How to plant an autumnal border

As the colours of summer gradually fade away and deciduous trees emerge skeletal, carrying an eerie silent breeze into winter, it can often feel like your garden is losing its magic. But Autumn can be its own colourful and festive vista. 

For many of us, autumn is a favourite season. Pumpkin spice, chunky jumpers, candle-lit evenings and soft cosy lighting under the orangery roof lantern. But often the change in season means we may start to neglect the garden. Retreat inside where it’s warm and lose that daily responsibility to nourish our mental and physical health. By planting an autumnal border, you’ll be lured outside and relish in the colours, shapes and smells of autumn. Pumpkin spiced latte in hand.

How to plant an autumnal border

When you think of autumnal landscapes, you’re likely to conjure up images of ruby reds, rich and earthy hazels or trees gilded in gold. Not only do these colours fill us with autumnal spirit, but they also add an immense warmth, energy and richness to any bare branches or stems left vacated after a long growing season. So play on the typical shades of the season.


As with summer planting, location is everything. You may choose to surround your landscape in autumnal beds, borders, and an abundance of seasonal interest. Or consider a single autumnal sanctuary. Separating your garden into seasonal spaces to focus your attention as the year goes on.

Either way, autumn – perhaps more so than any other season – requires careful thought into planting locations. First and foremost, with a lower sun and less daylight, it’s important to ensure your plants are receiving enough sunlight to thrive day-to-day. Similarly one of the most beautiful qualities of Autumnal landscapes is the moody skylines, smouldering backlit colours, and theatrical shadows caused by a low swooping sunset.

Choose locations that are sheltered from any strong, icy cold winds that pick up as the year goes on, or create your own shelter by planting evergreen shrubs the shield your most delicate perennials. 

Credit: The English Garden


Great options to firstly consider are structural evergreen shrubs, such as Nymans eucryphia Eucryphia nymansensis that can be planted at the back of your borders to provide privacy all year round or trimmed neatly to form structure around informal gardens. Not only are their lush verdant leaves on full display throughout the year, but they also carry delicate white flowers for many months from summer to mid/late autumn. Another option is Flax lily Sundowner Phormium ‘Sundowner’. Their cool bronze-green leaves provide subtle interest spring through summer, becoming a more intense and rich shade of claret in Autumn.

Persian Ironwood Parrotia persica is a true Autumn favourite, with intriguingly flakey bark supporting leaves of mustard yellow, vivid red and deep purple throughout the season before they tumble away in December to carry festive crimson florals

Winter’s Fire Dogwood Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ really comes into its own during the colder months. Transitioning from an inconspicuous leafy shrub into a blazing hot cluster of autumnal leaves and finally a dramatic ombre of gold and red spikes in the winter. Displaying a mirage of flame-like structure within your autumn border. 


By first creating a strong tapestry of structural shrubs you’ll want to counterbalance the rigidity of their structure and any hard forms such as deciduous trees or naked forsythia. Grasses fulfil this brief perfectly by adding whisps of movement and soothing audible whispers that animate the garden.

A popular choice is the famed Pampas Grass Cortaderia selloana, or seek out Miscanthus ‘Ferner Osten’. A clump-forming grass that ages to a beautiful burnt orange with feathering red and white-tipped flower pinnacles in autumn, before silvering and dying back in the early winter.

Alternatively the fluttering red and intense purple leaves of Japanese maple ‘Dissectum’ Acer palmatum var. dissectum will transform an autumnal landscape, producing winged fruits that twist and turn and summersault on their elegant descent to earth.

The flowers

After summer has passed, you may pine for your tremendous floral displays and the unrivalled beauty they brought to your natural landscape. So consider planning some autumn flowering bulbs such as Safron Crocus Crocus sativus or Kotschy’s Crocus Crocus kotschyanus. Both varieties display foliage through winter and spring, but are at their most striking during the autumn, with delicate floral goblets that can be naturalised in grass lawns or spread beneath borders to emerge from the feet of spent summer perennials.

In addition, Cyclamen Cyclamen cilicium posses small patterned leaves in the spring and early summer. Visually non-competitive when many of your spring bulbs are coming into season, and just before your garden begins to dull, they are a welcome burst of delicate florals that emerge beneath browning foliage and fallen leaves.