If you like walking (Walpole-the-dog and I can’t wait to get out and about), autumn is the time for you. Luckily Britain has an amazing collection of woodland gardens where the colours this year will be vibrant, thanks to a damp spring and a long warm summer. Don’t forget to catch a falling leaf for luck. Here are my top tips for Autumn 2016.
Alphabetically, I’m starting at Askham Hall in Cumbria, a garden surrounding a battlemented tower house that boasts woodland walks and nature trails as well as plenty of topiary. You can warm up in the excellent Kitchen Garden café if kicking through leaves hasn’t got your blood flowing already.
Bodnant Gardens in Wales offers 60 acres of dazzling autumn colours particularly in the Lower Gardens around the lake. Take a walk in The Glades where you can enjoy the Japanese acers and be awestruck by the towering American conifers in the Dell and Far End. The sweet chestnut on the Top Lawn is one of Bodnant’s champion trees and you might even find one to roast.
Castle Howard in Yorkshire is more than just one of the Britain’s most magnificent palaces, the 120 acre arboretum is a reason for a visit all on its own, particularly at this time of year. A stunning landscape of parkland, lakes and ponds is the backdrop for a collection of more than 6,000 trees from around the world. Walpole and I tend to wander off to explore peaceful hidden glades, but there is also a brilliant playground and home-cooked food in the café.
Cawdor Castle in Scotland has 5 nature trails of varying lengths, winding through 750 acres of mixed woodland which is great for walking and hiking. A wild garden between the Castle and the Cawdor Burn was planted in the 1960s around tall specimen trees which give fine colour at this time of year.
The garden created by the 1st Lord Armstrong around his retreat at Cragside in Northumberland is now mature and the tumbling slopes down to the stream have been restored by the National Trust to create a colourful autumn garden and plenty of woodland walks.
At Victorian Capesthorne Hall, Cheshire once you have found your way through the Milanese Gates opposite the Chapel, the tranquil gardens are full of unusual 18th century plants, shrubs and trees whose changing colours reflect in the lake.
Holker Hall in Cumbria has some of the finest specimen trees in the country and catching the woods on the turn across the parkland is quite a sight. The mild climate allows the trees to grow tall and you have a good chance of catching sight of deer in the park.
Hergest Croft Gardens in Herefordshire is one of our foremost tree gardens with specimen trees collected by 3 generations of the Banks family. The dazzling autumn colour of the collections of maples and birches is breathtaking. Reds, yellows, purple and gold leaves glisten throughout the Azalea Garden, Maple Grove and Park Wood.
Be by the lake at Hever Castle in Kent in autumn and you may catch a late afternoon mist rising up among the changing colours of the maples and birches. The walk from Two Sisters’ Pool down to the Castle gives you a stunning view of all the different trees, culminating in the beautiful view of the Castle with its Boston Ivy clinging to the walls.
Plumpton Rocks in Yorkshire, a unique and extraordinary pleasure ground of the 1760s with woodlands set into towering rocks and a man-made lake. The weathered shapes of the steely grey millstone grit rocks are the perfect contrast to the changing colours of the autumn leaves. The gardens are newly restored so now is a great time to go.
Sherborne Castle in Dorset is another garden around a magnificent lake, this time the work of Capability Brown whose tercentenary it is this year at work in 1753. There are 42 acres of gardens and grounds and the mature trees are at their best in October. Don’t miss the pale yellow of the gingko.
Woburn Abbey Gardens in Bedfordshire are another important garden which has undergone a restoration programme to recreate elements of the gardens created by Humphrey Repton. The decorative 18th century garden buildings in the Chinese style are particularly beautiful against the colours of autumn. Book a garden tour for a special insight into the gardens preparation for winter.