National Trust urges Brits to enjoy the spectacle of a global autumn, right here at home
- 05 October 2023
The National Trust is encouraging Britons to experience a world of autumn colour by visiting the global gardens on their doorstep as the seasonal spectacle gets set to tumble across the country over the coming weeks.
After last year’s drought, a dry start to the year, and prolonged, warm temperatures in June, (making it the warmest June on record), much of the country soaked up the long-awaited rain over the summer months which came as a welcome relief for not just trees, but also for Britain’s wildlife.
Andy Jasper, Head of Gardens and Parklands at the National Trust, said: "This year’s wet summer weather has helped buck the trend of recent dry summers, so our plants and trees finally had a chance to hydrate and are now gearing up for a dazzling show of reds, ambers, yellows and browns this autumn.
“While most of September has felt like summer’s last hurrah, we’re likely to see a fantastic show of colour spill across the country as soon as temperatures start to drop, making it the perfect time to go out and take in the wealth of autumnal beauty the UK has to offer.
“I would urge everyone to take some time, as often as they can, to go out and enjoy nature as it seeks to wrap us in a warm blanket of beautiful colours. Whether it is a weekend out with the family or ten minutes during a lunch break, there has never been a better time to go out and be enchanted by nature.”
The autumn spectacle is set to start in Scotland, where temperatures typically drop the fastest, followed by the North East of England and Northern Ireland with a domino effect cascading down the rest of England and Wales through to the South West.
The change of leaf colour is triggered by a slowing down of the production of chlorophyl – the green energy creating pigment which gives leaves their colour – as days shorten, resulting in lower levels of sunlight, and as temperatures drop.
This allows other underlying pigments to become increasingly dominant resulting in the kaleidoscope of autumnal colours from brilliant butter yellows, ambers and crimsons, through to rich, russet browns.
Pamela Smith, Senior National Consultant for Gardens and Parklands at the National Trust said: “The 222 gardens we care for form one of the greatest collections of cultivated plants in the world including maples from Japan, swamp cypresses from the United States and the horse chestnut which originates from Greece. It’s no surprise that a walk around our gardens can be a truly global, botanical adventure.
“This autumn, as we welcome back the colours of autumn from the butter yellow of Lime trees to the deep ruby reds of many of our Maples, it is worth thinking about the origins of many of our plants and the plant collecting and breeding innovation that has created so many of our autumn colour trees and shrubs we enjoy today.”
A showstopping, typical New England, North American style autumn with its enormous flame red cypresses, golden yellow tulip trees and pink red dogwoods can be found in the South West of England at Stourhead in Wiltshire and Glendurgan in Cornwall, the National Trust’s most southerly garden. And, for the vibrant reds of Japanese acer maples Brits need to look no further than Mount Stewart in Co. Down, Northern Ireland, or Sheffield Park & Garden in Sussex where a sea of autumnal colours including peaks of vibrant red from the Japanese maples can be enjoyed reflected in the lakes.
And at Bradenham woods in the Chilterns, walkers will be able to enjoy the swathes of amber glinting in the sunlight in the beech woodland and at Cragside in Northumberland where views from the bridge and valley walks will immerse you in one of the first autumn experiences of our gardens.
John Lanyon, Head Gardener for the National Trust at Glendurgan said: “We have really high hopes for a spectacular autumn display which will make up for last year’s poor season.
“In 2022 the lack of rain and high temperatures firstly put our trees under huge stress before we experienced strong gales which blew the leaves off before they had chance to turn.
"This year however, the summer rains have played a significant part in helping our trees recover somewhat, giving the trees the strength to hold on to their leaves which should result in a fantastic autumn display.
“As the leaves turn, visitors exploring our gardens can get a slice of the grand North American autumn without needing to jump on a plane, enjoying vivid colours that one would expect in places like Virginia and Florida – in Cornwall.
“Our tall and elegant swamp cypresses, which turn a lovely copper colour before changing to a rich brown later in the season, contrast beautifully with our tulip tree – a huge, billowing tree that was planted here almost 200 years ago and whose leaves turn a beautiful golden yellow – while our red oaks add a touch of fiery red.
“With the green backdrop of the surrounding valley, autumn colour at Glendurgan really is a sight to behold.”
And for those wanting to explore a more typical ‘British autumn’, Shugborough Hall in Staffordshire is where visitors can enjoy the rich, rusty browns of the oak arboretum and at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, visitors can gaze up at the autumn skies through the orange, yellow, and golden-brown canopy of one of the largest cut-leaf beech trees in the country.
Gardeners and rangers across the country however remain anxious as to the ongoing legacy of the past years’ extreme weather, in particular the impact of last year’s drought and dry winter with trees showing signs of stress in differing ways.
Luke Barley, National Trees & Woodland Adviser at the National Trust said: “Trees and woodlands can be remarkably resilient – but we are seeing trees showing various signs of stress due to successive years of drought and increasingly warm winters, which fail to kill off some of the insect pests that can affect native trees.
“Trees that are already stressed by drought are particularly susceptible to diseases, for instance parkland oaks that we find affected by Acute Oak Decline. We also know that mature trees with thin crowns and declining vigour are potentially less able to resist pathogens.
“Our younger trees have been severely impacted by this prolonged period of atypical weather, including recently planted saplings which just didn’t have time to properly establish before being hit by drought. Mature trees can be affected too, which is a big concern – but one ray of hope is that trees are resilient; the ancient trees for which the National Trust has a particular responsibility have adapted to many changes in climate over the course of their centuries-long lifespans.
“It’s therefore vitally important that we really start to understand the impact climate change is having on some of the ‘giants’ in our landscapes, and to really appreciate them for providing us with clean air and water, how they provide homes for thousands of insects, birds and other animals – not to mention the effect that time among the trees can have on our own physical and mental wellbeing.
Luke continued: “The wet weather in July and August came as a massive relief for all our wildlife, resulting in what does appear to have been a bumper year for berries, due in part to the lack of late, unexpected frosts to impact spring blossom, and plenty of rainfall over the summer ensuring that fruits could swell.
“Throughout September and into this month we’ve been able to enjoy the sight of our hedgerows hanging heavy with fruits such as hawthorn berries, sloes, elderberries and blackberries.
“This is of course great news for wildlife such as over-wintering birds such as redwings, fieldfares and blackbirds, as well as for animals such as hedgehogs and badgers.”