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Want to boost your spirits with a burst of autumn colour? We know just the place

PUBLISHED: 18:05 08 October 2018

Acer palmatum ‘Chitoseyama’          Picture: Fiona Edmond

Acer palmatum ‘Chitoseyama’ Picture: Fiona Edmond


Green Island Gardens has its Autumn Colour Weekend − a real treat for the senses. And it’s raising money for charity, too

The fairy house in the woods            Picture: Fiona EdmondThe fairy house in the woods Picture: Fiona Edmond

It’s a while since I went to Green Island Gardens. Sunday, October 14 offers a perfect opportunity for a visit, for it’s Autumn Colour Weekend – and the day will raise funds for the National Garden Scheme charity.

The gardens benefit from acidic soil and a sheltered microclimate that not only allow a huge range of plants to thrive (they won’t grow in most of East Anglia’s soils) but also put on a spectacular show with their autumn colours.

Fiona Edmond, owner and designer of the gardens in Ardleigh, near Colchester, is passionate about acers. She has more than 60 varieties, which she reckons are at their best during the second and third weeks of October.

If Fiona had to pick her favourite of all the acers it would probably be A.palmatum ‘Chitoseyama’.

A seldom-seen smoke bush, Cotinus obovatus - a magnificent specimen in its autumn finery        Picture: Fiona EdmondA seldom-seen smoke bush, Cotinus obovatus - a magnificent specimen in its autumn finery Picture: Fiona Edmond

“It has such an elegantly-shaped spreading form which comes into leaf in April with dusky pink foliage, maturing to an orangey brown which shows off the bright red, little, winged seeds throughout the summer, and finally turning the brightest red-crimson colour of all in October, before revealing its lovely silhouette once more for the winter,” she says. “Who needs flowers to provide colour in their garden?”

There are also numerous Stewartias, Azaleas, Hamamelis, Liquidambers, Nyssas, Parrotia persica, Fothergillas, Cornus, Cotinus, Nandinas, Vitis, Amelanchiers and Sorbus – all best known for their autumn colour.

In addition, there is a lot of more-unusual trees and shrubs, such as Zelkova serrata, Itea, Oxydendron, and Sassafras albidum.

Nandina domestica ‘Firepower’ is a small shrub which over the years has been shunned by many designers. However, Fiona uses it liberally around the gardens, praising it for its fantastic bright red colour that lasts virtually all year round, “and when used in vases at Christmas time lasts until Easter!”

Camellia sasanqua ‘Hugh Evans’       Picture: Fiona EdmondCamellia sasanqua ‘Hugh Evans’ Picture: Fiona Edmond

Designed to offer year-round interest, the gardens have many autumn-flowering plants, which means the borders are still full of interest to complement the fiery colours around them.

“Repeat-flowering Alstromerias, many types of salvia and penstemon, schizostylis and zauschneria continue to flower right through to the first hard frosts.

“Spectacular South African bulbs, Amaryllis belladonna and Nerines pop up in the driest sunniest spots with their stunning bright pink flowers on bare stems. Colchicums, autumn crocus and cyclamen brighten the ground level.

“Not to be outdone by the fiery colours of the deciduous trees and shrubs, even some of the evergreens like to join in, with Bergenia leaves turning red for winter and then as if by magic back to green next summer, along with nandinas” and what Fiona considers to be the best climber: Trachelospermun jasminoides.

Nerine sarniensis              Picture: Fiona EdmondNerine sarniensis Picture: Fiona Edmond

“Self-clinging, evergreen, clothed in jasmine-like white flowers from July to September, which have a delicious heady scent released particularly on warm summer evenings and then lovely autumn colour as well…what value all from one plant!”

Fiona reckons autumn at Green Island is not only a feast for the eyes but also the nose, “with the unmistakeable sweet, sugary scent of the Cercidiphyllum japonicum as the sugars in the leaves break down, and the small white flowers of Osmanthus heterophyllus and Eleagnus ebbingei, which would probably go unnoticed if it weren’t for the sweet perfume they release.

“However, the floral stars of the autumn for me are the little-known Camellia sasanquas, which flower from October through to Christmas and beyond. Less flamboyant than the spring-flowering C. japonicas, their blooms are scented, and they are more tolerant of full sun and less-acidic soils, making them much easier to grow. Cs ‘Hugh Evans’ has single pink flowers, Cs. ‘Gay Sue’ double white, and Cs ‘Crimson King’ bright red.

“After the scorching summer of 2018 we have had, how fitting that the season should end in a blaze of glory!”

Amaryllis belladonna         Picture: Fiona EdmondAmaryllis belladonna Picture: Fiona Edmond

All the gen

Green Island Gardens open for the National Garden Scheme on Sunday, October 14

10am to 5pm

Adult £7.50

Child £2.50

Find them at Park Road, Ardleigh, CO7 7SP

Three miles north-east of Colchester

Light refreshments available

Green Island gardens have been professionally designed by Fiona Edmond and lie in 20 acres of mature woodland. There are mixed borders, a seaside garden, Japanese garden, gravel garden, water gardens, woodland gardens, bamboo dell and tree house.

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