Gardening: Autumn sets the trees aglow

By Meg Liptrot

The end of the golden weather brings vivid new hues, writes Meg Liptrot

Japanese Maple at Glenfalloch Woodland Garden, Otago Peninsula. Photo / Meg Liptrot
Japanese Maple at Glenfalloch Woodland Garden, Otago Peninsula. Photo / Meg Liptrot

The rain has come and the drought has broken, but there's heat of a different kind now. The greens, so restful to the eye, have been replaced by searing colours which scorch their mark in the garden.

Being out in the garden in autumn is sometimes the nicest time of all, as we get a new palette of hot golds, oranges, reds and browns which glow in the crisp autumn light. It's nice to get that cosy squirrelling feeling of stacking wood, harvesting the last of summer's bounty, and enjoying autumn's fruity treats.

Having a small tree whose foliage colours up beautifully in autumn is a must in any garden. Even if you have an edible garden you can choose trees which are a feature. We have a North American maple, Acer rubrum, which is showing a touch of fluorescent red at the top blending into shades of orange and green.

Theoretically, we could tap into the tree for syrup, so it fits the "edible" category in our food forest, and it's getting to a decent size now.

I admired a Japanese maple while visiting Glenfalloch Woodland Garden on Otago Peninsula in late January. The foliage illuminated the garden with a clear red claret against a cobalt blue sky, and was absolutely stunning. This species of maple is a way to cheat autumn and achieve red foliage right through summer as well.

Persimmons are beginning to ripen, offering jewel-like bursts of colour. Even this tree's leaves turn a vibrant shade of coral red. Tamarillo are fruiting now, too, and are ornamental as well as delicious, with their smooth red or orange egg-shaped fruit hanging like earrings from the tree.

If you leave rosehips to form you could get all sorts of pretty autumn colours. Rugosas are a standout with their plump red hips. Allowing roses to form hips will help the plant store energy before the cool weather, rather than straining itself to produce more foliage and flowers. Leave them be at this time of year, and let the rose do what it has been trying to do all summer - produce fruit. Rosehips make a striking arrangement in a vase, with or without water. This way your rose will keep giving you enjoyment and "cut flower" options.

A place I'd really like to be right now is Arrowtown for the Autumn Festival. I've never been there this time of year and the cool crisp weather will bring out the best in autumn colour in the South Island. In the north, Eastwoodhill Aboretum in Gisborne offers a similar stunning display. Eastwoodhill is hosting a couple of great events over the next two weeks. One is an Anzac Day Extravaganza on April 25, with activities and stalls, and a bug tour with Ruud Kleinpaste. As this day is for honouring those who gave their lives in war, by way of tribute you can lay a scarlet maple leaf on the memorial. This is a perfect time to visit the arboretum, where the reds in the trees will be evocative of the traditional red Flanders or soldier poppy.

Paying tribute on Anzac Day links visitors with the history of the arboretum. This national treasure is the creative vision of soldier Douglas Cook. In World War I he was wounded at Gallipoli and convalesced in England where he came to love and be inspired by English parks and gardens. He returned to his Gisborne farm and set to work from 1918 until 1965 creating an arboretum which has become New Zealand's National Arboretum. It covers 135ha of the 250ha Ngatapa subdivision.

Cook imported about 5000 tree and shrub species and cultivars over this time and his work is recognised as the largest, most comprehensive collection of Northern Hemisphere trees and shrubs in the southern half of the world. For more information visit

Season's highlights

Eastwoodhill Arboretum features

Lombardy poplar, Populus nigra;
Yunnan poplar, P yunnanensis;
Persian ironwood, Parrotia persica.

Liquidambar styraciflua
Japanese maples:
Osakazuki, Acer palmatum;
Vitifolium, Acer japonicum;
Flowering cherry foliage, Prunus serrulata;
Crimson glory vine/ornamental grape, Vitis coignetiae.

Busy days about bees

On a slightly different note, but also at Eastwoodhill, is the inaugural Trees for Bees conference on April 26 and 27. Dr Linda Newstrom-Lloyd, of Landcare Research, will present preliminary findings of her research at the arboretum. She has investigated trees and shrubs which supply pollen for bees during spring and autumn shortages.

Topics include bee-friendly habitats, research on trees for bees, bee biology, followed by a day of farm visits. Presenters include the National Beekeepers Association, Federated Farmers and Landcare Research. Book at:

- Herald on Sunday

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