As autumn watches the trees turn to russet, yellow, fiery ochre and crimson before their leaves drift gently earthwards, I thought it was time for a blog to mark the colours of this season. London’s parks and above all the wilder Hampstead Heath have impressive vegetation, towering oaks and horse chestnut trees, and wonderful vistas, but for autumnal colours you need variety. So it was off to Winkworth Arboretum, a haven of over 1,000 shrubs and trees tucked away in the rolling hills of Surrey, southwest of the big smoke.
Compared with the many other country estates dotted round our island, this huge park (46 hectares) is relatively young, dating back to 1937 when a certain Dr Wilfrid Fox acquired the forested land and set about creating the arboretum. As he lived in an old farmhouse nearby, he could easily pop in to check on progress. His experience with plants and trees was already extensive as he had in fact initiated the planting of roadsides in the 1920s.
Gradually the steep slopes took shape with countless varieties centered around a magical little lake, fed by the River Wey and complete with picturesque wooden boathouse. Mossy steps and paths wind through the luminous woods before views open up magically over the valley – it’s hard to believe we’re only an hour or so from London.
Dr Fox’ arboreal passion resulted in a stunning range of maples which in autumn become quite mesmerising, shedding pools of crimson leaves like drops of blood at their base. In later years the enlightened doctor (a respected dermatologist as well as environmentalist) added in flowering shrubs – azaleas, rhododendrons and magnolia trees, all contributing to his technique of “painting with trees”. Huge clearings in the woods are also reserved for bluebells – which basically means Winkworth is a must-do visit in late Spring.
Nice to know too that Dr Fox was rewarded for his landscaping investment, receiving a medal from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1948 just a few years before he handed over a substantial chunk of the arboretum to the National Trust. A decade later, in 1962, he died, but left behind him an extraordinary legacy. What better? Animists take note and head for the arboretum – you can’t fail to be inspired.