What to see in October and November
So what can visitors to Leonardslee Lakes and Gardens expect to find in the Autumn during October and November?
This year is the first that visitors can experience the gardens in this season - as they have not been open to the public before during the Autumn months since closure ten years ago. The many upgraded paths around the garden will allow you to traverse through the mature collection of plants. Although the Spring Rhododendrons are not in flower, you can admire the beautiful bark on the trunk and stems, many of which are more than 100 years old.
When you visit, be sure to take a tranquil walk through the woodland at the southern end of the Estate. This involves taking the circuit around New Pond and into the Deer Park where you can enjoy the peace and gentle rustling of leaves on the trees and the delightful birdsong.
You will notice that the vegetation changes as you walk around the circuit, from woodland to open heathland with changing views and vistas, which are very different from the other parts of the garden.
The Autumn colour is spread over many weeks, right through October and into November. So whenever you choose to visit there will be hues of bright yellow, brick orange and majestic reds for you to enjoy. It will not be until the end of November that the majority of leaves on the deciduous trees have fallen, leaving the structure and form of the tree exposed. Of course, the evergreen coniferous do lose their leaves too. An example of this would be the Pine tree which grows once per year in May and June with new growth in whorls about 60 centimetres in length. The new shoots grow from the tips of the old, so the older needles get shaded out by the new flush of growth and turn brown before dropping through the middle of the tree to the ground below.
A tree to look out for is Liquidambar styraciflua, common name Sweet Gum, this offers excellent Autumn colouring, so search for this tree behind the Rock Garden. This large, deciduous tree is often mistaken for an Acer as the foliage is similar in appearance with 5 to 7 pointed, palmate lobes. However, the leaves of Liquidambar are arranged alternately on stems, whereas the leaves of Acer species are opposite each other. The Autumn colour is second to none, ranging from fiery red, orange and yellow through to sumptuous purple. This tree is native to the warmer areas of the eastern United States and Mexico.
Flowing with Styrax
Liquidambar was first introduced to Europe in the late 1600s by John Banister and planted in Fulham Palace Gardens, London. In 1753 Linnaeus (the Swedish naturalist and explorer who was the first to frame principles for defining natural genera and species of organisms, and to create a uniform system for naming them) gave the tree its name. The name comes from the Latin liquidus meaning fluid and Arabic Ambar in reference to the sweet gum which exudes from the bark when wounded; styraciflua is an old term meaning ‘flowing with styrax’ (plant resin). In Mexico, it is cultivated for this resin which is often used for incense, perfume, and adhesives.
Mushroom Season - please don’t pick!
The main mushroom season in the UK is in the Autumn - from September to November, and many can be found at Leonardslee, so keep your eyes peeled! But please do not touch, pick or eat any as they may be poisonous. One such mushroom is the Fly Agaric. Historically it was used for killing flies by placing dry powdered material from its mushrooms in milk. The fruiting body appears in late Summer or early Autumn and are the characteristic red-capped fungi with white spots that are commonly depicted in children’s storybooks. The fruiting is thought to be triggered by a combination of conditions which include a decrease in daylight hours, falling temperatures and increased rainfall. The young, red fruiting body is covered in a universal veil that is white and splits apart as the stem grows up and the cap opens out. As the fruiting body matures, the cap becomes flat, sometimes with a slight depression in the centre, and grows up to 20 cm in diameter.
So there are many reasons to visit this Autumn and enjoy the numerous elements of the Gardens. We look forward to welcoming you and trust that you enjoy your visit.