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Trees and hedges

By garden designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin. I love the Autumn! It's a special time of year when we can start putting the borders to bed for the winter and can look forward to putting our feet up soon!

If the weather can manage a dry spell at the right time there's always a chance that we'll get a really long period of great Autumn colour. I especially love it because we start planting trees and hedges with a vengence at this time of year.

Beech leavesLast year was exceptional. I was particularly stunned by the number of colourful beech hedges there were. Going un-noticed most of the year Beech hedges really come into their own now and suddenly that bright orange and red of the dying leaves seem to be everywhere. From short low hedges at the front of terraced houses to magnificent long swathes up to 10 feet high they made you stop and stare!

Fagus sylvatica 'dawyck purple'We do hedges really well in England. From straightforward urban privet hedges, neatly clipped and so easy to maintain, to exuberant tapestry hedges with a multitude of different plants creating year round interest. I love the hedges that mix species such as Hawthorn Crataegus monogyna and Purple Beech Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea and many give extra help to wildlife at this time of year by providing berries and shelter.

Over in the John Innes Conservation Area in Merton there are the most stunning holly hedges you'll ever see. Once the whole area was lined with these hedges but unfortunately with the advent of off-street parking we seem to be quickly loosing many of these hedges. I suppose holly isn't the easiest hedging to look after, the spiky leaves are at best difficult to pick up but can also take your eye out, but it would be good to know that many of these hedges will continue to grow on in Merton for many more years. There are many who would like to see them stay and groups such as the John Innes Society are doing great things to support people improve not only their gardens but keep people aware of the tradition of holly hedges in this area. (You can join The John Innes Society by contacting the membership secretary on 020 8715 5448)

Hamamelis Elsewhere in south London we are lucky enough to have some great common land with some equally great trees. Richmond Park is always good at this time of year and, whilst the crowds flood into the Isabella Plantation for the May showing of Azaleas, I always manage a visit just before Christmas to see the Witch Hazels Hamamellis mollis vars with their great flowers on bare stems. It's the quietest you'll ever see the Park and you get the greatest treat from finding flowers on the coldest of days.

Sassafras albidumAnother place to get a view of a great Autumn tree is at Cannizaro Park in Wimbledon. Here they have the best specimens of Sassafras in Britain. In a good year the Sassafras Sassafras albidum will give off a sweet vanilla scent and turn the most amazing orange and scarlet colours. It's quite a rare tree in Europe so we are lucky to have them on our doorstep.

But whilst there are these more unusual specimens in the area there are also lots of local parks and spaces with great trees. I have planted thousands of trees in local back gardens over the years and am still delighted to see a specimen creating Parrotia persicaa display that many can enjoy. My personal favourites of Persian Ironwood Parrotia persica, the ornamental Pear Pyrus calleryana Chanticleer and the Paperbark Maple Acer griseum are now to be seen all over the locality but I do still try to plant a good proportion of native species if space allows. They might not be as pretty but they often provide much more nature value.

So when you're next driving around Putney or Wandsworth, or walking across one of Wimbledon common, keep an eye out for new trees and hedges close to home and, if you've got the space, go back home and plant a tree or hedge to keep this local tradition alive.

By Andrew Fisher Tomlin

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