Before shorter days and longer nights leave us with cold, bare branches, there’s the sure remedy of autumn foliage at its dazzling best, so head to your nearest arboretum for assistance
Arboretums in Autumn offer soothing bark textures and spectacular leaf colours to admire, and in-situ inspiration for planting combinations to try at home. It's always invigorating to get up close to some of the rarest and biggest tree specimens, and to feast our eyes on them.
On a south-facing escarpment of the Cotswold Hills, award-winning 55-acre Batsford is the UK's most visited arboretum. Its wonderful tree collections have an emphasis on the far East, including bamboos, acers and sorbus. Meander along the paths and streams in October when the colours of the leaves transform the landscape into a slow bonfire. Acers in particular are a real draw, with vivid colours ranging from flaming red to pale pink and bright yellow. Among the hundreds of cherry trees, don’t miss the Katsura tree Cercidiphyllum japonicum: its deep-pink foliage and candy floss scent will stop you in your tracks. I love the Batsford café too, a handsome wooden building with an undulating roof and elevated terrace looking out over the trees.
Gertrude Jekyll lived at Bramley House here, as a girl, and used to go walking in the surrounding woodland near Godalming. That was before it was planted up with some of the more exotic trees you can see here now - more than 1,000 different shrubs and trees, with many rare species. In autumn, the steep hillsides are awash with russet, copper and gold, the tones reflecting sublimely in the arboretum's lake. Top trees include larches, tulip trees, acers, dawn redwood and the stunning liquidambar, with leaves painted an array of shades, from deep purple to pale gold. We took a picnic a few years ago, and it was an idyllic way to spend a sunny autumn day. There are guided walks every last Friday and second Wednesday in the month.
Westonbirt, The National Arboretum
This is seriously popular, so plan ahead and book tickets early. To entice you, they produce a brilliant ‘autumn watch’ video, updated weekly.
The site, near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, was first planted in the 1850s. Now it has more than 14,000 labelled trees spanning 2,500 native and exotic species. The winged spindles, or burning bushes, Euonymus alatus, are fabulous, with their pretty pink and orange autumn seed pods. Five National Collections here include the National Collection for maples. Check out the Acer Glade and Maple Loop – the colours are incredible.
I’d love to plant a tulip tree or a liquidambar in my city garden, but they’re too big. Ornamental Acers, however, are just right: some of the prettiest shrubs and small trees you'll find.
Depending on the variety, they'll grow to 3m by 1.5m, up to 7m by 5m. I have one Acer palmatum in the ground and one in a pot, which keeps it compact.
Enjoy your trees this autumn, and happy wandering!
Written by: Francesca Clarke