A Second Spring

We call it autumn and the Americans call it fall, but I prefer Albert Camus’ poetic flare; he called it a second spring, when every leaf is a flower. Whatever you choose to call it, the fiery displays of colour it brings are undoubtedly one of the gardening highlights of the year. As deciduous trees prepare for dormancy over the winter period they begin to break down chlorophyll in their leaves. Happily for us, this energy preserving process then reveals colourful pigments previously masked by the chlorophyll. The result here at Winterbourne is spectacular, when some of our most iconic trees ignite the sky line.

A Japanese maple in the Sandstone Rock Garden
A Japanese maple in the Sandstone Rock Garden

“You don’t have to surrender your garden to enormous trees in order to create your own autumn display. As back gardens have shrunk to ever smaller sizes the often diminutive Japanese maple has become an indispensible staple of the Great British garden. Acer palmatum and its cultivars are probably the most frequently used and produce a fabulous array of colours.” Stephen Haines, Head Gardener, Winterbourne House and Garden

Not many conifers are famed for their autumn prowess but those that are, are lauded by some as the ultimate connoisseur’s choice. The Dawn redwood, or Metasequoia glyptostroboides, stands out as one of the best. Here at Winterbourne we are fortunate to have a whole avenue of them flanking either side of the stream which runs south-wards from the Japanese Bridge. These gentle giants litter the surface of the stream with rich auburn confetti from October onwards. They were actually thought to be extinct until a handful of specimens were found very much alive in the forests of north-eastern Sichuan, China, in 1941. Seeds were collected

Metasequoia glyptostroboides either side of the Japanese Bridge, courtesy of Manuel Modoni
Metasequoia glyptostroboides either side of the Japanese Bridge, courtesy of Manuel Modoni

in 1947 and sent back to England the following year. Our avenue was planted in 1951, which makes them one of the first batches of the trees to be grown in this country. Unfortunately, this original seed was collected from only three separate trees, meaning the genetic base of the cultivated population is very poor, and not at all ideal for aiding conservation efforts; Dawn redwoods remain endangered in their native habitat.

“If you do decide to add a Japanese maple to your collection, now is a great time to leap into action. Just remember these few basics and you will reap the rewards for years to come; always plant in the dormant season, dig your hole as wide as possible but no deeper than the root-ball itself, tease out pot bound roots, back-fill with topsoil only, firm in well with your heel and give it a drink.” Stephen Haines, Head Gardener, Winterbourne House and Garden

Ginkgo biloba leaves on the Arboretum Lawn
Ginkgo biloba leaves

No contemplation of autumn would be complete without a mention for the Maidenhair tree, or Ginkgo biloba, which develops quickly from a soft summer green to the clearest butter yellow at this time of year. We have two specimens here at Winterbourne; onenear the front of the house and the other thriving in our Arboretum. Of course, the Maidenhair tree has many virtues other than its golden autumn cloak. It is planted extensively in temperate climates; its extreme pollution tolerance means it is often used as a street tree. In fact, the Maidenhair tree is so enduring that six specimens survived the atomic bomb blast at Hiroshima in 1945, one less than a mile from the epicentre. Charred, but still alive, the trees threw out new growth several years later, and indeed are still alive today. Seed from the same specimens has recently been collected and disseminated all over the world; a symbol of peaceful regeneration.

“Often the best way to introduce autumn colour to your own garden is not with trees at all but with colourful climbers which will blend into the background throughout the summer months and then shine during leaf fall. Vines are the best; Vitis coignetiae, for example, produces a blanket of claret foliage with minimum fuss.” Stephen Haines, Head Gardener, Winterbourne House and Garden

Vitis coignetiae with Clerodendrum trichotomum on Winterbourne Terrace
Vitis coignetiae with Clerodendrum trichotomum on Winterbourne Terrace

Visitors wandering along the Broad Walk Path on a warm October’s day may be forgiven for assuming that the Tea Room Chefs have developed a side line in toffee apple production. Unfortunately for those with a sweet tooth, the moreish scent comes not from the kitchen but from the Katsura tree, or Cercidiphyllum japonicum. The sugary smell is produced by a chemical compound called maltol which is most abundant just before the leaves fall. The colours displayed by the Katsura tree are no less spectacular; their heart shaped leaves emerge a bright apple green and then go through a spectrum of yellow orange and purple before disappearing in winter. Our specimen was planted in 1960 in the then newly created Geographical Beds; it is now a fine mature example with a beautiful shape. However tempting it might be, burying your face in a handful of fallen leaves will leave you nothing but disappointed. Up close the leaves smell more like a damp dog than they do the ethereal toffee covered apple.…

Create your own second spring and click here to find out more about how you can celebrate a special occasion or remember a loved one with a tree dedication at Winterbourne.

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12 thoughts on “A Second Spring

    1. Not a problem, thanks for stopping by. Our Autumn colour is getting better and better. The Dawn Redwoods by the bridge have barely started turning yet. Plenty of time left to take it all in.


    1. Thanks for visiting. The gardens are really starting to sparkle with colour now that October is in full swing.


  1. I love the name “a second spring”, celebrating the balance and duality of nature. The photo of the bridge and the Dawn redwoods is breathtaking, makes me long to wander amid those graceful giants and lose myself to their majesty. If I’m ever nearby, I’ll be sure to come and see them for myself.


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