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Autumn colour not confined to trees

This article was first published on 23 May 2018.

Geranium sanguineum

Geranium sanguineum

Photo by the Otago Daily Times

We associate the fiery colours of autumn with trees - Liquidambar, maple, rowan, poplar and ash to name but a few. However, not everyone has the room in their garden to plant a grove of deciduous trees. You can borrow the colour from neighbouring trees but by thinking smaller you can plant to get your own autumn fix. The following species can all be found growing on the rock garden at Dunedin Botanic Garden.

Very hardy Geranium sanguineum has rhizomes and creeps overland to form low patches. Purple flowers are held above the foliage throughout summer. The leaves are soft green and lobed and turn brilliant red as the weather cools.

Himalayan bistort, Polygonum affine is a dense, ground-covering perennial.  It is excellent for the front of a border and keeping out the weeds. Fresh green foliage is followed by tall spikes of pink summer flowers and then rich red autumn colour. Two superb cultivars are P. affine 'Superbum' and P. affine 'Donald Lowndes'

Sedum kamtschaticum is a succulent which creeps about to form a low growing mat. Vivid yellow flowers are held above bright green foliage which later turns orangey red.

Most herbaceous paeonies have splendid autumn foliage. One absolute stunner is Molly the witch, Paeonia mlokosewitschii . The autumn colour is the icing on the cake, following on from gorgeous lemon yellow blooms and colourful seed.

So as well as looking up this autumn, look down and observe those smaller plants that are changing hue.