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Best Days Out Cornwall

National Trust urges Brits to enjoy the spectacle of a global autumn right here at home in the South West 

Posted in News by Lauren Webb on 10th October 2023

The National Trust is encouraging Britons to experience a world of autumn colour by visiting the global gardens on their doorstep as the seasonal spectacle gets set to tumble across the country over the coming weeks.  

After last year’s drought, a dry start to the year, and prolonged, warm temperatures in June[1], (making it the warmest June on record), much of the country soaked up the long-awaited rain over the summer months which came as a welcome relief for not just trees, but also for Britain’s wildlife.  

Andy Jasper, Head of Gardens and Parklands at the National Trust, said: “This year’s wet summer weather has helped buck the trend of recent dry summers, so our plants and trees finally had a chance to hydrate and are now gearing up for a dazzling show of reds, ambers, yellows and browns this autumn.  

“While most of September has felt like summer’s last hurrah, we’re likely to see a fantastic show of colour spill across the country as soon as temperatures start to drop, making it the perfect time to go out and take in the wealth of autumnal beauty the UK has to offer. 

“I would urge everyone to take some time, as often as they can, to go out and enjoy nature as it seeks to wrap us in a warm blanket of beautiful colours. Whether it is a weekend out with the family or ten minutes during a lunch break, there has never been a better time to go out and be enchanted by nature.” 

The autumn spectacle is set to start in Scotland, where temperatures typically drop the fastest, followed by the North East of England and Northern Ireland with a domino effect cascading down the rest of England and Wales through to the South West.   

The change of leaf colour is triggered by a slowing down of the production of chlorophyl – the green energy creating pigment which gives leaves their colour – as days shorten, resulting in lower levels of sunlight, and as temperatures drop.   

This allows other underlying pigments[2] to become increasingly dominant resulting in the kaleidoscope of autumnal colours from brilliant butter yellows, ambers and crimsons, through to rich, russet browns. 

Pamela Smith, Senior National Consultant for Gardens and Parklands at the National Trust said: “The 222 gardens we care for form one of the greatest collections of cultivated plants in the world including maples from Japan, swamp cypresses from the United States and the horse chestnut which originates from Greece. It’s no surprise that a walk around our gardens can be a truly global, botanical adventure. 

“This autumn, as we welcome back the colours of autumn from the butter yellow of Lime trees to the deep ruby reds of many of our Maples, it is worth thinking about the origins of many of our plants and the plant collecting and breeding innovation that has created so many of our autumn colour trees and shrubs we enjoy today.” 

A showstopping, typical New England, North American style autumn with its enormous flame red cypresses, golden yellow tulip trees and pink red dogwoods can be found in the South West of England at Stourhead in Wiltshire and Cotehele and Glendurgan in Cornwall, the National Trust’s most southerly garden.   

John Lanyon, Head Gardener for the National Trust at Glendurgan said: “We have really high hopes for a spectacular autumn display which will make up for last year’s poor season. 

“In 2022 the lack of rain and high temperatures firstly put our trees under huge stress before we experienced strong gales which blew the leaves off before they had chance to turn. 

“This year however, the summer rains have played a significant part in helping our trees recover somewhat, giving the trees the strength to hold on to their leaves which should result in a fantastic autumn display.  

“As the leaves turn, visitors exploring our gardens can get a slice of the grand North American autumn without needing to jump on a plane, enjoying vivid colours that one would expect in places like Virginia and Florida – in Cornwall.  

“Our tall and elegant swamp cypresses, which turn a lovely copper colour before changing to a rich brown later in the season, contrast beautifully with our tulip tree – a huge, billowing tree that was planted here almost 200 years ago and whose leaves turn a beautiful golden yellow – while our red oaks add a touch of fiery red.  

“With the green backdrop of the surrounding valley, autumn colour at Glendurgan really is a sight to behold.” 

David Bouch, Cotehele’s Head Gardener said: “Autumn creates such a wonder change with cooler mornings and clear skies making way for a magnificient horticultural treat.  

“While some of us have not enjoyed a wetter summer, our trees and shrubs certainly have! Having put on some really strong growth over the past few months I am hopeful of some great autumn colour.  

“We have some amazing plants in our collection and you can see the yellows and reds creeping in day by day. From the majestic Black Walnut and Ginko at Antony to the autumn fruits and valley at Cotehele.  

“Gardeners and rangers across the country however remain anxious as to the ongoing legacy of the past years’ extreme weather, in particular the impact of last year’s drought and dry winter with trees showing signs of stress in differing ways. 

Tim Parker, Stourhead Head Gardener said: “In late summer our thoughts turn to Autumn and our imagination runs wild as to what to expect, the greens giving way to bright reds, oranges and yellows.  2023 looks exceptionally promising with a warm start to the year through Spring into the summer months followed by lots of rain and a very strong growing season.  As such our expectations for autumn colour at Stourhead are running fervently high for 2023, we too have made improvements to our water management so expect to see enhanced reflections in the lakes this year.    

Luke Barley, National Trees & Woodland Adviser at the National Trust said: “Trees and woodlands can be remarkably resilient – but we are seeing trees showing various signs of stress due to successive years of drought and increasingly warm winters, which fail to kill off some of the insect pests that can affect native trees.  

“Trees that are already stressed by drought are particularly susceptible to diseases, for instance parkland oaks that we find affected by Acute Oak Decline.  We also know that mature trees with thin crowns and declining vigour are potentially less able to resist pathogens. 

“Our younger trees have been severely impacted by this prolonged period of atypical weather, including recently planted saplings which just didn’t have time to properly establish before being hit by drought.  Mature trees can be affected too, which is a big concern – but one ray of hope is that trees are resilient; the ancient trees for which the National Trust has a particular responsibility have adapted to many changes in climate over the course of their centuries-long lifespans.  

“It’s therefore vitally important that we really start to understand the impact climate change is having on some of the ‘giants’ in our landscapes, and to really appreciate them for providing us with clean air and water, how they provide homes for thousands of insects, birds and other animals – not to mention the effect that time among the trees can have on our own physical and mental wellbeing. 

Luke continued: “The wet weather in July and August came as a massive relief for all our wildlife, resulting in what does appear to have been a bumper year for berries, due in part to the lack of late, unexpected frosts to impact spring blossom, and plenty of rainfall over the summer ensuring that fruits could swell.   

“Throughout September and into this month we’ve been able to enjoy the sight of our hedgerows hanging heavy with fruits such as hawthorn berries, sloes, elderberries and blackberries.   

“This is of course great news for wildlife such as over-wintering birds such as redwings, fieldfares and blackbirds, as well as for animals such as hedgehogs and badgers.”   

To find out more about autumn colour at National Trust places, visit: