The rich, glowing colours of autumn leaves can rival any exuberant show of flowers in spring. October and November are usually the best months to admire this natural phenomenon as the green leaves of many deciduous trees and shrubs lose their chlorophyll and turn wonderful shades of bronze, scarlet and purple. Hidden in the leaves are other pigments that are usually masked by the chlorophyll but as the daylight hours shorten and the temperatures cool, plants begin to shut down for winter.
Probably the best known trees for autumn colour are the Acer rubrums or North American Maples. Cultivars such as ‘Brandywine’ and ‘October Glory’ make excellent garden trees as they don’t grow too large and have a fairly upright and compact habit.
Another superb garden specimen is the Acer griseum or ‘Paper Bark Maple’ that combines autumn colour with a spectacular peeling copper bark.
Liquidambars such as ‘Worplesdon’ offer deep reds earlier in autumn and for bright yellows there are the birches - of particular note is Betula papyrifera ‘St George’, which hangs onto its leaves much later than many others.
There are many smaller garden trees that produce superb autumn colour such as Aesculus x neglecta ‘Autumn Fire’; this is a lovely tree that grows no taller than four or five feet and has a brilliant orange glow in late October. Amelanchier ‘Snowflakes’ is another stunning small tree that displays single white flowers in spring and pretty bronze-red autumn leaf colours.
Many flowering cherries also provide dazzling blossom shows in spring, followed by fantastic leaf colours in autumn. Prunus ‘Beni-yutaka’ is one of the very best for this two-season interest having semi-double sugar-pink flowers in April followed by red-crimson leaves in autumn. For a smaller flowering cherry tree there is Prunus ‘Frilly Frock’, this little weeping gem is covered with delicate white flowers in early spring and in autumn its unusual variegated leaves turn to striking shades of red, yellow and brown.