As the summer turns into autumn many of Britain’s gardens burst into life as the greens turn into a riot of reds, yellows and golds. Vicky Sartain selects the 10 best gardens to see the season in…
Home to some of the nation’s oldest, tallest and largest trees, this national arboretum is home to a collection of some 16,000 trees and shrubs, from both the UK and overseas. The gardens never fail to amaze visitors with their intense colours in all seasons, but during autumn the arboretum’s acer, beech and Japanese maple trees provide the most dramatic displays before covering the grass with a rich layer of brightly curling leaves. The most spectacular shows are thought to rely on preceding weeks of sunny days and cold crisp nights, but with a garden of 2,000 maples, visitors are guaranteed an annual blast of colour in the Gloucestershire countryside.
The best spots to view the colours are in the Maple Glades and the Link and Maple Loop in Silk Wood. From late September to early November, each species comes into its own and as one fades, another flourishes, resulting in a seamless display of both muted and sharp reds, yellows and golds. Intoxicating the senses further still, the garden’s beloved katsura tree emits a delightful sweet scent as its foliage turns to a buttery yellow. Pick up a copy of Westonbirt’s autumn seasonal trail leaflet on site to make sure you track down the best colour hot-spots.
Open 1 March – 31 December
01666 880 147
Situated in a magnificent natural setting in High Weald, with its lovely natural landscape of valleys, lakes and woodland, Wakehurst Place is known for its large collection of trees and shrubs. Comprising 465 acres in total, the estate is divided into gardens, woodland and the Loder Valley Nature Reserve, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this autumn. The 170 acre garden was the creation of Gerald Loder, later Lord Wakehurst, who bought the estate in 1903 and spent the next 33 years improving it. Previous owners also contributed to the garden by planting the now mature wellingtonias and redwoods, as well as beginning the rhododendron collection.
In 1963 the property was bequeathed to the National Trust who, in turn, leased it to the Royal Botanic Gardens in 1965. The garden has now become a valuable, almost pollution-free addition to Kew’s Thames-side acres.
The garden holds four comprehensive national collections of woody plants: birches, hypericums, nothofagus and skimmias, but the main attraction is the estate’s vast collection of trees, which are a joy to behold in any season, but at their most magical in autumn when the leaves are turning. Make the most of the show at Wakehurst’s ‘Autumn Colour’ weekends this season.
Open daily from 10am, except 24-25 December
01444 894 066
This striking terraced parterre garden in Perthshire is a feast for the senses and is widely considered to be one of the finest formal gardens in Europe. Designed in the shape of the St Andrew’s Cross with an unusual sundial dating to 1630 at its heart, the parterre was constructed by garden designer Lewis Kennedy in the early 19th century, under the direction of the owners Clementina Drummond and her husband Peter Robert Willoughby. The garden is rooted in Italianate style, with its fountains, terracing, urns and statuary. Once visited by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1842, Drummond has never lost its appeal despite changing fashions in horticulture in later centuries. In autumn, when the sunlight hits the russets and gold hues in the less formal woodland regions, the parterre radiates colour, with bold reds contrasting with the bright green lawn and a colourful spectrum of woodland trees stretching away into the distance. Autumn means apple time at Drummond and its 21 varieties of apple tree provide a wonderful harvest.
Open daily from 1 May – 31 October, from 1pm-6pm
01764 681 433
This historic property has been the seat of the Earl Grey family since the 13th century, with the medieval castle providing the backdrop to a fascinating garden. Originally laid out in 1684, the gardens were last shaped in 1828 by royal garden designer Jeffrey Wyatville. The famous herbaceous border is the longest in northern England. The far wall, 15ft thick, was a jousting ‘grandstand’ in ancient days and it once extended around the castle grounds. In autumn the delightful woodland and lakeside walks become the star attraction when deer and red squirrels can be spotted among trees of blazing colour such as alder and birch, while the rhododendrons come into their own. For the most spectacular views try the walk that passes the lake on the far side of the dell, before returning along the burn and through the castle’s ancient woodlands.
Open Easter through October, 12-5pm.
01668 215 359
Since the garden’s conception in 1738 to the last days of its restoration in the late 20th century, Painshill has captured the imagination of all who visit. Landscape designer Charles Hamilton created the 158 acre park as a romantic landscape, dividing the grounds into two parts: ornamental pleasure grounds with a lake as a central feature and an adjoining crescent of open parkland left in a natural style. Sadly, Hamilton had to sell up when the coffers ran dry in 1773, leaving the property in the hands of a succession of private owners who cared for the property until the start of the Second World War. Post-war the property fell into decline when, under new ownership, the gardens were divided from the Painshill mansion and sold as separate lots. Change came for the better in the 70s when the local council decided to buy up the land. In 1981 the Painshill Park Trust was formed and their donation-fuelled efforts have restored the park to its former glory. In October and November, the fiery tones of the National Collection of North American trees and shrubs are at their peak on the Elysian Plain.
