Plantwise: Autumn Colors without Trees

How to bring the beauty of fall to your home garden, without the space-hogging branches.

By Kate Bryant September 3, 2013 Published in the September 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

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Q. My garden gets boring in autumn, but I don’t have space for a tree with spectacular foliage. What should I do?

A. Buy some shrubs—they can look dashing before and even after their colorful autumn show. These five options offer lovely spring or summer flowers, bright foliage in summer and fall, winter interest, tasty fruit, or nourishment and habitat for wildlife. 

Hedgerow’s Gold Redosier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) Elegant, gold-variegated foliage, flat white flowers that butterflies love in summer, spectacular burnished purple and red fall color with white fruit for birds, and brilliant red winter twigs. 

Golden Spirit Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria) Sunny gold leaves brighten up the spring garden and produce clouds of smoky pink flowers in summer. Drought-tolerant. Golden Spirit turns luminous yellow-coral-orange in fall.

Snowflake Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) Apple-green spring flower buds open in early summer to creamy white, cone-shaped flowers comprising luscious double florets. Flowers fade to papery purplish-pink. In fall, the deeply lobed foliage turns rich purple and red. 

Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana) The foliage is warm green with a hint of smoky blue. Come autumn, clusters of red hips appear and the foliage turns bright, golden yellow. The Nookta rose grows wild all over the Portland area and thus draws native pollinators and birds. 

Spartan Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) In spring, blueberry bushes are a haze of golden buds followed by pink new leaves turning green. Summer brings those healthy, delicious little blue orbs, followed by electric fall color: red, orange, yellow, or purple. 

Plan—and shop—for your autumn color shrubs now. By the time cooler days and the first autumn rains converge, the weather will be perfect for planting.

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