Carol Klein on the gar­den de­lights that au­tumn brings

It’s a sea­son of bur­nished colour and har­vest when branches are burst­ing with fruit and berries

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‘Sea­son of mists and mel­low fruit­ful­ness,” wrote John Keats in his Ode to Au­tumn. This brief line cap­tures the essence of the sea­son. For many it’s their favourite time, the year ac­com­plished, rounded, brought to its cli­max. Un­like win­ter which ‘takes a grip’, au­tumn’s progress is gen­tle and grad­ual, let­ting us down lightly.

Each morn­ing as I look out of the bed­room win­dow there are sub­tle changes, hardly dis­cernible. Are the leaves of the Acer pal­ma­tum ‘Ōsakazuki’ slightly red­der, and as for the fo­liage on our weep­ing Kat­sura tree, Cer­cidi­phyl­lum japon­icum pen­du­lum, is it re­ally more pink and am­ber than it was yes­ter­day?

The bril­liant yel­low stars of rud­beckia and he­lianthus are still un­apolo­get­i­cally vivid, their un­com­pro­mis­ing colour de­mand­ing to be no­ticed, yet all around them, their fel­lows are grad­u­ally sub­sid­ing into a melee of am­ber, rus­set and ochre.

This is the sea­son of har­vest and branches are drip­ping with fruit and berries. In spring we were con­cerned about how the ad­verse weather might af­fect the har­vest. There was tor­ren­tial rain, freez­ing tem­per­a­tures and gale force winds. Yet that was re­placed by weeks of wall-to-wall sun.

By May, not only was hawthorn blos­som bloom­ing, it was also bur­geon­ing. We’ve had sev­eral good blos­som years in the last decade but none as good as this. Hedgerows up and down the coun­try were afroth. Those same branches that bore pro­lific blos­som are turned crim­son now, laid down with berries.

One of the up­sides to trav­el­ling around the coun­try is hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to see a wealth of plants both in the wild and in gar­dens right through the year. It makes you fo­cus on each sea­sonal change.

In May, driv­ing up to the Malvern Spring Fes­ti­val, or­chards

‘Each morn­ing as I look out of the bed­room win­dow there are sub­tle changes, hardly dis­cernible’

were awash with blos­som. At the end of Septem­ber we saw the fruits the blos­som cre­ated at the Malvern Au­tumn Show. It’s al­ways a cel­e­bra­tory af­fair, and this year the aroma of ap­ples and pears per­vaded the whole event.

Gar­den­ers seem to be more and more aware of what a wise choice it can be to in­clude a fruit tree within their gar­den. Not only are they highly or­na­men­tal, with gor­geous blos­som, but they yield a boun­ti­ful har­vest and of­ten have good au­tumn colour, too.

At the show, in the coun­try­side and in town and city streets, rowans have made a mag­nif­i­cent dis­play this year. Some­times the vivid or­angey-red berries of our na­tive moun­tain-ash Sor­bus

au­cu­paria are stripped from the trees by hun­gry birds. It’s fairly early in the sea­son but it must have been a sum­mer of plenty as so far they’ve sur­vived. In my friend Veron­ica’s gar­den, the dainty branches of

S. hu­pe­hen­sis ‘Pink Pagoda’ are adorned with gen­er­ous bunches of small, deep pink berries.

Where there are berries there must have been flow­ers, and the um­bels of dainty flow­ers which pre­cede the berries of many va­ri­eties and species of sor­bus are pretty enough in their own right. In S. vil­morinii they’re creamy­white with a touch of pale pink and are fol­lowed as the leaves turn crim­son and red by clus­ters of small, pink berries.

There are a host of sor­bus with pink and/or white berries, some with yel­low and many with orange or red berries. Most have colour­ful fo­liage, too. Our own rowan is a match for any of the more ex­otic species and our na­tive spin­dle,

Euony­mus eu­ropaeus has much to com­mend it and can give a good ac­count of it­self be­side its Asi­atic coun­ter­parts. In the se­lec­tion

E. eu­ropaeus ‘Red Cas­cade’, the au­tumn colour is bril­liant and the fruits are pro­lif­i­cally pro­duced. They con­sist of quar­tered fleshy cap­sules which open to re­veal vivid orange seeds which hang down as they ripen. Both the berries and fo­liage of

Vibur­num op­u­lus, our na­tive guelder rose, are in ev­i­dence now. There are sev­eral ex­am­ples of it in our own na­tive hedge.

For sheer fe­cun­dity, crab ap­ples ‘Golden Hor­net’ and ‘John Downie’ are hard to beat; they turn Novem­ber into a month of colour and fruit­ful­ness. If you want some­thing more un­usual, the berries of Clero­den­drum tri­choto­mum are pos­i­tively un­real with a turquoise sheen. Now’s the time to get out and see na­ture’s bounty in parks, gar­dens, the coun­try­side, or just walk­ing down the street.

‘Pink Pagoda’ is a beau­ti­ful rowan with bunches of pink berries

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