather throws at it.

So many Scottish gardens have a bush or two of the old-fashioned Riccartonii, and the arrival of its dangling earring flowers of crimson and purple always announce the arrival of autumn proper.

But it's the time of year that I curse myself for not planting more plants that have berries. Too seduced by flower power, I always forget the richness and sparkle that berries can bring to late summer and autumn.

Last week in London, I walked past a tiny garden and was stopped in my tracks by a pyrocantha bursting through the fence from the garden next door. It was heavy with swags of scarlet berries, as bright and glossy as Chinese lacquer.

The popular name, Firethorn, tells you everything - a splendid plant, available from garden centres to supermarkets.

Unfortunately, It needs a wall or a fence to support its rather lax spiny branches, so I'm reluctant to use up my precious wall space on such a robust plant, and never found just the right place to let it have its head.

Maybe I'll try the yellow version with berries like bright amber beads. It would certainly light up a yellow and blue border, and contrast wonderfully with inky-blue aconitum.

Many berried plants give you splendid flowers as well. I don't grow rugosa roses for their hips, but I do love them when they arrive.

My rugosa is planted on a dead-loss bank with its feet in sticky orange clay. Yet it unfailingly does me proud, with its fresh apple-green foliage and huge flat pink scented flowers.

The best of the rugosas is the variety called Blanc Double de Coubert, with semi-double rosette flowers of a stunning clean white. Both pink and white roses still have a mass of flowers to come, but they're also carrying a crop of fat tomato-coloured hips.

It's a lovely partnership, the rather fragile flowers contrasting dramatically with the chubby fruit. Later, after the flowers have gone, the hips will ripen to fiery scarlet, while the foliage turns bright acid yellow.

In flower in my garden just now, Leycestera formosa is a bit of a Cinderella shrub. For years I wondered why I grew it. The bamboo-like stems stay grass-green and make a nice winter feature, but the foliage is pretty dull.

It had made rather too big a thicket of suckering stems on top of the drystane dyke. So, kill or cure, I gave it a good hack back this spring. The result has been a revelation.

The arching stems have dipped elegantly over the wall, and it's a mass of flowers. They dangle like glistening tassels, and are a rich claret colour.

Look closely, and you see that they are actually bracts and support, on the same flower-head, pretty white tubular flowers and ruby coloured berries. They glow like rich jewels when lit by the afternoon sun.

It's been sensational this year, and I can't wait to plant the late-flowering clematis Royal Velours to ramble through it. This flowers at the same time, and has a mass of smallish fluttering flowers of crimson velvet.

Clematis and leycestera are the same colour, but completely different in form and texture - what a combination.

I wish I could find an ideal companion plant for Actea alba. It's a herbaceous plant, a woodlander from North America, and it proves berries don't necessarily have to be gaudy to earn their keep.

It's two to three feet tall, with attractive dissected foliage not unlike some clematis leaves. Not surprisingly, they come from the same family. Actea isn't a plant you notice much until autumn, then suddenly it produces showy cluster of red-stalked white berries. Pea-sized, they each have a single black dot, and delight visiting children by looking exactly like miniature eyeballs.

White Baneberry or Doll's Eye are its common names. It's poisonous, but the berries don't look at all tempting. Actea rubra has glossy red fruit and both are great plants for a moist shady spot.

I'd love to grow more rowans for their wonderful autumn crops of berries. But they just don't fruit well in my garden. Even the common native rowan, one of the loveliest of small trees, only produces a few pathetic dangling sprays.

I've got two magnificent Himalyan varieties, and they're no better.

Sorbus hupehensis has delectable ferny foliage and ought to have loose sprays of shell-pink berries. Sorbus cashmiriana is a gem with large white berries like marbles. They probably fruit generously for every other gardener in the country, but do they fruit for me? No.

I'd love to plant the spectacular rowan Joseph Rock. Its autumn foliage display is fantastic, with leaves turning to orange, red and purple. The swags of fruit add to the fireworks, starting out pale yellow before turning to peachy orange.

It's a delight in Dumfries town centre, where it's been imaginatively planted as a street tree. I drool with desire every autumn when I see it there, but I'm blowed if I'm going to shell out money for yet another rowan that won't fruit.

Maybe I should just bypass the rowans, and plant a few cotoneasters for their cheerful scarlet berries.

Most of us know and grow the useful cotoneaster horizontalis with its low sprawling branches like fishbones. But there are also some good shrubs and small trees in the family, and they seem to berry reliably every year. Cornubia has arching branches positively weighted with vivid scarlet fruit, while Rothschildianus has wonderful canary yellow berries in profusion.

Edinburgh Botanics has a superb, fiery, display that goes on well into winter. Would cotoneasters do the same for me, I wonder?

Autumn gardening is one of the plusses in Scotland. If we're lucky, it's a long season. It starts early, but often rewards us with a wonderful Indian summer in October, and even on into November. The soft sunlight lights up the garden quite differently from the brighter summer days.

So it's important to consider autumn as a season to be enjoyed and planned for, and not just a few weeks tagged on to the end of summer.

The richness of berries and fruits provides just that special dimension.
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Wheatcroft, Janet
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 4, 1999
Words:1128
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