2015, the Best Autumn Colour for Many Years

We are told that this year’s astonishingly good autumn colours were down to cold nights and not too many strong winds, that would bring the leaves down. But for some reason, too, the colours have been incredibly subtle. Yes, the reds and yellows have been good and very strong, but plants with less strident hues – grasses for instance – have never looked better. And the other thing about autumn in England is the way the colours change and develop from one day to the next. I used to love Fall when I lived in Canada and would head south to New England for weekends. Screaming scarlet Virginia Creeper looks superb, for example, growing up tall hardwoods on the edge of woodland. Across the Atlantic it’s the first frosts that trigger leaf fall, but once the process has been started in earnest, the season thunders along, often being finished in two or three weeks. Over here, our gentler, maritime, Atlantic climate allows autumn colour to extend over six to eight weeks. The only colour we tend to lack are the reds of North American oaks and Japanese maples. The scarlet leaves of sumac, Rhus glabra, the equivalent of our elder, are a feature of the fringes of New England woods and make a wonderful display alongside Virginia Creeper, in the eponymous State. Sadly, we don’t have anything remotely comparable on this side of the Atlantic.

This year the autumn colours were looking pretty good in mid-November and a few oak trees and hazels are still (just) in leaf, in the first week of December. In fact a couple of the hazels in our wood have already produced catkins, which they did in the last week of November, before all the leaves had dropped off. Although as I write, a series of quite severe storms are currently doing their best to blow everything to Kingdom Come. Normally I reckon hazel catkins should start sometime after Christmas. Then they begin to fade away as the first snowdrops start to appear, towards the latter part of January. This is going to be a very early winter and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we didn’t have snowdrops and aconites in early January. In cities like London they’ll probably be in flower before Christmas. Global warming? Almost certainly, but remember, we’re talking here about weather, as opposed to climate – something that climate change deniers (why does that word put me in mind of ladies’ stockings? The spelling looks odd, but it’s even odder with a ‘y’: deny, denyers? No. That won’t do at all. But I digress…). Anyhow, those people don’t seem to understand that it’s part of a process that can be statistically linked to the first industrial-scale burning of coal in the mid-19th Century.

My obsessions aside, this has to be an example of a situation where one picture can say a thousand words. So here are eight pictures. All were taken on November 2nd, 2015. Just a month later some of the colours already look improbable, compared with the drabness of early winter. How time flies!

The back of the barn with the scarlet red of Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus tricuspidata.

The back of the barn with the scarlet red of Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus tricuspidata.

Pen strolls through the Glade, oblivious to the leaves of golden alder above her.

Pen strolls through the Glade, oblivious to the leaves of golden alder above her.

The top end of the long border where Maisie has successfully combined yellows and blues.

The top end of the long border where Maisie has successfully combined yellows and blues.

The tassels of the giant grass Mecanopsis sinensis against the bright red of the Virginia Creeper on the back of the barn.

The tassels of the giant grass Miscanthus sinensis against the bright red of the Virginia Creeper on the back of the barn.

A selection of grasses and sedges in the Glade, against the turning leaves of Golden Alder and the hornbeam hedge.

A selection of grasses and sedges in the Glade, against the turning leaves of Golden Alder and the hornbeam hedge.

A view along the Serpentine Walk towards the Glade with the turning leaves of various birches catching the low afternoon sun. And why are modern gardeners so obsessed with sweeping up leaves? I think they add a much-needed touch of variety to an otherwise uniform green lawn.

A view along the Serpentine Walk towards the Glade with the turning leaves of various birches catching the low afternoon sun. And why are modern gardeners so obsessed with sweeping up leaves? I think they add a much-needed touch of variety to an otherwise uniform green lawn.

A view across the Meadow towards the trees at the edge of the wood. Pen has never appreciated the colours of autumn, but she does like it when the leaves have gone, because then she can see and bark ferociously at the unfortunate grey squirrels.

A view across the Meadow towards the trees at the edge of the wood. Pen has never appreciated the colours of autumn, but she does like it when the leaves have gone, because then she can see and bark ferociously at the unfortunate grey squirrels.

We planted this young northern red oak (Quercus rubra), from North America, to provide autumn contrast with the yellows of the birches behind it. It’s a very fast-growing tree which loves our heavy, wet soils.

We planted this young northern red oak (Quercus rubra), from North America, to provide autumn contrast with the yellows of the birches behind it. It’s a very fast-growing tree which loves our heavy, wet soils.

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