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Autumn treats in store

Christina Harrison
9 August 2011
Blog team: 
While we enjoy the end of summer, there's plenty to look forward to in autumn too - Kew's Arboretum is renowned for its colour and for its 'champions'.

One of the main attractions of Kew, for me, has always been the trees. For some people they are just the backdrop to the large impressive glasshouses, but to me they are an integral part of what Kew is about. The wealth of species, sizes, shapes and colours is extraordinary. There are the heritage trees – some dating back to the mid 18th century and the beginnings of Kew as a botanic garden, through to the young new specimens grown from seed collected in the wild by Kew staff. They represent both Kew’s history and its current scientific direction. There some fabulous flowering specimens to enjoy – the Catalpa trees at Kew have been beautiful this summer, as have the Paulownia (foxglove trees), and Styrax (snowbell trees) which have the most wonderful scent as well.


Flowers of Catalpa bignonioides

See stunning autumn colour

Autumn is of course the main performance season for many of the trees in the Arboretum and it’s well worth planning a trip to the Gardens in a month or so to see the brilliant shades of copper, scarlet and gold that spread out over Kew’s 320 acres. If you can catch the turning of the American ash (Fraxinus americana), liquidambars (Liquidambar styraciflua) and shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) to name but a few then you’re in for a real treat. There are also plenty of beautifully berried species to spot.

We've just put the finishing touches to the autumn edition of Kew magazine (out 7 September) and we have some true autumn finery for you. As well as features on fungi, conservation in Madagascar and the latest exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, we have a few features on Kew's trees.

Champion trees at Kew Gardens

Last year we asked renowned tree photographer Edward Parker to photograph some of Kew’s more impressive ‘champion’ trees in full autumn colour for us and he really managed to capture their character. ‘Champion’ trees are designated by The Tree Register, and are the largest, tallest or broadest of their kind in the UK. You can find a list of the best in the country in the new book Champion Trees of Britain and Ireland by Owen Johnson. Kew has an enormous number of champion trees so we asked head of Kew’s Arboretum, Tony Kirkham, to take you on a tour of some of his favourites for our magazine feature. Included in his list is the famous Ginkgo biloba, planted in 1762 – one of Kew’s Old Lions. This species is endangered in the wild in its native China, but was first introduced to Europe in the 1730s. Its common name is the maidenhair tree and it is the only surviving member of an ancient group of plants that were widespread at the time of the dinosaurs (180-200 million years ago).

This specimen was planted next to a hothouse built for Princess Augusta when she lived at the White House (next to the Orangery). It may have been one of the first planted in Britain. Both the White House and the hothouse are now long gone but the ginkgo is still thriving. This tree was honoured by the Tree Council in 2002 when it was named one of 50 Great British Trees for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee.


Champion tree - Ginkgo biloba at Kew Gardens

 So, why not come along as the colours change this autumn, see some of our characterful trees and make sure you look out for our feature in Kew magazine.



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