The month of May sees the colouring of deciduous autumn trees, shrubs and creepers in our Sydney suburbs. Though we don't get the truly sumptuous display of cooler areas such as the Southern Highlands or the Blue Mountains, there are a number of specimens that can give pretty colour in our climate, as I have written about in previous blogs in 2009 and 2010. As readers of the website may know, one of my greatest delights in gardening is to form combinations of plants, and I particularly enjoy colour echoes, where the flowers of one plant are placed nearby the similarly coloured leaves of another plant. In autumn, I enjoy observing and thinking of partnerships between flowers and deciduous leaves. Many of these remain only in my mind, or as collages of picked leaves and flowers as shown in some of the photos in this blog, and never actually get created in the garden but it is still fun to contemplate the idea - and in other gardens I have seen some very successful pairings.
Autumn-flowering Salvia form the backbone of my garden at this time of year and they have lots of potential for forming colour echoes with a background of deciduous trees. A recent visit to the lovely garden of Tracey Fleischner in Sydney revealed a flourishing specimen of the yellow Salvia madrensis placed nearby a young golden elm (as pictured above), an effective grouping.
Other Salvia specimens in bloom now have autumn-coloured blooms, such as the rich orange wands of Salvia confertiflora. These flowers have a lovely velvety quality and are held on long spires. The plant seems to take a couple of years to settle down to produce a lot of flowers, so I wasn't quite sure about this plant originally, but it has been blooming for several months now and I am planning where I could put some more of them nearby my big Liquidambar tree that forms a quilt of yellow, orange, red and burgundy leaves throughout May.
Lovely Salvia elegans Purple Form is another autumn bloomer (which will also continue into winter) and its dainty burgundy flowers match in well with deciduous leaves of a similar hue. There are several red Salvia in flower at this time of year - including the indefatigable Salvia splendens, Salvia miniata and Salvia 'Van Houttei' - and they could be grown near trees with a reddish hue to their changing foliage - including some of the Japanese maples that grow and colour well in Sydney's mild climate.
The bird-of-paradise plant, Strelitzia reginae, flowers throughout autumn and winter, and I have enjoyed seeing its bird-like inflorescences with a backdrop of an orange-tinged crepe myrtle tree and a stunning orange Chinese pistachio tree (Pistacia chinensis) in my neighbourhood. Abutilon - the Chinese lantern shrubs - flower from late summer through to late spring, so they are also excellent for colour echoes with autumn foliage, as they come in many hues of oranges, yellows, reds and mahogany. Shrubby red Pentas keep on blooming well through autumn and could be given a similar backdrop.
Some autumn leaves have an unusual salmon tint and can be partnered with flowers of a similar colour. The pairing shown (left) is of foliage from a Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) grown on a wall in my garden (which also has red and orange colouration in many other leaves), with an unusual member of the Acanthaceae family that I have recently been growing: Ruspolia seticalyx. I am not very familiar with its growth habit or flowering season as yet, so am not sure if it is going to prove to be a useful garden plant, but it began to bloom in early autumn and is still going strong, with clusters of pretty star-shaped salmon-pink flowers with dark red/orange markings, on a small shrub.
The potential for autumn colour echoes is endless!
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