Shades of Autumn

Today has been one of those rather frustrating days in the garden.  One minute the sun is shining and you get all enthusiastic about planting a few more of those tulips you couldn’t resist only to find that as soon as you get out there the heavens open.

In those moments when the shine is shining however the autumn colours really sing.  Across the countryside here in Warwickshire the leaves seem to have remained on the trees this year and the colours are really lovely.

Here is a selection of the autumn colours we are enjoying in the garden at the moment.


One:  The walk up the ‘old’ rose garden contrasts the changing red shades of the purple leaved Cotinus coggygria, Prunus and Viburnum with the yellow of the hornbeam hedge and the distant yellow of the silver birch.

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Two:  This green leaved Smoke Bush at the top of the cutting garden provides a sumptuous autumn display of colour.

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Three:  In the woodland walk these small field maple trees provide a golden glow in the sunshine.

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Four:  Another purple leaved Cotinus this time in the patio bed contrasting with the still green Wisteria and grey leaved Santolina chamaecyparissus.

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Five:  Although a seriously spiky plant when cutting the grass this Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea offers excellent purple foliage all year and is well worth its place in the shrub bed.   At this time of year the foliage develop a range of orange hues.

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Six:  It is of course not just about the leaves at this time of year.  Many of the cotoneaster bushes, sorbus, roses and blackthorn are full of berries and hips. This tall Pyracantha is in its prime at the moment and providing a feast for the birds.

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Cotoneaster and Pyracantha: Loved by the birds, florists and gardeners alike

 

Looking out across the garden in the autumn sunshine on this November morning  it is the Cotoneasters and Pyracantha that are some of the star plants of the moment.  Their red and orange berries give a spark of colour to the yellow autumn hues of the hedgerow trees.

Perhaps rather over used in municipal planting, especially Cotoneaster, there are many interesting cultivars and species to choose from both to add interest in the garden and for use in floral arrangements.

For an added bonus these shrubs bring the garden wildlife right up to the house windows.  It is such a pleasure watching the birds feeding on the Pyracantha.  This morning in just a few minutes we saw a pair of the most beautiful Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) in their red plumage, a Dunnock (Prunella modularis) and a Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) all feeding together. Blackbirds (Turdus merula) and Redwings (Turdus iliacus) are also regular visitors whilst the Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus) shelter on the branches whilst busily feeding on the insects on the window panes and under the roof tiles.

Varieties in the garden at Waverley

We are not entirely sure of the species and varieties we have here at Honey Pot Flowers so please feel free to comment if you think we have got the identification wrong.

Cotoneaster Cornubia (Cotoneaster X watereri ‘Cornubia’)

This is quite a large fast growing shrub with dramatic arching branches and long willow like leaves.  It has large showy clusters of red berries that stay on the plant much later than the ‘wild’ types of Cotoneaster that we have around the garden.  It is semi-evergreen and has glossy dark green lanceolate shaped leaves which are clean and free from disease.

Cotoneaster 'Cornubia'
Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ in the Honey Pot Flowers garden in mid-November

Cotoneaster Rothschildianus (Cotoneaster salicifoilus ‘Rothschildianus’)

Very similar in habit to Cornubia but has creamy-yellow berries.  It is semi-evergreen in our garden with a lovely arching habit.  The berries hold well.

Cotoneaster Rothschildianus
Cotoneaster Rothschildianus in mid-November in the garden at Waverley

Pyracantha

Related to the Cotoneasters, these plants come in a wide range of colours and the name of our variety is lost in the mists of time.  Ours has orange/red berries and masses of white flowers in early June.  By pure luck we have a dog rose climbing up amongst it and the pretty pink flowers of the rose complement the Pyracantha flowers wonderfully.  It is a big plant and needs regular cutting back (probably more cutting back than we actually get around to) but it has vicious spikes and needs carefully handling.  It is not something that you can put through the shredder and spread on the flower beds as mulch as the thorns remain and get in the dogs’ feet.

Pyracantha
Pyracantha laden with berries in November attracting bullfinches, redwings, thrushes and blackbirds

Floristry

Cotonesters are very useful as foliage throughout the year and can add that additional Christmas feel in November and December.  Their long arching habit and well behaved upward facing foliage make them extremely useful in large floral arrangements for large table centrepieces, door wreaths, church archways and pedestal arrangements.

Ideally the stems should be cut fresh in the morning.  You should slit the stem (about 1 inch) before conditioning for 24-48 hours in clean fresh water with flower food if you have it.  Slitting the stem helps the water uptake.  Even if the stem tips drop at first they will soon perk up over a 24 hour period.  Refresh the water every 24 hours if you are not using immediately.

Cotoneaster foliage
Arching cotoneaster foliage complementing orange and white fragrant roses, sweet william and campanula

Unlike Pyracantha and Berberis, which are very spikey and need to have the spines removed before using, Cotoneaster stems are thornless and therefore much less time consuming (and painful) to work with.

If you want to get to the berries before the birds you can pick them and keep them in water for a good few weeks in a cool place.  Remember to keep changing the water every few days.

Family:  Rosaceae

Origin:  According to Wikipedia Pyrancantha coccinae ranges from North Eastern Spain to Northern Iran whilst the Cotoneasters originate from areas across temperate Asia, Europe and North Africa.

Hardiness:  According to the RHS, Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ and Pyracantha are graded as H6 (Hardy in all of UK and northern europe -20 °C to -15 °C)

Propagation

We have always had great success in propagating Cotoneasters by taking hardwood cutting in the Autumn.  Take about a 9 inch cutting (about a pencil thinkness) from mature wood, cutting cleanly just above a node at the top and just below a node at the bottom.  Cut the stem at an angle at the top to help you remember which way up the cutting needs to be planted.

Put the cutting(s) the right way up either into a nursery bed in the ground or into a deep pot filled with a well drained, loam based compost (the deep rose flowerpots are ideal for this).  You can put a number of cuttings into a single pot.  The cuttings should be at least two-thirds of their length under the soil.

Water in well and place them outside where you can look after them.  They will stay in the pot or ground for about 12 months before you pot them on.  Just let them grow leaves and roots during the summer, watering as necessary, and then pot up in the autumn into individual pots or if the roots are big enough into the garden.

Offer any spare ones to your friends!  You will have many more than you need.

Pruning

Pruning in the right way at the right time is critical to maintaining the flowers and ultimately the berries.

With Pyracantha the flowers (and subsequently the berries) are formed on short spur growths on the previous year’s growth.  Any new growth in mid to late summer will need to be left to mature in order to produce the next seasons flowers and berries.

With Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ it is the open branching structure that is so attractive and it is probably best to avoid pruning excessively other than to remove wayward or damaged branches that look out of place.  If you want to reduce the size or thin out the tree we typically use the ‘one-third’ technique on many shrubs.  Each year you remove one-third of the older stems leaving the majority intact.  The next year you remove another one-third of the old stems (leaving any new ones) and the same again in the third year.  In this way you slow reduce the size of the shrub each year but it will still flower and look good in the garden.

Birdlife

We haven’t managed to capture footage of the male bullfinch yet but here are a couple of clips of a female Bullfinch and Redwing enjoying the Pyracantha berries in mid-November.

Further reading

RHS “Pruning” by Christopher Bricknell (ISBN 1-85732-902-3)