Pear Fondante d'Automne

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Here’s a bit of a turn-up: a fruit tree chosen for it’s leaves. Unusual but I am confident that, having seen this picture, you will get my point. This is something very special -that red blush spreads to cover the whole leaf.

Good Things

Also has very lovely white blossom in the springtime.Pears grow in wetter ground than apples.

Bad Things

If you are hungry then I am afraid that, although it produces delicious tasting fruit there are not that many of them. Requires a pollinator.

Parottia persica

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

One of the best names for a tree.It sounds exotic and, at the same time, quite cuddly.On my neutral soil the autumn leaves are dark, sultry red with a bit of a scarlet flash occasionally.as an added bonus you will get exquisite little red flowers that look like sea anemones in about February. Very special but you do need to keep your eyes peeled as they are easy to miss amongst the winter dreariness.

Good Things

Can make an unusual and spectacular hedge or small tree. Grows in tiers like the better class of Christmas tree.

Bad Things

Some people might consider it a little dreary. Some people have no taste.

Olea europea

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Another evergreen, this is the Mediterranean olive. This works really well is gardens and courtyards either in pots or in the ground.Can cope with the cold but absolutely abhor sitting with wet feet. The secret is in the drainage – they grow naturally on stony hillsides where the water disappears very quickly, incorporate lots of gravel when planting.

Good Things

Excellent in large terracotta pots where you can control watering more easily.Very compliant and tolerant of vigorous pruning.

Bad Things

In Britain you are extremely unlikely to get any decent olives. Watch out for strong, cold winds.

Liquidambar styraciflua Worplesdon

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

One of the best varieties of one of the best trees for Autumn colour. I wrote about this tree before and was bombarded (by “bombarded” I mean that one person wrote in: maybe less of a bombardment, more of a lone protest) with letters from Americans who complained that it was a self-seeding pest with spiky fruits and I should not be promoting its growth. I apologise in advance to my trans-Atlantic readers but I am sticking to my guns. In Europe, it is a corker with deep red leaves the colour of bruised apples. There is a remarkable specimen in the RHS garden at Wisley.

Good Things

15m high and 8m spread.Good leaves. Corky bark.

Bad Things

Best on acid soil. Can self seed.Fruit (sometimes known as Gumballs) can be annoying. Flowers insignificant.

Acer campestre

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

If you have ever walked in countryside you will have seen this tree. You may not have noticed it as it is one of the less flamboyant members of the species. It does not have the exotically patterned exterior of the sake bark maple nor does it have the hula-hula fringed leaves of the cut leaved varieties. This is the Field maple and, as such, has been a stalwart in our copses, spinneys and hedgerows for many centuries. In the summer it is solid and unremarkable but in the Autumn it can twinkle with the best of them. It has glorious autumn leaves the colour of soundly whipped butter.

Good Things

Tough, reliable.Resilient to pests and disease. Good in the Autumn. 20m tall. Can be coppiced.

Bad Things

Perhaps a bit dreary and dull of leaf for the majority of the summer. If you have only room for one tree in your garden, this may not be the one but if you have a wild area or a woodland bed then it is a good choice.

Parthenocissus tricuspidata

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Okay, so this is not a tree but, I think you will agree, that it merits inclusion on this list. It is all about the leaves which change from darkest green to claret red in a great Mexican wave – the leaves in the sunniest spot change first. One of the most charming aspects are the leaf stems which all turn shrimp pink.

Good Things

A vigorous climber, really good for a big wall. The fallen leaves can be used to decorate a plate of cheese: a plump camembert looks really good sitting on a scarlet leaf.

Bad Things

A self clinging climber. This means that it requires no wiring (after the first few years) but can damage the pointing between bricks – especially on old walls.

Euonymus alatus

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

This is a really very good small tree, or shrub, or hedge. It will be whatever you want it to be.I first met this shrub in Kew Gardens in the Autumn of 1984: it was love at first sight.It is just a touch more exotic than the European native Euonymus europaeus – which is in itself no slacker in the Autumnal whizz department with wonderful orange and pink flowery bracts in early winter..

Good Things

A fine addition to any shrubbery. Leaves. Exciting flowers. There is a variety called E. alatus Compactus which is only 1m high so good for smaller gardens.

Bad Things

If you live in parts of America you will be scratching your heads and muttering about “crazy Brits”. To you it is a pestilential weed, to us it is one of the best things about Autumn. Oh well, cultural differences make the world more exciting. Slow growing. Bit dull in Summer.

Nyssa sylvatica

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Nothing could be nicer than a Nyssa. One of the most spectacular autumn colours you will ever see. The young leaves are pleasingly bronzed, like sunburned Dryads which then fade quietly into the background during the summer before rampaging back in Autumn with the leafy of one of the more raucous sort of Acid house party. Needs a bit of shelter from the worst drying winds.

Good Things

Blackish fruit in the winter.20m high.Leaves. A good, elegant shape.

Bad Things

Like many of the best Autumn trees they perform better on acid soils.Slow Growing. Flowers insignificant.

Quercus ilex

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

The Evergreen oak. Introduced into Britain from the Mediterranean in the Seventeenth century – and remarkably those first acorns grew into trees that are still growing at Mamhead Park in Devon. It is at its best on chalky soils where it can grow into a stonking specimen 20 Metres high. However, it is very adaptable and has no objections to being coppiced, trained or clipped so makes an effective hedge or pleached screen.

