Fall rushes in: Are autumnal colours a feast for the senses, or a depressing reminder of winter?

Small garden shrubs and trees are often described as having "autumn colour", as if it was unquestionably a positive boon. Unlike David Randall (see pages 16-21) I'm not sure. This is going to sound grumpy, but autumn colour in a tree can go one of two ways for me. I mean, it's delightful to see those bright reds and oranges. But it can be a depressing reminder that we're only going one way: towards winter.

But leaves are just starting to turn now, and there's undeniably a few months of brightness ahead. So if you are mentally robust enough to long for titians and coppery tones without being sent into existential angst, there's plenty to choose from. One of the most interesting lessons of extended autumn scrutiny is how different trees will be gorgeous at different moments across the season: it's not like they all put their party dresses on at once.

One of the best of the early autumn colours comes from the Smoke Bush. There's a choice of two here: the American, Cotinus obovatus, and the Eurasian, Cotinus coggyrgia. It gets called the smokebush because it forms many beautiful drifts when it flowers in summer, creating misty masses that float above the tree.

The American species has the best autumn colour, just turning at Kew Gardens this week to an already startling range of oranges, leading to an extraordinary colour clash. As for the European version, although it's usually fairly green-leaved there are several purply-black cultivars. "Royal Purple" is a particularly good one. The flowerheads look like pink froth, and after a summer of maroon, the leaves turn in autumn too.

I've seen this plant doing good service as a small shrub in front gardens alongside lavenders and rosemarys. This year, there was a particularly good one in a Chiswick front garden with longer, delicate sprays of foliage, providing a beautiful burgundy foil to a group of deep-red hollyhocks.

For the brightest reds, though, go every time for the Liquidambar, the Sweetgum. Unlike the Smoke Bush, this really is a substantial tree, growing to 20 metres or so. So as a garden tree, you may have to decide at some point to fell it and start again with something else. But that is a technique open to brave gardeners...

Like a maple, only more so, the Liquidambar has elegant five-pointed leaves that look as if they've been redesigned by a top minimalist. Once September hits, the leaves turn from green to an increasingly vivid range of purples, reds and oranges that's exhilarating to see on a shiny autumn day. The colour show is topped off by the tree's spiny little fruit, which get called "gumballs", "spacebugs" and even "conkleberry" in the US.

Even if you never plant one, they're worth looking out for on autumn garden visits – real fireworks. Distraction for even a genuine grade-A grump.

Not just for summer

Cotinus 'Royal Purple'

Keep it small by trimming back hard, or let it grow wide and prosper. A real chop back in spring results in the deepest foliage colours, but will take off the long shoots that produce flowers. £9.99, crocus.co.uk

American Sweetgum, 'Liquidambar styraciflua'

Not just gorgeous in autumn, it benefits from summer-long perfumed foliage that make it a treat to take a nap under. Remember it will grow, however slowly. Try variety "Worplesdon", £14.99, duchyofcornwallnursery.co.uk

Wedding Cake Tree, 'Cornus controversa'

Here's one more for foliage-lovers: see a good one and you'll really get the name – pretty leaves in proper tiers. All varieties turn a satisfying reddish purple come autumn. £29.99, crocus.co.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week