Parrotia persica is a smaller tree that has tiny red flowers in February but earns its stripes mostly in fall with truly vibrant scarlet-orange leaves. (Photo Van Den Berk UK Limited - www.vdberk.co.uk)

GARDENING: Add ornamentals for fall folliage colour

At this time of year, vibrant plants can lift your spirits

At this time of year, vibrant fall colour just lifts your spirits, and you don’t need big tall shade trees to enjoy it. Today, with so many dramatic fall foliage plants available, you’ll have no difficulty finding room for some, even in a smaller space garden.

I can’t make up my mind if I like a Sourwood Tree (Oxydendrum arboreum) better in August or in October. In August, its cascades of white flowers are a nice treat.Then in late summer its foliage starts turning red and the colour lasts well until late October. It’s a superstar in the garden.

A little known and seldom planted tree is ‘Parrotia persica,’ a smaller tree that always looks unique. It has tiny red flowers in February but earns its stripes mostly in fall with truly vibrant scarlet-orange leaves. It also has smooth grey bark that flakes off to leave white patches, making it a nice winter specimen too.

Nearly everyone plants a purple smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) in their garden. Few people, however, plant its gold leafed cousin and that’s a shame because golden smoke trees are beautiful throughout three of the four seasons. They are particularly beautiful in autumn with their vibrant reds and oranges.

Another great plant that is neglected too often is the Enkianthus campanulatus. A mid-sized shrub with Pieris japonica-like red flowers in spring, it lights up the garden at this time of year with its florescent red foliage. This Japanese native fits in well among rhododendrons, azaleas and heathers.

Speaking of red foliage, the burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is the most well-known and the reddest of all reds in the fall – and truly is a head turner. It’s a great fall plant, with corky winged stems, that continues to look terrific in winter too. A compact variety is now available.

It’s a must-have.

Another little-known garden jewel is Fothergilla gardenii. This slow grower (up to three feet) has beautiful, fragrant bottle brush-like flowers in April and May, and then in October it throws a colour party of vibrant yellows and oranges.

It’s a standout.

One unique plant that turns colour now and keeps its leaves all year round is the lovely nandina, also known as heavenly bamboo – but don’t panic, it’s a false bamboo, not even related to bamboos, and has no spreading roots. Not really a grass, although all year it shimmers like one, it is a plant no sunny or shady garden should be without, and it now comes in a wide selection of compact varieties.

It works especially well near an entryway. All the varieties are unique in their own way, but my favourites are the very compact varieties like ‘Gulf Stream.’ It turns beautiful red shades in winter and keeps that colour until spring.

The many deciduous varieties of viburnums create a fabulous riot of colour, often with berries as well. Even Chinese witch hazel, with its fragrant yellow winter flowers, is a little bit of a show-off in fall.

If you already have some of these plants in your garden, congratulations. If not, I guarantee the addition of these plants to your fall garden will not only create a new exciting season for you, but they will also be something beautiful to anticipate and enjoy each autumn. Now is a great time to get them started.

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