Wet UK summer brings high hopes for spectacular autumn display


After a disappointing season last year when the wrong sort of weather at the wrong time made the autumnal colours of the UK’s parks, gardens and woodlands duller than usual, this October and November are expected to be brighter.

The National Trust said on Friday that this autumn, people could look forward to particularly dazzling displays of reds, ambers, butter yellows and russet browns.

The wet summer has meant trees have not been under the stress of the droughts of 2022.

Andy Jasper, head of gardens and parklands at the National Trust, predicted that the UK was about to be wrapped in a “warm blanket” of beautiful colours. “This year’s summer weather has helped buck the trend of recent dry ones, so our plants and trees finally had a chance to hydrate and are now gearing up for a dazzling show,” he said.

Jasper said the autumn spectacle was likely to start in Scotland, where temperatures typically drop the fastest, followed by the north of England and Northern Ireland, with a domino effect down the rest of England and Wales through to the south-west.

One of the gardens hoping for a great autumn is Glendurgan in Cornwall, the National Trust’s most southerly garden, which can feel like an autumnal New England valley when conditions are right.

Glendurgan’s head gardener, John Lanyon, 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 put our trees under huge stress before we experienced strong gales that blew the leaves off before they had a chance to turn.”

He said the swamp cypresses would turn a lovely copper colour before changing to a rich brown later in the season, and contrast with the garden’s tulip tree – a billowing specimen planted almost 200 years ago, with leaves that turn a beautiful golden yellow. The red oaks would add a touch of fire.

Tom Hill, a tree and woodlands adviser for south-east England, said he was hoping for the first “normal autumn” in a while. “Our gardens and woodlands in the south-east are very much at the coalface of climate change in this country. The older trees that we care for in London are particularly vulnerable to suffering from prolonged droughts.”

Luke Barley, the trust’s national trees and woodland adviser, said woodlands were resilient but the charity was seeing trees showing stress owing to successive years of drought and increasingly warm winters. “Trees that are already stressed by drought are particularly susceptible to diseases – for instance, parkland oaks that we find affected by acute oak decline,” he said.

Barley said it had been a bumper year for berries, in part because of the lack of late, unexpected frosts to affect spring blossom, and plenty of summer rainfall ensuring 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,” he said.

“This is great news for wildlife such as over-wintering birds – redwings, fieldfares and blackbirds – as well as for animals such as hedgehogs and badgers.”

National Trust properties with the best autumn colours

South-west England
Double value at Stourhead in Wiltshire, where the wonderful colours of the candyfloss trees, the acers and beeches are reflected in the lake at the heart of the garden. Regarded as one of the best places in the UK to enjoy autumn colour.
The Midlands
For those who prefer more typical British autumn hues, the oak arboretum at the Shugborough estate in Staffordshire will be full of rich, rusty browns. At Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, visitors can gaze up through the orange, yellow and golden brown canopy of one of the largest cut-leaf beech trees in the country. Croft Castle in Herefordshire includes Spanish chestnut avenue, which is rumoured to have been planted with seeds that came off the Spanish armada. A glorious yellow when conditions are right.

East England
The “hero” trees for autumn colour at the Blickling estate in Norfolk are beech, which turn a vibrant bronze. As at Stourhead the colour is amplified when reflected in the lake.

Northern Ireland
Mount Stewart in County Down is beautifully designed for spectacular autumn colour – a mix of trees from all over the world, bringing together Japanese maples with American sweetgums and red maples.

Northern England
Cragside in Northumberland is proud of its snakebark maples and gumtrees, which provide a beautiful interplay of red and bronze leaves.

The acers at Dyffryn Gardens, Vale of Glamorgan, almost always deliver a stunning deep red colour, while its stewartia provide luminous orange hues. The leaves on the Persian ironwood trees go deep purple, almost black – and bright orange.