AUTUMN, DICK & HARRY
Well snap my dragons and crack my nuts, here we are heading into October already
October should be the eighth month of the year really shouldn’t it? Latin – ôctō meaning “eight”) We have Octoberoctogon for eight sides, octopus for eight legs, octogenarian, octosyllabic and even octofoil. ‘What’s Octofoil?’ Well being a Horto-Octopamine, I can reliably inform you it means, having, or consisting of, eight leaves or lobes. An ambitious Roman magistrate must have added a couple of months early in the year to extend his posting and bolster his own glorification within the Empire, thus pushing October into tenth place.
Top Four Trees for Autumn Colour
The Katsura Tree
The Katsura Tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) arrives in autumn with a blaze of yellow and scarlet leaves complemented by a distinctive burnt sugar smell. It is native to China and Japan. British conditions ensure it won’t grow much bigger than 15m in the UK. In the spring the leaves begin as a soft pink, turning green as summer arrives before reaching their full golden potential in autumn.
The Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) is one of the easiest trees for the autumn colour to have as it can be planted in gardens of all sizes and even as part of a container garden. They grow slowly and are easy to maintain, the tallest reaching a maximum of around 8m. All share a similar palette of vibrant yellows, oranges and reds in autumn.
Also known as (Liquidambar styraciflua) this is one of the most popular trees for autumn colour grown in the UK. Similar to the red maple, it delivers a spectacular display of shiny vibrant red and burgundy star-like foliage, making it a seasonal highlight.
The Rowan also knew as Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia), it grows well throughout the UK and is flexible with growing conditions. Its slender leaves turn yellow among the vibrant berries. There are many varieties within the Rowan Tree family with different coloured berries and various heights to suit your garden situation.
Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)
There is another tree we love to love in autumn and it has nothing to do with colour. It’s the horse chestnut. (related incidentally to the lychee family) Apart from growing to 130′ (40 m+/-) and hanging in there for 300 plus years, (which admittedly doesn’t make it great for small gardens) it is decorated with clusters of white candle flowers in spring.
But it has another trick up its trunk… conker competitions, of course. Schoolyard conker fights may be frowned upon by the politically correct but that doesn’t mean you can’t play at home. The first recorded game of conkers played with horse chestnuts took place in 1848 on the Isle of Wight.
Interesting fact: the leaf stalks leave a scar on the twig when they fall, which resembles an inverted horseshoe with nail holes. This association with horses could explain why conkers used to be ground up and fed to horses to relieve them of coughs and could be the origin of the tree’s name. Planted small, in time the saplings will provide shade and character, meanwhile, they speak of grand intentions.
PUMPKINS & HALLOWEEN (Tuesday 31st October this year)
Halloween also was known as All Saints’ Eve is a celebration on the 31st of October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ and Reformation day.
Straddling the line between autumn and winter, plenty and paucity, life and death, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. The fact that it has become an over commercialised excuse for ripping parents off as they struggle to deal with buying masks, cloaks and pumpkins for their kids to carve into evil looking heads arguably indicates The Reformation has lost its grip.
But hey, it provides a good excuse for kids to have a hooley. Dipping heads into buckets of water to grab an apple, donning devilish masks, imitating malevolent ghosts and coercing unsuspecting passers to gamble; Trick or Treat?
One Halloween, when I was in New York, a man was arrested for handing out an apple to a demanding fifteen-year-old covered in pumpkin seeds. The apple had a razor blade buried inside it. But that’s NY for ya’Still, I keep a bag of sweets on all saint’s day to pass out to the wee ghosties when they scratch on my front door. There are no razor blades to be seen.