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Gardens Blog

My favourite plant… October

This time last year we visited the RHS gardens at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire, early on a damp, misty morning with low sunlight and dew drops shining on cobwebs everywhere. Having finally managed to get beyond the enormous drifts of Helenium, Rudbeckia and Echinacea, all of which were stunning, as was a crab apple, Malus Hupehensis, laden with tiny scarlet fruits, we found ourselves on a path along the stream garden at the bottom of a wooded area and there, at the end, was a sight to make anyone gasp. For the RHS is the proud possessor of a spectacular climber, the Vitis Coignetiae or Crimson Glory Vine, originally from Japan. This specimen must have been in place for decades and scrambles up, through, and over a very large mature oak. The cool night temperatures had started its transformation from a soft green curtain to a veil of colours.

To describe the autumn colours of this vine I am obliged to resort to references to fruit to find the exact shades, so that after a spell of cold weather the green leaves turn gently to lemon, banana, apricot, mandarin, raspberry, bramble and damson all on the same plant.

Harlow Carr also has a smaller specimen, in one of the ‘Gardens Through Time’ demonstration areas, which has been trained against a very contemporary wall rendered in a shade of melon which make all the glowing colours of the vine sing out.

This climber is easy to grow, requiring full sun or partial shade and a well-drained, neutral to slightly alkaline soil. The heart shaped leaves with three to five lobes have deeply impressed veins on the upper surface and a thick brown furry coat beneath. It does flower, with small, scented light green flowers in May and June which result in small dark blue fruit which are not recommended for eating. It is vigorous and can reach over 20 metres given a sufficiently strong support. I would recommend you plant it with no intention of moving it at a later date should it outgrow its allocated space, give it plenty of well-rotted organic matter when putting it into the ground and give it supports to get started. Tie it in as it grows and once it has a good framework, shorten all the lateral shoots to within two or three buds from the main stem. Try only to prune in winter when the sap doesn’t ‘bleed’.

So where could you plant one? Well, given its vigour and determination to reach for the sky, it would be brilliant at clothing a tree such as a Cupressus x Leylandii, particularly if it were a neighbouring tree which you were not particularly fond of but could not remove, provided you can get it going into the tree itself. Otherwise it will transform unnsightly fences, walls and structures and simply leave you wanting more.

Crimson Glory on the vine, and then the final flaming beauty of the leaves scattered over the ground in a carpet fit for royalty – pick up your favourites, dry them carefully and treasure them as talismen of late autumn sunshine and richness against the short, cold days to come.