One of the many privileges of being Head Gardener at Exbury is being able to watch the garden change throughout the seasons, this is never more obvious or beautiful than in October and November when the transition between summer and autumn begins and kicks off one of the great events in the annual gardening calendar. As day length shortens and the nights get longer and colder the atmosphere in the garden slowly shifts from the greens of summer to the rich golden colours of autumn. The arrival of over wintering wild foul in the Beaulieu river such as widgeon and teal from the arctic is another sure sign that the season is quickly changing.
The most obvious sign of the onset of winter around the garden and in the surrounding forest is of course the autumn colour. The process of complex chemical changes that occur within all deciduous trees is still not completely understood by scientists but what we do know is that the plants sense the onset of winter and stop production of chlorophyll (the green pigment in leaves). This is because the effort of photosynthesising is no longer worth the diminishing returns! This leaves the other pigments behind within the foliage creating the wonderful effect we all love. Another factor determining autumn colour is the amount of sugar stored within the leaf. This is why plants such as the Acers or maples along with other trees with high sugar content have such wonderful autumn colour (just think of Acer saccharinum , the plant responsible for maple syrup for example).
Here at Exbury we have a superb collection of Acers, over 450 at the last count! As these and many other trees begin the annual process of changing colour, the atmosphere in the garden is transformed .
Some of the more spectacular plants for autumn colour are Disanthus cercidifolius (see right), a slow growing member of the witch hazel family from China, introduced by Ernest Wilson in 1903.
The vitis family, (including the grape vine vitis vinifera), are also fabulous, again due to its sugar content. The autumn foliage of our Vitis coignetiae (see left), is one of the best and has been colouring up since August.
Exbury is also home to the national collection of Nyssa, a small group of hardy deciduous trees from, North America and China. Although they require slightly acidic soil they have magnificent Autumn colour and should be grown much more in gardens for this reason alone. Picture right shows a close up of Nyssa sylvatica 'Valley Sorcher'.
Parrotia Persica, the Persian iron wood, left, is another member of Hammamelidacae (Witch Hazel family) which not only has superb autumn colour, but also lovely peeling bark and attractive crimson flowers in late winter.
Apart from colourful leaves another of the joys of Autumn is the wonderful fruits of many ornamental trees. As you wander around the many woodland paths and secluded glades at Exbury you will come across some wonderful examples of the fruit produced by some of our rarer trees and shrubs.
The magnificent fruit of Sorbus megalocarpa var. cuneata (right), resemble a cluster of partridge eggs and can be found in the new planting area in the Gilbury lane garden.
The fruit of various ornamental crab apples are also found in Gilbury lane and are almost too good to be true and will be looking good for at least the next month.
Malus x atrosanguinea 'Gorgeous'
Malus x robusta 'Red Sentinel'
Buddlieja forrestii, a rare and tender plant from the temperate forests of north east India is flowering for the first time at Exbury and is enjoying its sheltered woodland location.
Hedychium maximum, one of the finest flowering gingers, from the wet mountain forests of North Vietnam is also enjoying the autumnal weather in the New Forest, its highly perfumed prominent yellow stamens are designed to attract giant moths who populate the forests and pollinate them at night! We also grow the beautiful orange Hedychium densiflorum now flowering near Jubilee Pond.