How to grow: Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’
But every so often, after a warm, dry summer and a calm, cool start to autumn, we get a taste of what it might be like. And while few of us have the space to grow the kings of the autumn scene – the maple, liquidambar and red oak – there are plants that will bring a taste of autumn spectacle to your garden. One of the loveliest, and easiest to grow is Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’.
E. europaeus ‘Red Cascade’ is a cultivated variety of our native spindle, a handsome shrub of hedgerows and waysides which has long been valued for its hard, straight and weighty wood. In Europe, the branches were used for spinning raw wool – hence the imported name of spindle – while in Britain it was more commonly used to make toothpicks, knitting-needles and skewers.
Its long and fruitful association with humans came to an abrupt and messy end in the 1970s when it was reported – without conclusive evidence – that it harboured the spores of winter-wheat rust. What followed is one of the more shameful periods of British agriculture, as mile after mile of hedgerows were slashed to the ground and grubbed out, regardless of how much spindle they contained.
Fortunately the native is returning in many hedgerows, and for gardens the cultivar E. europaeus ‘Red Cascade’ is an excellent choice. Forming a shrub of 3m by 2.5m (10ft by 8ft) with gently spreading shoots, it comes into the spotlight from now until early December. The scalloped, oval leaves begin to turn from dark green to a deep, lustrous red, the colour appearing initially in the leaf joints and midribs then across the leaves until the whole plant glows with colour.
Even more extraordinary are the seeds and seed capsules. If Mother Nature has access to a colour wheel, she certainly didn’t refer to it here; the seed capsules are a lurid, lipstick-red, divided into four lobes that split open to reveal fleshy fruits in a tangerine colour, the whole ensemble hanging down in clusters that look more like Chinese lanterns than anything nature could devise.
E. europaeus ‘Red Cascade’ is a fine garden plant, truly in its element come autumn. So if you long for a taste of the blazing glory of New England, why not start here?
E. europaeus ‘Red Cascade’ is inconspicuous for most of the year, although its foliage makes a pleasant backdrop for flowering plants. But what will set it apart in autumn is association with plants that will contrast with or complement its vibrant foliage.
The late-flowering Kniphofia rooperi makes a great foreground plant, its vivid orange flowers looking hot and spicy against the red of the euonymus.
Miscanthus sinensis ‘Rotsilber’ and M. sinensis ‘Gewitterwolke’ have just the right amount of red in their flowers to maintain the theme, while their foliage cools the whole affair.
Cortaderia selloana ‘Sunningdale Silver’ is another superb companion, with graceful, silver inflorescences providing a contrast in colour and form.
Where to buy
Burncoose Nurseries, Gwennap, Redruth, Cornwall TR16 6BJ (01209 860316; www.burncoose.co.uk). Mail order available – send £1.50 in stamps for a catalogue. Open daily, 8.30am to 5pm (11am Sunday).
Thornhayes Nursery, St Andrews Wood, Dulford, Cullompton, Devon EX15 2DF (01884 266746; www.thornhayes-nursery.co.uk). Mail order available – call for a free catalogue. Open Monday to Friday, 8am to 4.30pm, and 9.30am to noon Saturday.
Elsewhere at Wisley, the manicured Great Double Herbaceous Borders, Hydrangea Annabelle settling down for the Winter, Ginkgo biloba in the Bowes Lyons Rose Garden, the Fruit Mount in sun.