Open daily, all year, 10.30am – 6pm (winter closing 4pm).
01932 868 113
This 80-acre formal garden, famous for its Laburnum Arch which cascades with yellow blooms during late May and early June, is outstanding during the autumn months. Created over the course of five generations of the McLaren family, Bodnant Garden will surprise first-time visitors with its variety of planting. Its fertile, oasis-like situation set against the dramatic landscape of Snowdonia National Park offers super displays from spring to autumn. The grounds are divided into two sections, with terraced gardens and informal lawns and a ‘wild’ garden known as the Dell in the lower reaches, where 200 year-old trees dominate the surrounding landscape. Walking through Bodnant’s network of paths in October will reward visitors with a riotous display of varying shades of reds, greens, purples and gold. Pause on the Croquet Terrace overlooking the Lily Pond to get fantastic pictures of Snowdonia’s distant mountain range between the colourful foliage.
Open until 21 November.
01492 650 460
Brantwood was the former home of John Ruskin, the Victorian artist, critic and radical theorist, from 1872 until his death in 1900. Ruskin purchased the property in the summer of 1871 for £1,500, without having inspected his purchase. The estate covers 250 acres in total, comprising woodland and mountainside gardens, which are resplendent in the autumn when the changing colours complement the already stunning views. Ruskin created a network of meandering paths to delight the eye. Eight small gardens explore themes that fascinated the artist, such as the Hortus Inclusus, an enclosed garden of native herbs laid out in the form of a medieval manuscript. While here, don’t miss the extensive collection of British native ferns and take the High Walk, created by Ruskin’s cousin Joan Severn, which offers panoramic views across the Lakeland landscape. Down in the orchard, the apple trees sag under the weight of the annual harvest.
Open daily March to November, 11am to 5.30 pm; winter Wednesday to Sunday, 11am-4.30pm.
01539 441 396
As one of the world’s finest classical 18th-century landscape gardens, Stourhead is arguably at its most beautiful in autumn, when richly coloured foliage frames the ornamental lake at its centre. Stourhead’s design was created for Henry Hoare II between 1741 and 1780, and was inspired by the works of artists Claude Lorrain and Gaspard Dughet whose paintings focused on classic Italian landscapes. The ‘Picturesque’ setting incorporates views of a grotto, Palladian bridge, and temples dotted throughout, which were added to show off the owner’s knowledge and wealth. Visitors will catch glimpses of these architectural gems as they stroll around the lake, only to find that the eye has been caught by yet another magical view framed between foliage of red and gold as they get closer. Make the most of the season with the ‘Fall into Autumn’ event taking place at Stourhead on 25 October. Children are invited to collect fallen leaves and other materials from the garden to make unique cards and pictures back in the warmth of the Learning Centre.
Open daily, all year, from 9am-6pm. Booking essential.
01747 841 152
This stunning landscaped garden was laid out in the 18th-century by Capability Brown and is resplendent all year. In autumn, the vision of its 19th-century owner Arthur Soames is highlighted when towering specimen trees frame the necklace of lakes at the parks heart. Best seen on a clear day, the flame red, orange and ochre shrubs and rare trees overhang the water’s edge, their reflection mirrored skyward. Further along the lakeside graceful silver birch, majestic English oak and Scots pine jostle with exotics, while well-trodden paths meander through swathes of maples, tupelo and scarlet oaks.
In total there are 128 acres of garden to explore. Circle the garden’s four vast lakes and pause to admire the neo-Gothic house, once home to the Earl of Sheffield, as you kick your way through fallen leaves. Alternatively, set off around the historic South Park, with 265 acres of views and wildlife haven alongside the River Ouse.
After enjoying the autumn displays, put a date in your diary to return in the spring to see the billowing rhododendrons and azaleas that fill the air with scent and colour.
Open all year, except Christmas Day from 10.30am.
01825 790 231
Crarae is one of the finest gardens in Scotland for autumn colour. Set in a 126 acre Highland glen, complete with a rocky gorge, gushing waterfalls and a wide variety of shrubs and trees, including maples, birch and rowans, chosen for spring flowering and autumn colour.
Crarae was created in 1912 and was the idea of Grace, Lady Campbell, whose plant collector nephew Reginald Farrer influenced the early plantings. In 1925 Lady Campbell’s son George made additional changes, introducing larger eucalyptus and conifers to the garden. Eye-catching colours from the acer, sorbus, prunus, cotoneaster and berberis are a seasonal treat, while there are some 600 species of rhododendron to identify along a tour of the gardens. During the autumn, look out for the garden’s native red squirrels that can be spotted stocking up with food for the coming winter.
Open 9.30am to dusk.
This Top 10 was provided by The English Garden Magazine