Good Things

Always difficult finding a good evergreen that fits into the British landscape. Most of them look a bit out of place and weird.

Bad Things

The leaves are a very dark green so can make a shady spot very depressing. Plant them in the light.

Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

A tree that will reliably flower through the entire winter: all it needs is a warm patch. After a bit of freezing miserableness, quite often there will be a few days where the temperature rises. At that point: Bang. This tree flowers.

This in itself is a pretty good thing but there is more: many flowering cherries have rather uncouth and coarse leaves during the summer. This variety is much finer and more delicate.

Good Things

Livens up a winter’s day. Comes in either pink or white. Pretty impressive autumn colour.

Bad Things

Not a very strong tree, in fact it borders on the spindly so, for best effect, it is good to plant more than one if you have space.

Carpinus betulus

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Sometimes it is not necessary to get exotic varieties, sometimes the everyday is enough. The common hornbeam is as adaptable as a Swiss Army Knife and can be used for hedges, screens, pleachings, avenues and specimen trees. There is a very upright, conical variety (Carpinus betulus Fastigiatus) which works well in a tight spot. Holds the leaves well into the winter and the bark is sometimes twisted and as muscular as a head locked wrestler.

Good Things

Works well in wetter soils. Green catkin flowers. Food for various moths including the interestingly named Svensson’s Copper Underwing. Very hard wood – good for chess pieces and piano parts.

Bad Things

Not quite as elegant as beech.

Rhus typhina

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

When I was maintaining gardens in London (many years ago) I cut down an awful lot of these trees. Mostly because they were planted in the next door garden and had crept their way under the fence. They do tend to send up suckers but, if you have the space this is a good thing and, if you don’t then they are quite easy to chop off with a spade. A bit of gardening should not put you off growing this tree. Long pinnate leaves, lovely furry branches (hence the common name of Stags Horn Sumach) and interesting fruit.

Good Things

Morocco leather is made using the tannins from Sumach trees so excellent if you need to bind some books.

Bad Things

Suckering. Annoying neighbours.

Acer rubrum Autumn Glory

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

You cannot really have a wintry tree list without an ornamental Acer. There is a range of impressive possibilities but this is a good place to start.Redder than the reddest robin redbreast. Redder than a supercharged stoplight. Redder that Snow White’s ruby lips. Even redder than Moira Shearer’s shoes. Unmissable.

Good Things

One of the redeeming features of a hard frost is that it makes the colour even deeper. Sadly it also makes the leaves fall faster but life is enlivened by such poetic dichotomies!

Bad Things

The branches are a tad brittle so beware of very windy sites.

Abies Koreana

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

I know. A conifer. How shocking. Conifers are supposed to be deeply unfashionable and redolent of 1970s under-chic (if there is no such expression, then there should be) and here is one strutting it’s stuff here on the hippest thing in gardening since…… Well, since ever. But this is not just any old conifer, this one has style and pizzazz. Look at the clouded blue of its needles and the dusky purple of its cones.It makes an extremely handsome statement even in a small garden. Well worth the risk.

Good Things

I have probably said enough to convince all but the hardest hearted sceptic.6 Metres tall.

Bad Things

Sometimes a bit tricky to find suitable companions. Try hardy geraniums or glossy Asarum. Probably best to steer clear of ornamental heather if you don’t want to get a reputation.Slow Growing

Crataegus monogyna

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

This is the basic model Hawthorn, a stalwart hedgerow plant that produces delightful white flowers in May and shiny red Haws in Autumn. Both flowers and fruit are edible – the flowers are also known as Bread and Cheese which is quite a prosaic description as if you were expecting something tasting of fine Camembert and and a slice of crusty sourdough then you will be bitterly disappointed. Excellent for sturdy rustic hedging – a proper stockproof fence should consist of 60% Hawthorn.

Good Things

Excellent native plant good for birds, insects and small mammals. Haws make good jelly.

Bad Things

Very prickly so keep away from pathways, patios and children’s play areas.

Prunus mackii Amber Beauty

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Not the best for autumn leaves but look at the bark. It is as burnished as a Sergeant-Major’s toecap.It is something that will embellish and enliven the watery sunbeams of winter. Bark is very important at this time of year as we are running out of things about which we can get frothy and excitable. Also known as the Manchurian Cherry.

Good Things

Looks particularly good as a multi-stemmed tree. This is gauzier than a standard and gives a lighter shade so better for under planting. 10m high.

Bad Things

Cherries are quite greedy. Difficult to get much growing beneath their canopies.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum

Words: James Alexander-Sinclair

Breathe in. Deeper. Can you smell it? the unmistakeable smell of burnt sugar. Of roasting toffee. Of barbecued fudge. It is the scent of autumn leaves, to be more specific the fading leaves of the Katsura Tree. Not only are they delightfully scented but they are as colourful as a bonfire with shades of yellow, orange and red . The young leaves are a charmingly embarrassed pink. Makes a peculiarly good specimen tree for pretty much any garden.

Good Things

Autumn leaves. Elegance and low maintenance.10m high after fifteen years.

Bad Things

For the absolute sine qua non of Autumn colour you need an acidic soil. Apologies to those on chalky down lands.