Rebecca Smith - Garden design & consultancy

Red in the Garden - Berries, Leaves and Bark

Late autumn in the garden. A lot of gardening people hate this time of year. Plants are dying back. Borders needs clearing. Leaves are falling faster than the rain and it is all slippery and wet out there. 

I love it. I love the hot colours which are revealed in autumn. Strident reds are revealed as leaves change. Clear yellows of berries which the taste police would not have in summer. Oranges. Cinnamon. Brown. This is not the time of year to embrance your pastel side. There are simply no 'soft' colurs this time of year - the plants are showing us a final fling of all their finery before settling down to slumber under a thick blanket of mulch and maybe snow!

Vitis coignetiae


There are plenty of plants which will continue to provide colour and structure through the bleak months of winter. The bones and structure of the garden is revealed in the winter and there are few people today who have borders which are simply limited to the long days of summer and June glories. The following plants have spectacular bark, colourful berries which will cheer up the gloom and keep that very important structure going after the glories of summer are but a fleeting memory...

leaf colour

The best way to find these plants to add zing and colour to your garden is to get outside and look. I cannot stress enough the importance of LOOKING at plants. It sounds simple but there are plants everywhere - car parks, street planting, window boxes. Look look and keep looking! Take notes and photos and look some more!

Cotoneaster 'Rothchildianus'


The cotoneaster pictured above is in the car park behind Iceland in Alton, Hampshire. Genius planting solution from what is an unpromising site - a good small (5-10 metres tall) tree with year-round interest. Scented flowers in May. Glorious yellow berries in Autumn that were enough to stop people in their tracks. The yellow berried cotoneaster (it's proper Latin name is Cotoneaster 'Rothschildianus' for those of you who want to know) is such a good little tree and a good addition to the garden. A little ray of sunshine in the gloom...

I went to Sir Harold Hillier Gardens on Tuesday with garden designer friend Camilla Hiley for one of our regular wanders and catch up sessions. The weather was not promising but we are made of hardy stuff and off we went into the mist...

Centenary Border - Hilliers

The Centenary Border, which, at over 250 metres, is the longest border in the UK, was replanted in 2013 under the guidance of Julia Fogg Associates using over 30,000 plants. It is a beautiful border in the height of summer but importantly it also looked great this week after the first frost and many days of rain. Structure is provided by tall grasses used throughout the planting - not just relegated to the back of the border.

Also at Hilliers is the aptly named Winter Garden, which was extended this year to cover nearly four acres. This entire area is planted to look it's best between November and March - the traditional time when gardens are put to rest and supposedly are uninteresting.

Birch and box

Cornus and hakonechloa

  Cornus and box

Another great garden to visit for winter planting inspiration is The Savill Garden near Windsor Great Park. Savill Gardens

Cornus planted on both sides of the walk link the two parts of the border together through colour. 

Cornus sanguinea 'Anny's Winter Orange'

This cornus above is 'Anny's WInter Orange', a lighter colour than the frequently planted 'Midwinter Fire'. The leaves turn a light apricot colour in auntumn before dropping. The use of the variegated ivy as a ground cover beneath provides an excellant foil for the orange colour. 

Prunus rufa

The lack of leaves brings bark into the spotlight. Above is a close up of the Himalayan cherry tree, Prunus rufa, the shining strips of cinnamon coloured bark peel and curl in the light like party streamers. 

Betula albosinensis

The red-barked Chinese birch tree, Betula albosinenesis, has lighter coloured red bark, which also peels attractively. 

acer griseum

The one tree that does seem to get mentioned more than the two above is Acer griseum, the paperbark maple. The gnarled brown-red bark peels attractively and when caught by the sun becomes a shining strip of red. It also has attractive leaves which colour in the autumn before dropping. 

But the berries which are produced this time of year are a gift to gardeners everywhere. Glorious shining baubles of pure colour hang from branches as a final flourish before winter. In addition to the glorious yellow berried cotoneaster pictured above, the red berries of cotoneaster cornubia are outstanding in my garden this year. Our tree is literally dripping with fruit and it has certainly earned it's place front and centre in the Walled Garden.

cotoneaster cornubia

Planted along side of it is a guelder rose, Viburnum opulus, and the leaves of this shrub have turned the matching scarlet to compliment the berries of the cotoneaster perfectly. Nature is so kind to us. 

cotoneaster and viburnum opulus

The two will have white flowers at a similar time in spring so they compliment each other perfectly.

And finally...

If you ever need a reason to plant a hedge of hawthorn this is it:

hawthorn hedge

Honestly. Have you ever seen such a beautiful hedge?

The berries glisten like Christmas baubles, the hedge is full of blackbirds and happy robins, and seeing this on my morning tramp through the farmland surrounding our house fills me with a sense of wellbeing that goes beyond happiness. It is such a treat to see on these foggy mornings. 

Go out and look look look...


Comments (1)

  1. elizabeth:
    Nov 28, 2014 at 03:55 PM

    LOVE these. I'm always wondering which plants are what in the winter so this is hugely helpful. xoxo

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