Monthly Archives: October 2014

Magical maples

Many trees have striking autumn foliage, but if you’re looking for a group that really have the X factor, there’s only one choice – maples. This large tribe are the star turn at this time of year and are prized for their foliage that turns fiery shades of red, yellow and orange before they drop.

Known botanically as acer (its name derives from the Latin word for sharp – in ancient Rome, branches were used to make handles for spears) these trees are native to every continent apart from Australia and Antarctica, with the bulk of those renowned for their autumn colour coming from North America and Japan.

Acer palmatum ‘Elegans’ and Acer japonicum ‘Acontifolium’ are among the best Japanese maples, while Acer rubrum ‘Northwood’ is a gorgeous variety from North America whose green leaves are flushed with red before turning completely scarlet. Another winner is Acer pauciflorum ‘Blaze Away’, a Chinese maple with deeply lobed, rich red leaves.

Although maples are completely hardy, the foliage of Japanese varieties are vulnerable to frost, wind or too much sun, which results in it scorching, shrivelling, desiccating at the edges and even falling prematurely. To prevent problems, plant them in dappled shade, avoiding frost pockets. Another option is to grow them in large pots that can be placed in a sheltered spot.

Where to go leafing in the UK

If you’ve never stepped foot in a garden famed for its autumn colour, then be prepared for an unforgettable experience. Apart from being dazzled by fiery shades of yellow, orange, scarlet, copper, purple and gold as trees and shrubs put on an end of season finale, you’re likely to be confronted by the sight of hundreds of visitors standing motionless as they soak up the spectacle. These folk are known as leaf peepers in the USA and it’s typical for them to travel far to see a great display. In recent years, the custom has crossed the Pond. Here are some of the best places to go leafing in the UK.

Acer palmatum 'Atropurpureum' - Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire - Autumn - © Dave Zubraski/GAP Photos

Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’ – Westonbirt Arboretum, Gloucestershire – Autumn – © Dave Zubraski/GAP Photos

Westonbirt, The National Arboretum
Around 341 different varieties of Japanese maple are spread across this 600-acre arboretum in Gloucestershire, including Acer palmatum ‘Atropurpureum’, whose purple leaves turn bright crimson in autumn.

Acer palmatum 'Elegans' - Brilliant autumn colours of Japanese Maple - Batsford Arboretum, Gloucestershire - © Clive Nichols/GAP Photos

Acer palmatum ‘Elegans’ – Brilliant autumn colours of Japanese Maple – Batsford Arboretum, Gloucestershire – © Clive Nichols/GAP Photos

Batsford Arboretum
Dating back to the 1880s, this 56-acre garden in the heart of the Cotswolds provides one of the best displays of autumn colour in the country. Japanese maples, such as this Acer palmatum ‘Elegans’, are a speciality.

Acer palmatum heptalobum 'Ozakazuki', Acer palmatum var coreanum and Larix 'Schmalenbeck' at The Harcourt Arboretum, Oxfordshire - © Clive Nichols/GAP Photos

Acer palmatum heptalobum ‘Ozakazuki’, Acer palmatum var coreanum and Larix ‘Schmalenbeck’ at The Harcourt Arboretum, Oxfordshire – © Clive Nichols/GAP Photos

The Harcourt Arboretum
Owned by Oxford University Botanic Garden, this 130-acre site is criss-crossed by paths that lead past beech, oak and other native trees with fiery tints, along with its set piece spectacular, a Japanese maple glade.

Acer platanoides 'Globosum' in autumn. Hilliers Arboretum, Hampshire - © John Glover/GAP Photos

Acer platanoides ‘Globosum’ in autumn. Hilliers Arboretum, Hampshire – © John Glover/GAP Photos

Sir Harold Hillier Gardens
Persian ironwoods, fothergilla and Acer platanoides ‘Globosum’ are just some of the trees that provide a vibrant spectacle at this famous garden in Hampshire. Covering 180-acres, it was established in 1952.

Autumnal colour at lake in Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey - © John Glover/GAP Photos

Autumnal colour at lake in Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey – © John Glover/GAP Photos

Winkworth Arboretum
A bank of trees planted for autumn colour are reflected in a lake at this garden in Surrey. The 110-acre arboretum boasts a collection of sorbus, Katsura trees and red oaks.

Late arrivals

Many gardens have long since given up the ghost by the time October arrives, but the borders within the walled garden at Parham House in Sussex continue to provide a colourful show well until the first frosts. The displays in the 4-acre space have been planted to provide a long-season of interest and there’s no doubt that they bow out in style.

Double herbaceous perennial border in September - Parham, West Sussex - © Abigail Rex/GAP Photos

Double herbaceous perennial border in September – Parham, West Sussex – © Abigail Rex/GAP Photos

Standing in the shadow of an 18th century dovecote, this border is packed full of perennials that will turn heads from spring until late autumn. Earlier in the year, it’s awash with pastel shades from alliums, delphiniums and geraniums, while purples, reds and golden yellows come to the fore in autumn.

In this border, clumps of hellenium are repeated along its length, helping to create continuity and rhythm. They’ve been teamed with achillea, spiraea and Sedum ‘Matrona’, an ice plant with fleshy purple leaves and fluffy pink flowers. Towering purple eupatorium makes a dramatic backdrop for the scheme, that’s punctuated by dahlias, plume poppies and the slender stems of the giant oat grass, Stipa gigantea.

Even after the flowers fade, the border will continue to earn its keep as the seed heads of some of the plants will continue to provide sculptural interest well into winter.