Home & Garden

Fairest of the fall

Author: Canadian Living

Home & Garden

Fairest of the fall

Canada does a good job of fall. It's one of the reasons we have a national flag that pays homage to a tree. After a spring of yielding sugar and a summer of providing shade, the sugar maple gives itself a standing ovation in the fall by turning into a beacon of gold and red. Its beauty is echoed by different maples across the country and by many other plants that refuse to go gently into that good night of winter. You wouldn't likely choose a plant for fall interest alone, but there are dozens that look especially beautiful as the season comes to a close.

Few see as wide a variety of plants on a day-to-day basis as the people who work at botanical gardens, so I asked some of these Canadians to name their favourites for fall colour.

Aronia melanocarpa 'Autumn Magic' is one of the choices of Wilf Nicholls, director of the Memorial University Botanical Garden in St. John's, Nfld. This black chokeberry has brilliant wine red fall foliage, which is further decorated with "really wonderful shiny black berries that last into winter, after the leaves fall. It's a nice compact shrub that's hardy across the country," he says.

Cornus stolonifera, syn. C. sericea (red osier dogwood), is lan Dymock's favourite. Dymock, propagation horticulturist and greenhouse manager at the University of Alberta Devonian Botanic Garden in Devon, Alta., says, "Around here, almost all the trees and shrubs turn yellow in fall. You need something that turns red. When, you drive over the bridge across the North Saskatchewan River in fall, you can see a band of red where the dogwoods are." Garden selections of this shrub include 'Cardinal', 'Flaviramea' and 'Kelsey's Dwarf', all of which are hardy to Zone 2. They have the added attraction of brightly coloured twigs after the leaves fall.

Cotinus 'Grace' is recommended by Bruce Macdonald, director of the botanical garden at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The university introduced this smoke tree (and developed Aronia melanocarpa ‘Autumn Magic', the plant that was chosen by Nicholls). The purplish orange leaves, much larger than those of other smoke trees, turn brilliant scarlet and bronze in fall. There are large clusters of purple-pink flowers in summer. It's hardy to Zone 5.

Page 1 of 2 – Discover the best shrubs to plant to add oomph to your gardens in the fall on page 2.

Enkianthus campanulatus is another Macdonald favourite. "It's an outstanding shrub from Japan, belonging to the Ericaceae family," he says. "It produces an incredible range of fall colour, with nearly every shade from yellow to red.” Sometimes called redvein enkianthus or pagoda bush, it is hardy to Zone 5 and can grow as tall as three metres. This is a shrub for moist, acidic soil.

Itea virginica (Virginia sweetspire) is the shrub that Sharilyn Ingram, director of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, most looks forward to planting in her new garden in southern Ontario. The cultivar 'Henry's Garnet' grows one to 1.5 metres tall, with fragrant white flowers in midsummer. In fall, the dark green foliage turns brilliant reddish purple. Sweetspire puts up with wet or compact soil in sun or shade and is hardy to Zone 5.

Viburnum cassinoides (northern wild raisin; withe rod) is a native of eastern Canada that recently won over Nicholls. "I haven't lived in Newfoundland very long," he says, "but it's one plant I'm really impressed with. The berries start out whitish, take on a pink hue, then turn black and shrivel like raisins." The leaves, which are very shiny and are oval with pointed tips, change from pink to dark red, and in St. John's remain on the shrub until November.

Some of these favourites are available in most nurseries - bargains are often to be had in fall, and you can plant them now - but others require a search. A good source of unusual plants by mail order is Hortico Inc. (905-689-6984), located in Waterdown, Ont. Check out hortico.com and download the catalogue, or order one for $6.

There are also some additional widely available plants that have great fall colour, such as Virginia creeper and Boston ivy (Parthenocissus), the well-named burning bush (Euonymus alatus), any of the cotoneasters, some mountain ashes (Sorbus) and, of course, a host of maples, including Amur maple (Acer ginnala), sugar maple (A. saccharum) and many of the decorative Japanese maples (A. palmatum).

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Fairest of the fall