Love those leaves!

Words by:
Steffie Shields
Featured in:
October 2011

Steffie Shields highlights where to find autumn colour.
‘Autumn Leaves’, originally a French song entitled ‘Les Feuilles Mortes’ which translates, depressingly, as ‘The Dead Leaves’, was first performed in 1945, with music by Joseph Kosma and lyrics by poet Jacques Prévert. Two years later American songwriter Johnny Mercer penned English lyrics, and it became a 1950s classic. A favourite of mine since childhood – perhaps my first real encounter with nostalgia – the haunting melody and lyrics never fail to move me. Each autumn, changing colours and falling leaves bring echoes of great singers: Edith Piaf, Nat King Cole, Sinatra…

Rather than sitting by the window dreaming, or melancholic, I am determined to get out and about to photograph the best, most colourful sights. Top of the list will be Bardney Lime Woods, east of Lincoln, between Bardney and Wragby. For years I have been meaning to explore this most significant, small-leaved lime woodland in the country. I will head for the visitor centre, trail and butterfly garden in Chambers Farm Wood. Timing will be everything, to see sunshine lancing through the dappled trees turning lemon yellow! (Apparently it’s also a good opportunity for those fungus enthusiasts among you to spot ‘dog stinkhorn’, ‘jelly fungus’ and ‘dead man’s fingers’ – what names!) Go online to download circuit walks at Bardney.

Try any exploratory walk in an area perhaps new to you, whether in town or country. Take time to observe individual leaves. Notice how green silver birch leaves turn clear yellow, stunning against a bright blue sky. We all love sweeping tree belts of beech. Pause, occasionally, to look up and study the varying colour palette of beech leaves on each individual branch. Don’t just trample or kick up crisp, dry fallen leaves; collect a varied fistful. See just how many different shapes and colours you can find – auburn, gold, orange, russet, plum red or maroon, or subtle tones of leather brown. The range of colour varies year on year according to several factors: weather, temperature, moisture, sugar content, and provided there has been enough rainfall. If this year’s fruits are anything to judge by, we might be in for a ‘wow factor’. Fingers crossed, an extended period of warm, dry, sunny autumn days combined with cool, but not freezing, nights will bring on the show.

Many of the county’s finest green spaces, historic parks and gardens, with unusual, more exotic and mature trees, remain open during October, offering a range of walks which take in great vistas of designed landscape with tree belts gradually changing to warmer, rusty tones. These include Belton, Burghley, Doddington (Sundays only this month), Gunby, Easton (Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Sundays) Normanby (The gardens of the castles at Grimsthorpe and Belvoir are now closed for the winter, but their magnificent parkland trees can still be enjoyed from surrounding roads). Then there is the Forestry Commission’s Temple Wood and Bourne Woods, part of Kesteven Forest, between Aslackby and Bourne, open and free to visit, as well as Woodland Trust sites including High Wood at North Rauceby, overlooking Ancaster and The Pinewoods at Woodhall Spa, once part of a landscaped wood with many varieties of trees. Of course there are splendid, mature trees in public parks and country parks such as Boultham and Hartsholme in Lincoln, the People’s Park, Grimsby, and in Grantham three parks – Dysart, Wyndham, and Queen Elizabeth II – all linked by a ‘Green Mile’ along the River Witham. Look out for the distinctive foliage of the tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipefera, with more dominant, shovel-like leaves. Don’t forget Lincoln Arboretum, designed in 1870 as a special collection of trees and shrubs by Edward Milner. Restored in 2003, thanks to Heritage Lottery Funding, since 2004 it has merited a prestigious Civic Trust ‘Green Flag’ award. If you cannot visit in person, look online. YouTube has a moving video set to music, ‘Tribute to the Beauty of Lincoln’s Arboretum in Autumn’.

The delicate, five-fingered leaves of all manner of Japanese acers are turning breathtaking, vivid, painterly colours, to inspire artists and photographers. Most acers prefer acid soil but the Norway maple, Acer platanoides, is an exception and will grow in limestone territory. Riseholme College, previously the Bishop of Lincoln’s palace and now Lincoln University’s country seat, runs agriculture, animal-related and biological science courses. The park has been designated as a 2012 Olympic training camp for equestrian sports. The campus has some spectacular trees, none more so than Sorbus aria mitchelli, with rounded canopy, its leaves like precious metals, warm gold on one side, cool platinum on the other. I recommend any type of sorbus. The Chinese mountain ash, Sorbus x ’Joseph’s Rock’ is particularly known for spectacular autumn tints offset by bright yellow fruits.

October is perhaps the best time to reassess your garden and excellent for planting. See what is tired and needs replacing. Are there any bright highlights that make you rejoice the season? If the answer is no, head for the nearest garden centre or nursery. Treat yourself to a new shrub or tree for some show-stopping, uplifting autumn colour. Place them to catch the seasonal, low sunlight to emphasize the tints. I now cannot imagine living without Liquidambar styraciflua, an upright, quite tall, ornamental tree from the east coast of America, with five-lobed maple-like leaves, purple turning to rich, sugary colours – crimson, orange and yellow – as brilliant as any New England fall. I never rush to rake these leaves, when they float down to the grass. They make multi-coloured abstract patterns, an autumn tapestry. As the days shorten, the copper beech tree’s dark canopy turns to shiny, nut-brown leather. I see the eye-catching Cotinus ‘Grace’ from my kitchen window, commonly called ‘smoke bush’ because of its late summer flowering of inflorescence plumes. Tolerant of poor soil, its greenish-maroon to purple foliage, a useful contrast to other shrubs, Grace’s leaves morph into unbelievable poster-paint red, their beauty mesmerising when back-lit by late afternoon sun. Then there is cornus, or dogwood, with stems of varying colours and seemingly hand-painted foliage. My favourite, Cornus kousa from Asia, has twinned leaves curling to make an attractive heart-shaped silhouette.

You could, of course, stay in the warm and dry, curl up with a poetry book or two, leafing through for random sentiments, fleeting thoughts and memories, such as those of ‘In Hardwood Groves’ by American poet Robert Frost:

The same leaves over and over again!
They fall from giving shade above
To make one texture of faded brown
And fit the earth like a leather glove.

However, walking the ground to engage with our local landscapes and special places is perhaps healthier! So, before winter freezes our extremities and good intentions, take a leaf out of this book and head for some maturing autumnal trees to warm your heart.

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