Every autumn, I like to visit a place where the season is truly celebrated by a display of colourful deciduous leaves. Whilst we can get a reasonable autumn show by choosing amongst the trees that colour up in our warm temperate climate (as described here), it is a delight to revel in seeing autumn in all its glory, where the whole landscape is lit up: such as in inland NSW. The cooler nights and more extreme day/night temperature differences in such areas allow for the best development of the coloured leaf pigments as chlorophyll is withdrawn from the leaves of deciduous trees.
Last year, I went to Mt Wilson, in the Blue Mountains; this year I travelled further west to Orange for the Anzac weekend. As we drove along past Lithgow, the huge golden torches of poplar trees planted in avenues in paddocks looked stunning, backlit by the sun. No one in their right mind would plant one of these in a suburban garden, but in a rural setting, they are a wonderful source of autumn colour to admire. The city of Orange is renowned for its public planting of a diversity of majestic autumn-colouring trees - and there is even a map produced for visitors detailing the location of different trees in the various main streets and parks. In many cases, they have been mass-planted to form magnificent avenues - some dating back almost 100 years - and are an awe-inspiring sight.
Some of the outstanding specimens that we wouldn't often see in Sydney except in cool, elevated microclimates include stands of red-hued pin oaks (Quercus palustris); beautiful snow pears (Pyrus nivalis) , ornamental pears (Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford') and Manchurian pears (Pyrus ussuriensis); and many plane trees (Platanus species). Magnificent golden elms (Ulmus glabra 'Lutescens'), Nyssa sylvatica, tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera), claret ash (Fraxinus angustifolia 'Raywood') and golden ash (Fraxinus excelsior 'Aurea') are also grown to perfection in Orange.
Fiery colours are also provided by the foliage of liquidambars (Liquidambar styraciflua), pistachio trees (Pistacia chinensis), maples (Acer species and cultivars), crepe myrtles (Lagerstroemia indica) and tallowwood (Sapium sebiferum)* trees - which all actually also do quite well in Sydney too: but in Orange the hues seem just so much more vivid! And there are just so many more of them around - giving a sensational autumn ambience to the whole city.
Just out of the city, we discovered a public park created many years ago by a landowner, who planted a grove of more than 100 cold-climate trees at the far end of his property and allowed public access to it. Known as Campbells Corner, this park has many deciduous trees (especially pistachio trees) that glow against the backdrop of the muted evergreens. There are also many beautiful autumn berry-bearing shrubs, including red, orange and yellow Cotoneaster, smothered in fruit, and hawthorn (Crataegus) trees. All across the surrounding countryside, even the leaves of grape vines are currently glowing brilliant yellow!
I find that by visiting a cold-climate place in autumn, I can satisfy the need for that rich palette that will never happen in my own Sydney garden. Over the years, it has been very helpful for me to understand how the parameters of climate determine what will grow best for us. I know that my warm-climate plants would be dead after a few nights of an inland winter. It's always fun to push the limits of one's climate, but after failing with more cold-climate plants than I care to remember over the years, I am very happy to enjoy them vicariously in places like Orange where they really thrive!
* The Chinese tallowwood is now called Triadica sebifera. In many areas, especially warm zones, it is now classed as a noxious weed because it spreads by seed and suckers, and can invade bushland.
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