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Fall into autumn.


WITH luck there's still a chance we might salvage something from this wreck of a summer - autumn colour.

In Wales, as the days shorten and the nights grow colder, no-one has to travel far to observe one of the most amazing processes of survival, the direct consequence of which is the massed effect of autumn tints.

Paradoxically, these subtly beautiful colours we admire so much are produced by the process of dying without which there can be no re-birth the following year when winter turns to spring.

A barrier forms between leaf and stem, depriving the leaves of deciduous trees of their supply of sap, a simple process, but the manner in which some leaves react provides one of the glories of nature.

To appreciate this gardeners do not need to have woodland at the bottom of the garden. Although autumn colours are to some extent subject to the vagaries of the weather - at their best during a clear, still autumn - there is a wide range of species from which to choose to appreciate the phenomenon in your garden.

While in the countryside, oaks, beeches, hornbeams, chestnuts, field maples, and elms - if you are lucky - provide massed displays, there are some excellent medium sized trees to replicate some of this in the garden.

Among the larger ones is acer platanoides, the Norway maple, of rather capricious performance but never failing to provide some display of yellow and sepia tints, while the acer rubrum, red maple, is larger with red and scarlet colours.

One of the oldest trees on the planet, ginkgo biloba has been around for 200 million years. With its fan-shaped bright gold autumn leaves it matches any of the Japanese acers.

If I was asked to choose three species from among the larger trees renowned for their tints, at the top of my list would be the Persian ironwood tree, parrotia persica. There are two varieties, one upright and large, the other of smaller habit with spreading branches covered in early autumn with numerous tints.

Pushing it close for the number two spot must be the tupelo, nyssa sylvatica, forming a pyramid of fire, the individual leaves glistening with colour, albeit short lived.

Finally, no autumn vista can be complete without the common beech.

Left to its own devices it grows into a giant but trimmed as a hedge the beech is the most worthwhile of all species grown for colour because it holds its leaves all winter.

Of course, the display of autumn colour will in many cases be determined by the size of trees and shrubs the garden can accommodate.

Because most are small, the Japanese acers with their reds, yellows and purples have become especially popular. Before choosing an acer I would take a walk through an arboretum in autumn such as the Forestry Commission's at Westonbirt.

It's an unforgettable experience although I advise anyone contemplating this to telephone in advance to check that the trees have turned otherwise it can be disappointing.

But there are others apart from the acers, some of which I consider superior for the smaller garden.

A rival to the flowering cherries in spring and autumn is the snowy mespilus (amelanchier lamarckii), not huge and ideal for group planting.

The choice is wide and for anyone wanting to introduce colour into the garden as we approach the fag-end of the year there is no better way to decide than look for yourself by visiting an arboretum near you, or even a garden centre.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 27, 2008
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