As October firms up its grip on Dorchester, we can again delight in the wonderful autumn colours that the month brings to our trees around the town. Reds, yellows, pinks and purples replace the green canopy of summer. For a few precious weeks the gold, bronze, copper and amber above shelters us before getting under our feet as we move about the town.
For some, autumn is their favourite season. Recent research, commissioned by the National Trust, suggests British people are increasingly finding solace – at what can be a tricky time of year – in the joy of autumn colour. According to the research, almost three-quarters of people say they take note of how the trees change through the year with more than a quarter saying they notice trees more now than at the start of the pandemic.
Weather patterns through the year are key to the range of colours we can see each autumn – particularly the levels of sunshine, but also the air temperature and the amounts of rainfall and wind through the summer months. As the weather cools in autumn, the leaves start to receive less sunlight. As autumn approaches, lower levels of sunlight triggers the green chlorophyll in leaves to break down (and the tree does not replenish it) revealing the new, colourful pigments underneath and treating us to beautiful autumn yellows and oranges. The yellows and oranges which were previously masked by chlorophyll are called xanthophylls and carotenoids. These pigments are present year-round in the leaves, but are usually masked by the green chlorophyll.
Thanks to some thoughtful planting by earlier generations, Dorchester is blessed with a wealth of trees that display spectacular autumn colours in most years. The Walks, based on the line of the earlier walls enclosing the Roman town and first planted as avenues of trees in the early 1700s, show off their yellows and golds to those who enjoy their company. The Lime trees along Colliton Walk, with their yellowing heart-shaped leaves, are a picture at this time of year.
Borough Gardens is well worth a visit to see the full range of autumn colours. The Tulip Trees and large Maidenhair Tree look particularly colourful when seen amongst the magnificent Copper Beeches. Once you tune your eye in to the autumn colours and shapes of these trees, you may find yourself spotting them in other places around Dorchester – particularly the Maidenhair Tree which turns an almost fluorescent yellow in a good autumn.
Autumn is also the time of colourful berries and fruit – nature’s wild harvest time. In sunny places, the rich-red berries of Hawthorn shine out, the orange rose hips are softening, their colour deeping to crimson. Look out for Rowan trees around Dorchester this autumn, with their fine feathery leaves and orange or red berries. Also known as the Mountain Ash, this tree is believed to protect households against witchcraft and enchantment, and its flowers are a great source of food for early pollinators.
As the days shorten, why not take the opportunity to see wonderful autumn colours along the Millstream walk and in the adjacent Riverside Nature Reserve. As a bonus, the Mallard are once again gathering noisily on the Millstream to the amusement of those that pass by – another of nature’s annual cycles just starting over.
Guest post by Richard Bradford. Written for, and first published on, the Discover Dorchester website.