So many of the trees and shrubs at Kew show outstanding autumn colour that it has been difficult choosing just the best six
There are so many great trees that put on a colourful autumn display here at Kew Gardens, that trying to pick my favorite six is really difficult.
I haven't for instance included any oaks, many of which produce really good autumn colour.
I remember visiting Boston this time last year and seeing the fall colour, mainly comprising oak, ash and maples – a truly amazing sight if you get the timing right.
The first of my six is the white ash – Fraxinus americana (below) from eastern North America. So good is the autumn colour of this tree that we have grafted several others from the original tree at Kew, which I also photographed for the front cover of The pruning of trees, shrubs and conifers by Brown and Kirkham.
The young grafts have now been planted in the Arboretum as a loose group to add more interest to the display of autumn colour.
Above: White ash – Fraxinus americana
Shagbark hickory – Carya ovata
The shagbark hickory (Carya ovata), in the walnut family, has leaves that turn a wonderful bright yellow during the autumn. We have several specimens at Kew Gardems growing close to the Pagoda and Japanese Gateway. These are also from North America and produce sweet edible nuts in a good summer.
Top: Sweet gum – Liquidambar styraciflua
Below: The leaves of Liquidambar 'Stella'
Liquidambar or sweet gum has to be favorite number three. In autumn the leaves turn through shades of red becoming purple before they fall. It also has a corky bark on the older stems, which can be seen during winter once the leaves have fallen. The colour can be variable on seed-raised plants, but as with the cultivar 'Stella' (shown above), this colour and leaf form can be guaranteed. You can see Liquidambar adjacent to the Orangery and on the Broad Walk. The Arboretum team also planted a matching pair on the Pagoda Vista and 12 young plants around the perimeter of the small Kew Green outside the old Main Gate, now restored and re-named the Elizabeth Gate to commemorate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
This particular Acer opalus is a wonderful specimen, around 15 m tall, with a rounded habit typical of the species. It flowers in early spring on leafless stems. However, it is its autumn colour that is its crowning glory. Yellows and oranges glow in the autumn sunshine, drawing you from afar for a closer look.
This particular tree (above), close to the Victoria Gate and Temple of Bellona, is a British Champion Tree for its species. More often seen as a largish shrub, here it grows as a medium-size tree and at this time of year turns to shades of yellow, orange, red and purple. Apparently old specimens of Cotinus obovatus are rare in the wild, partly due to the fact that many were cut down during the American Civil War for the orange dye the wood produces.
Beech – Fagus sylvatica
My final choice is the beech. This is not only a great autumn tree at Kew, with many dating from the 1800s, but is also the dominant tree in much of the woodland in the south-east of England. They are a wonderful sight at this time of year. The beech clump in the picture above is the result of long-gone central trees layering themselves to form this small copse, which in late autumn looks like a giant bonfire. The existing trees have been grafted and re-planted in the middle to ensure the clump's colourful future.
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