Winter in Marwood
The approaching winter is problematic for plants – short days, low light levels, water stress and potential tissue damage due to frost. The British winter is inevitable. Evergreen trees and shrubs, such as Conifers, Holly and Heathers slow down but continue to grow, often relying on thick bark, or thick resinous sap to protect against frost. In contrast, some plants originating from the Southern Hemisphere are just starting to come into growth and flower in the autumn months. Many such plants can be seen on our Mediterranean terrace, such as Aloe’s, Nerine’s, Hesperantha, these perhaps more special because there is so little else flowering this time of year. Annuals such as the attractive pot displays dotted round the tearoom, complete their lifecycles, set seed, and ride out the worst of the weather in the soil.
Deciduous trees: those that drop their leaves in the winter opt for a strategy of dormancy; to simply stop growing – this often results in some spectacular autumn colour. In autumn, trees begin to draw their energy stores; sugar and the magical green chlorophyll pigment (pigment responsible for photosynthesis) back into their trunk and branches. With the green chlorophyll pigment removed, other compounds that are naturally present in the leaf become visible – Carotene (pigment responsible for making carrots orange), Xanthophyll (pigment that makes egg yolk yellow) and Anthocyanins (Red, Purple and Blue Pigments). These pigments combined are responsible for the fantastic autumnal colour displays in our gardens. For the best autumn colour, a combination of cold nights, bright sunny days and dry weather make leaves appear redder as more of the anthocyanins are produced.
Late October, the Sorrel Tree (Oxydendron arboretum) located on the southern bank above the bog garden turns an impressive dark crimson. The Persian Ironwood’s (Parrotia persica) are a stunning plant for autumn colour as individual trees can have leaves in either yellow, orange, red solely or all mixed together. Nearby, along the south bank of the middle lake, is a very impressive small tree called Stewartia pseudocamellia a little-known Japanese tree that with its pink to red-brown and grey bark and unusual dark red and orange foliage.
In November, trees such as the Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo) give great buttery yellow displays, Sweet Gum Trees (Liquidambar), Viburnums and unusual Tupelo (Nyssa) with its bright Orange-red leaves which can be seen above the bog garden.
It is not just trees that exhibit autumn colour, but some herbaceous perennials (those plants that die back to ground in winter) do to. The most impressive is our favourite Astilbe ‘Beauty of Ernst’ from late September after it finishes flowering the entire plant turns a shade of deep red. Plants such as Lysimachia, Ceratostigma and Tellimia can also turn a range of vibrant reds. Some plants can turn yellow; Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum), Roscoea, Lily of the Valley (Convallaria) and Amsonia all turn either buttery yellow, straw and golden colours. Gillenia trifoliata (Bowman’s Root) itself turns an impressive fiery orange. Perhaps this might be enough to inspire you to create an autumn colour bed in your garden.
Goodbye from me.
This is sadly my last Blog here at Marwood Hill Gardens. I’m off to take over as Head Gardener at Fairlight Hall, in East Sussex. Marwood is a truly magical garden, in the heart of a wonderful warm community and I am very pleased to have been able to be a part of this community, and to have had the opportunity to make my own contribution to the garden over the last three years. Thank you to all our wonderful visitors and neighbours for giving me such positive feedback on how the garden has developed over this time. I wish the Snowdon family, Marwood’s wonderful volunteer team, and the staff team success in taking the garden forward through the coming years.