No time to lose to snap the autumn scenes

Gleditsia is showing hints of colour change already. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
Gleditsia is showing hints of colour change already. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

We are certainly moving into the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness a little earlier this year.

I see the beginnings of colour change in certain deciduous trees and shrubs, and ripened fruits are abundant. How long nature’s equivalent of November 5 will last depends a great deal on the weather.

Deciduous trees and shrubs start the process of leaf chlorophyll reduction in tune with reduced temperature and light intensity. As this progresses, other pigments, previously masked by the green colourant, begin to emerge: xanthophyll (yellow), beta-carotene (orange), carotenoids (orange-yellow) and anthocyanins (red).

This is why the foliage of the Viburnum Dawn is turning a reddish brown, gleditsia leaves are yellowing, and cercidiphyllum (burnt sugar tree) suddenly looks smoky-pink.

A local photographer once told me that he didn’t do autumn leaf colours until November, which was fine then, but weather patterns are changing.

Plants have had a record-breaking summer for warmth and, given a drastic change in weather, could be encouraged to shut down the food-making process prematurely and go into dormancy. What we need is a run of warm days followed by cooler nights and no high winds.

Autumn berry displays are at a peak already. Ornamental rowan (sorbus) trees are dripping with red, white and pink fruits.

Sorbus aucuparia is the mountain ash whose fruits are bright red. S. cashmiriana has white, marble-like fruits that persist in clusters long after the leaves have gone. S. Joseph Rock has distinct creamy yellow berries, which are an obvious attraction, but I love this one for its leaf colour changes of red, orange, copper and purple.

Friend Dougie planted a hedge of pyracantha (firethorn) well over a decade ago and has been enjoying the benefit of it for the past five years.

It’s such a valuable thorny evergreen, with masses of small, white flowers in summer followed by as many red, orange or yellow autumn fruits, according to the variety.

Dougie’s was planted on the inside edge of a low stone wall, which it has now grown above. This and the thorny stems make it a worthy guardian of property and ideal screen.

Shrub roses such as Frau Dagmar Hastrup and Roseraie de L’Hay are entertaining for the second time this year.

First came the fragrant blooms and now it’s the turn of huge, shiny hips. They are so attractive, but won’t last long because they start one long feast for the birds.