Impressed by the stunning colours at Churchill in the last few weeks? We really hope so! Some of our most colourful and majestic trees have been turning their magnificent autumn shades and there have been some incredible colours. On a chilly sunny morning in November there is not much that can beat the glorious sight of the bright reds and oranges against the backdrop of blue sky and the Churchill landscape.

Cotinus coggygria (smoke tree) in a corner of the Master’s garden at the end of October

One of the most impressive trees we have on site for autumn colour is the sweetgum Liquidambar styraciflua – the starriest of leaves seem to keep their autumn colour for weeks! One of our ash trees the beloved Fraxinus angustifolia ‘Raywood’ is another of our spectacular autumn specimens. It has one of the most incredible displays of colour. Year after year it is a complete joy on a bright morning. Planted around 1972 it now stands about 15 metres tall and can be seen around the college towering above our distinctive buildings. Talking of buildings our Parthenocissuss tricuspidata – the Boston ivy – has been doing its thing! Sprawling across the front of college in all its glory it has looked stunning again this year.

Parthenocissus tricuspidata – the Boston ivy – at the front of college.

We see these amazing magical sights all because of the shorter and chillier days at this time of year. Green pigment in the leaves recedes because of a decrease in the amount of photosynthesis happening. This lessening of green makes way for the oranges, yellows, pinks and reds of other pigments in the leaves. Changes like these happen to differing degrees depending on the chilliness and sunniness of our days – it’s all about the chemistry! We never have quite the same autumn colour display from year to year and maybe this is what helps to make these days so incredibly special!

Starry Liquidambar styraciflua leaves at the end of October.

Liquidambar styraciflua close to the Study Centre

Fraxinus angustifolia ‘Raywood’.

There are often some quiet but breathtaking moments in our arboretum at the top of college. Sometimes the light is just perfect and our collection of Acer palmatums glow ruby red. The beeches have turned their spectacular golden brown and the Koelreuteria paniculata even more golden. It really is worth the walk – anytime!

Acers in the arboretum

Acers in the arboretum

Fagus sylvatica – the beeches – near the chapel

Fagus sylvatica – the beeches – near the chapel

Hidden away in the Master’s garden but seen from a distance are three imposing hornbeams Carpinus betulus. Maybe not typically thought of as autumn colour interest they are one of the gardeners’ favourites – with or without leaves! From the overall shape it appears they have formed what looks like one large tree but in fact when standing close by you can see the three distinct trunks. The leafblowers are in full swing underneath as they drip-feed their leaves daily – three trees of hornbeam leaves is a very weighty business!

Carpinus betulus in autumn leaf

Carpinus betulus after most of their leaves have fallen

The Grounds and Gardens team are currently going leaf crazy every morning as the carpets of leaves cover practically every surface. Our trainees have been getting to grips with leaf rakes, leafboards, petrol and battery leaf blowers and leaf sucker-uppers! Other members of the team have been covering larger areas on bigger machinery in a bid to keep the college looking super tidy. There’ll be a lot of Churchill leafmould in the end for putting back into the Churchill soil but it’s hard graft in the meantime. We are all dreaming of leaf-free days in a few weeks time when we’ll see the starker, lighter branches where all the tons of leaves we’ve collected have fallen.

The bare branches of the Metasequoia glyptostroboides – a deciduous conifer and one of our tallest trees on site.

A little plug for our new Garden Guide written by Paula Laycock and John Moore. It’s available in the Porters Lodge – only £3! The guide takes you on a walk through the grounds and gardens and is a great way to make sure you get the best of your time here.

We also have our NGS open day coming up in April next year – the afternoon of Sunday 19th . Our wonderful Prunus ‘Tai Haku’ should be in blossom and our hundreds of daffodils hopefully still in flower by then!

Grounds and Gardens team