Friday, 31 October 2008

The Colour of Autumn

When at last we get a really cold snap of weather the trees get the message and turn their brilliant autumn colours. In England we don’t get those wonderful vibrant reds of the American New England natives but the many different greens of our native trees do take on orange, ochre and lime, yellows, rusts and browns, which give a beautiful, toning tapestry look to the landscape.

In gardens, sumach trees show us just how wonderful those foreign reds can be, and the odd red leaf oak looks stunning; the leaves of our garden cherries only a soft and pale imitation. The first foreigner to turn in my garden is the Amalanchier, which goes from green to mass of pinky red. The beautifully textured leaves of the Cornus kousa Chinensis turn a deep rich claret, those of the Malus a bright, light yellow.

Two of our best native trees for autumn colour are the hornbeam and beech which turn a rich copper, the hornbeam holding onto to its curling, brown paper rustling leaves throughout the winter. The leaves of our large weeping copper beach turn, surprisingly, from copper to almost green before - with the hardest frost – they turn steadily darkest orange to pale tangerine.

The grass beneath gradually becomes a rust-coloured carpet that parts satisfyingly as we walk through it. When the leaves have all fallen we will rake them up and use them as a mulch, piling them in situ in corners of the garden where no wind will send them skittering away. There they will stay until next spring, a thick warm blanket, protecting the bulbs, suppressing the weeds.

The oak tree is the last to turn, the leaves holding stubbornly on until its every neighbour is nearly denuded. Then, by Christmas, the wind will have taken these and sent them all over the garden to settle themselves like blankets under hedges and gates. Or we will find them, damp or dry, piled in between pots and plants.

Then, before we have had time to track them down and consign them to the compost bin, sneaky snow or ice will cover them, making a treacherous surface for the unwary who venture out without wellies.

Some people say that this is their favourite time of year, the air crisp, the colours so beautiful. But for me, Spring must be the best time with its promise of things to come. Although I must admit that the landscape now is mellow - the hedges trimmed, fields ploughed, verges cut - everything ready for a winter rest.

Out walking with Freddie today – himself the foxy colour of fallen leaves – this world seems still and quiet. A rabbit – wary and waiting – goes almost unnoticed against the bare brown earth until, suddenly, snow white tail up, it makes a dash for the hedge and home. Freddie sees it too late. A motionless pheasant - the iridescent emerald and pillar box red of its head surprisingly camouflaged in the landscape – thinks we are getting too near and suddenly scurries across the field to the safety of the wood edge.

The light is beginning to fade: tonight is All Hallows Eve when in days gone by bonfires were lit to the dying sun. Superstitions and ghosts, apples and nuts, games and wine were intertwined, all part of this night. It marks the end of the colourful season of autumn: winter’s ahead.


No comments: