Among the first plants to colour up is Cercidiphyllum japonicum, known as the Katsura tree. It fades from green to rich russets and golden yellows. But, best of all, as the leaves turn, the air is perfumed with the smell of toffee.
Many of the Japanese acers will add fiery reds to your display. The wonderfully feathery foliage of Acer palmatum var. dissectum turns scarlet and looks particularly stunning near water. Weeping forms are great for small gardens. The witch hazel family will add orange and yellow to the palette. One of the best is Parrotia persica, a native of northern Iran, which has a wide-spreading habit.
Pyracantha “Red column” can be used either as a free-standing shrub, trained against a wall, or will make a dense, spiny, fast-growing hedge. Frothy masses of white flowers give way to red berries that will keep the local blackbird population happy almost until Christmas.
Euonymus sieboldianus is a useful semi-evergreen shrub, an ideal backdrop planting for summer herbaceous plants. In autumn it comes into its own with showy clusters of vibrant, bright pink capsules, opening to complementary dark red seeds.
Guelder rose, Viburnum opulus, is a native of the UK. It would enjoy being planted at a woodland edge where, along with rusty red foliage, pendulous trusses of glistening red fruit will hang.
As the leaves fall and the berries are consumed, bark and stem effect plants come into their own. Try planting white stemmed Rubus thibetanus against evergreens or a dark fence for contrast. Cornus stolonifera “Farrow” is a good dwarf selection with scarlet stems which look superb encrusted in frost. Corylus avellana “Contorta”, with artistically twisted stems, is the flower arranger’s friend, as well as a superb stem effect garden plant. Often it is the herald of spring, producing glorious yellow catkins.
n Pete Brownless is garden supervisor at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh