Fall Displays: Seedheads And Bark – Many plants have wonderful seedheads, which can be just as attractive as flowers. Clematis tangutica and Clematis ‘Bill Mackenzie’ both produce large fluffy balls of silvery silk that look exquisite when lit by the sun, especially when growing up through a tree.
One of the few plants with brightly colored seedheads is Physalis alkekengi, the Chinese lantern. This perennial has vivid red or orange ‘paper lanterns’, which can be cut and used in dried arrangements. For a wildflower garden, teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) is a must: its shapely, architectural seedheads not only look imposing but provide valuable food for birds. Poppies and thistles also add interesting shapes to the garden.
If you visit any arboretum in winter you will quickly see how many trees have amazing bark. The range includes bark which keeps peeling back in papery scrolls, revealing fresh new bark beneath, such as Acer griseum, and trunks which have quite beautiful colors.
The most popular trunks are gleaming bright white, for example Betula utilis var. jacquemontii, and they are dramatic on sunny fall and winter days. ‘Grayswood Ghost’ has glossy leaves, the fast-growing ‘Jermyns’ has rounded leaves and large catkins, and ‘Silver Shadow’ has large, drooping dark green leaves: all three have particularly brilliant bark. As the white bark gets dirty, which invariably happens, you can even clean it with buckets of hot water to bring out the striking color.
Betula utilis var. jacquemontii
Another tree that is well worth growing for its bark is Prunus serrula with its smooth, shiny, and dark brown mahogany trunk. It eventually grows to 10m (33ft) high. If you have room, grow Eucalyptus pauciflora subsp. niphophila which has shedding white bark at the end of summer and in fall, exposing the most exquisite bark beneath which is patterned cream, russet and grey. In fact the eucalyptuses offer some of the fastest growing trees, many with excellent bark.
Clematis tangutica seedheads
Quite a few species of tree can be kept shorter than they would otherwise grow by coppicing or pollarding. Those with attractive bark include E. coccifera (grey with white), E. deanei (pale yellow, grey and hints of red), the crooked, multi-stemmed E. pauciflora subsp. debeuzevillei, E. fraxinoides and E. gresoniana (both white), and E. viminalis (white and reddish-pink).
Stewartias are much slower growing, and the best include S. pseudocamellia and S. sinensis. Both have colorful bark with turns dark reddish-brown before it begins to flake, exposing the new bark beneath. The foliage on both also turns bright red before falling.
Stewartia with bright red foliage