An autumn spectacle of texture, tone and form

The dry, mild and calm autumn we’ve had this year has made for a long lasting colour show, like slow burning embers that just keep on glowing. The Glasshouse Borders at RHS Garden Wisley show how trees and shrubs with outstanding autumn colour combine with strong-structured herbaceous perennials to create a warming palette of texture, tone and form. A dark evergreen backdrop of Cupressus, evergreen oaks and pine, helps intensify the autumn spectacle. 

Trees and shrubs from back to front; buttery yellow Rhus copallina, brick-red Cotinus ‘Grace’, Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Yelverton’, merlot-red Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’. Sea of perennials in the foreground; black stems and silver seedheads of Eupatorium, butter yellow autumn foliage of Amsonia hubrichtii and Amsonia tabernaemontana, blonde mist of Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Karl Foerster’, and steely seedheads of Salvia nemorosa.
Strong-standing winter stems and seed-heads of Veronicastrum ‘Adoration’. Known as culver’s root. If you want to limit the height of Veronicastrum, snip off the tips when they reach 15-30cm below their desired height, and they’ll flower just above where you chop them, with smaller and finer flowers but many more of them.
Rhus copallina, the winged sumac; this rare tree in cultivation suckers form the base.
The chinese sumac, Rhus chinensis, has a much lower tendency to sucker, compared to R. copallina, and a much more vivid autumn colour too.
Candyfloss-like seed heads of Cotinus coggygria, the European smoketree.
Cotinus ‘Flame’; one of the best plants for intense orange colour saturation in autumn that doesn’t disapear too quickly.
Thinning autumn foliage on black willow, Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’, revealing glossy black stems on the new season’s growth. These are pollarded every year at the end of winter.
Eupatorium maculatum (Atropurpureum Group) ‘Purple Bush’. Eupatorium are another stalwart long-season perennial that stands up to the worst of the winter wet and wind.
Vibrant tabasco orange of pollarded Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Yelverton’, the golden willow.
Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Karl Foerster’ against black backdrop of Eupatorium, Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’ and Eryngium giganteum ‘Silver Ghost’ and Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Yelverton’.
Self-seeding biennial Eryngium giganteum ‘Silver Ghost’ with Panicum virgatum ‘Rehbraun’. This Eryngium is particularly fabulous, but in the right condition it self-seeds profusely, with a long tap root that does not pull up easily. Best planted where it can run wild among well established tough perennials that can cope with the competition.
Cotinus ‘Grace’ and Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Yelverton’ rising above herbaceous plants in the foreground; bottle brush-like african feather grass Pennisetum macrourum, and white stems of russian sage Perovskia ‘Little Spire’.

Thanks to the fabulous gardener Ian Trought for providing information about the planting.

Photography by Owen Hayman, in mid November.