Autumn colour at Brockhole with our Head Gardener Iain Turnbull

Autumn colour at Brockhole with our Head Gardener Iain Turnbull

Iain shares more of his secrets for gardening success.

We thought we'd ask our Head Gardener, Iain Turnbull for his expertise so that we can attempt to make the most of our gardens this season, afterall who knows, we may even be able to rival the beautiful Brockhole gardens one day! Over to Iain...

Trees and shrubs for autumn colour

I went on holiday at the end of September, came back to a week of torrential rain then a fortnight of mainly dry and lovely days which means brilliant autumn colour! It’s pretty stunning here at Brockhole right now.  What’s happening is that the deciduous trees and shrubs are basically giving up - hibernating, shutting down and saving energy. Winter is coming and all that (for all you Games of Thrones fans). 

The colours produced in autumn are dependent on the weather, the length of night and leaf colour pigments. As the nights get longer, it affects the green stuff known as chlorophyll.  This makes leaves green and harvests light for energy.  Also in the leaves but hiding are carotenoids and anthocyanins – ask a chemist and/or various search engines available from more information.  As the days get shorter, the chlorophyll stops being produced, the colours previously unseen become visible and hey presto! Cool autumn colour...


Here are some of my top Brockhole picks

Euonymus alatus

From Japan, Korea and parts of China, this shrub grows slowly to about 2m.  Deciduous and doesn’t do much in flower and fruit, but goes fantastic shades of deep red in autumn.  Sometimes the stems mutate and thicken in a process called fasciation.

Japanese maples (Acers)

Well known for providing all sorts of colour and texture at this time of year.  There are literally thousands to choose from suitable for containers and planting in the ground.  Yellow leaved forms can burn in the open in summer, so a bit of shade and shelter helps.

Deciduous Azaleas

Grown more for the bright, fiery and often fragrant spring flowers, the non evergreen types subtley add interest in autumn.  Preferring a bit of shade they help brighten the woodland garden at this time of year again.

Enkianthus campanulatus

Again from parts of China (where much of our garden plants come from), this relative of the Heather family will slowly reach 5m in height (although I don’t recall ever seeing one this big!)  Mainly grown for its pale greenish flowers in June – July, the leaves colour from green to orange and red in autumn.  They are fine in full sun and partial shade.  Each specimen seems to find its own shape as it matures.  I have also learnt that Herdwick sheep don’t eat them, let alone deer or rabbits!

Hamamelis (Witch Hazel)

A group of about 6 species, but over a hundred cultivars and varieties, this small trees/large shrubs are famed for their spidery petals of yellow, red and orange in the winter.  They also give decent autumn colours, green leaves going orange and yellow.

In the same family, Parrotia persica flowers similarly but not as obviously.  However, the leaves go a lovely orange red and one of Brockhole's looks great at the moment surrounded by red and yellow maples at the moment.  You need a fair bit of space for these as they spread more than they shoot up. 

I must double check and see if we have a Disanthus cercidifolius on site (I spend too much time in the office I think!...)  If not, definitely want one.  Again in the Witch Hazel family, it flowers as soon as the leaves drop – but a lovely red develops as the temperatures drop.  Needs moist acid soil (we have that in spades), humidity and warmth (depend on the season, but definitely have the humidity!) and partial shade and shelter.  Hardy to minus 15C, sounds perfect!

Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’

Often seen as a pot plant with lovely pale red flowers in spring in the garden centre and labelled as a great patio and container plant, which it is.  Another reason to spend some cash on it is the young leaves emerge yellow-green, turning mid green in summer and if in the mood, go scarlet now.  Max in the ground it will reach 2.5m.  I think I’ve just sold myself one.

‘Kojo - no - mai means ‘flight of the butterflies’. The original tree did not survive being transplanted but luckily was propagated by cuttings before it died.  Thanks to Keele University for the info.  'Flight' also brings back happy memories of our summer art performance and one reason why I haven’t blogged in so long!

Other Autumn highlights in the garden


Running out of space and never planned to write an essay(!) so finally, still flowering are Asters, Rudbeckia, Hydrangeas, Stipa giganteum, Persicaria and the annual seed mixes!

Trees doing their thing in Autumn

Cercis, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, Larch, Beech, Whitebeams and rowans and Mountain ash, Liquidamber styraciflua, Acer platinoides, and a few more to still develop.

I hope you have enjoyed my round-up of all things Brockhole and Autumn garden related, make sure you come along yourself in the next few weeks and see some of the examples for yourself. We run our Glorious Garden tours throughout the year, so keep a check on our 'What's on' page for more information and if you see me out and about in the garden, come over and say hello!

Iain, Head Gardener
Brockhole on Windermere

Leave a comment