Colours of change; Autumn is the season of mists, mellow fruitfulness and spectacular colours in many of our trees, says David Howard.
FOR me, October is the most colourful month in the calendar. Our deciduous trees start to colour up prior to shedding their leaves before entering their dormant winter phase.
We often admire trees along the roadsides and in other people's gardens and wish we had them in our garden. So this is the time to photograph, make notes and identify trees which have exceptional autumn colour. The weather is perfect for a visit to an arboretum - such as that at Howick Hall, near Alnwick, or to gardens at Crook Hall, Durham. And don't forget Cragside or Belsay - in fact any large garden where you can see trees in a mature state and ask that most important question: "Will it fit in my garden?" If you are unsure, seek professional advice. A little time spent planning now can save you a lot of time, money and heartache later.
My favourite and one at the top of my list for autumn colour is the Japanese "Katsura" otherwise known as Cercidiphyllum japonicum, which colours to a beautiful soft yellow.
In the wild, it grows to 60ft, so it's not one for small gardens as it needs space in which to grow. But it comes with a bonus as the leaves colour up, a scent, described by some as candy floss or burnt sugar, and by others as nutmeg and cinnamon. On a cool autumn morning you will find its scent carried on the breeze.
Next is a British native, Acer campestre, our Field Maple, often seen in hedgerows, which colours to a soft butter yellow. A medium-sized tree growing to 40 ft it will, however, withstand being cut back on a regular basis. It is very hardy, will grow in almost any soil and in quite exposed conditions with guaranteed autumn colour.
Acer japonicum, the Japanese Maple, has become a firm favourite with British domestic gardeners. It is a small, slow growing tree, ideally suited to small gardens. There are many cultivars, giving an extensive choice within the colour spectrum from dark maroon through to bright yellow, with every shade of red, orange and yellow in between.
Our common beech tree, Fagus sylvatica, is spectacular in autumn colour, bright yellow with a sheen of burnished copper. It has many cultivated forms. They are all being grown as part of a National Collection in the grounds of Kirkley Hall, Northumberland College of Agriculture at Ponteland. But this is a tree for large gardens only.
For intense and dependable autumn colour, we should also look west to the American oaks and maples. The Sugar Maples, Acer sacharum and saccharinum, are well worth planting, along with Acer rubrum for fiery, intense colour.Longer lasting perhaps are the oaks, Quercus rubra and palustris, which will happily grow in our climate. Some of the American "Buckeyes", or Horse Chestnuts, are well worth growing but their autumn colour seems much more dependent on the climate.
Another favourite is the American Ash, Fraxinus oxycarpa "Raywood." Locally it has coloured up to a beautiful deep maroon. It is long lasting and the perfect foil to all of the yellow coloured spieces.
Remember also that autumn is a good time to plant trees while the soil is still warm. Most plants appreciate being moved now, when there is sufficient water around so they can continue to put on root growth for some time to come.
Don't forget to visit a garden or arboretum this autumn and begin to plan ahead.
? David Howard, a former head gardener to the Prince of Wales at Highgrove in Gloucestershire, lives in Northumberland with his family. Email questions for David to email@example.com or write to Journal homemaker, Groat Market, Newcastle, NE1 1ED.