Autumn is here, and with it comes an urge to step outside despite – or perhaps because of – the chill. For autumn is beautiful. When the photogenic baubles were being handed out, autumn was at the front of the queue. Spiders webs covered in dew? Flame red leaves lying on green moss? Tree branches weighed down with an embarrassing abundance of rosy apples? Yes please, I’ll take the lot. Autumn is a looker alright, and is all the more precious for its fleeting, transitory state. So much of its beauty is the beauty of death and decay: one big storm and all could be blown away, and we will be left contemplating the bare twigs and mud of winter.
If looking for a beautiful place for an autumnal day out, think beyond the arboretum. Yes they are spectacular, and you will admire stunning glades of turning trees in yellow, orange and scarlet, but so will every man and his auntie. Whole fields are put aside for arboretum car parking at this time of year, and that crisp autumnal wander starts to feel a little commoditised and over populated. Anyway, there is more to autumn than leaves, and here are a few places to see the rest.
Exotic planting at Great Dixter, East Sussex
There are some plants that wait for the end of the year to explode into life, and Great Dixter is a fabulous place to see a garden designed specifically for this very moment in the year. The Exotic Garden was one of the late Christopher Lloyd’s great triumphs. He tore out an old, diseased, but Lutyens designed rose garden to make way for the hardy bananas, cannas, dahlias and verbenas that grace this garden until it closes at the end of October. A real riot.
Fruit at Brogdale, Kent
For mellow fruitfulness, visit the National Fruit Collections at Brogdale, basically a vast and hugely varied orchard. Home to the world’s largest collection of fruit trees and plants it boasts almost 4000 varieties of fruit including apples, pears, cherries and nuts. Their Apple Festival is held on the 19th and 20th October.
Grasses at Knoll Gardens, Dorset
Ornamental grasses look beautiful in autumn and winter, holding their shape yet swishing about at the slightest breeze and particularly beautiful against low autumn light. Knoll Gardens is the place to see them en masse.
The dahlia bed at Rousham, Oxfordshire
Dahlias are the flower of autumn and Rousham is the place to see them as a grand spectacle. The dahlia bed is 7ft wide and 150ft long and runs along a south-facing wall, and dahlias have been grown in it for 70 years without a break. This makes for a spectacular and hugely colourful show, right up until the first hard frosts blacken the foliage, and the plants are lifted for winter.
Autumn skeletons at Pensthorpe, Norfolk
Garden designer Piet Oudolf is the master of perennial planting that dies beautifully. He uses perennials that last, holding their skeletons and shapely seed heads well into winter. Although the garden he has created at Pensthorpe is at its colourful height in August, it turns into a beautiful, sepia version of itself in autumn.