The Dene in Autumn
Trees and Shrubs
As we enter a new Autumn season, even in September there was a change in the air. Nights are drawing in, the children are back at school, any warmth there was has gone from the atmosphere and early risers are witnessing morning mists and light ground frosts that will be burnt off by the rising sun. We are now in Keat’s “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, a beautiful season of new smells, sights and sounds.
After the months of rain, so often torrential, it is as if the undergrowth has poured over its brim and is flowing out of its own self-containment as it heads towards its final phase of life, shedding copious quantities of seeds before rotting down to enrich the earth again. The old growth gives protection to other plants, and wildlife, too. At the same time, animal tracks and other “secret” places become more obvious to us. Vistas start to open up and the solid form of the Dene can be seen again.
The leaves of our wonderful Beech trees are changing from glorious green to a wonderful rust colour. The young Beech saplings, which hold their leaves throughout the winter (a property of their age and size), will delight us through to the end of Spring as they provide much needed colour. Is there anywhere a more beautiful example of this than the area at the bottom of the slope just of the Waggonway, when walking downstream? It remains to be seen if this will be a good “masting” year, when the ground is covered with husks from which the shiny nutlets fall and provide fodder for small mammals.
The Blackberry harvest looks good this year, perhaps as a result of sun at the right time and the amount of rain we have had this year. There are just a few sloes this year, and they are coming into ripeness on the Blackthorns, particularly along the Waggonway. The Elderberries seem to have been and gone; red berries are gleaming amongst dying foliage, the rosehips, the haws of the hawthorn and most spectacular, the glowing fruits of the Guelder Rose. The Hazels have produced nuts but they never last long. The Sea Buckthorn is a great provider of Autumn and Winter sustenance, bearing its yellow-orange berries along its branches that will be heavy under their weight. Similarly, Hollies and Rowans bear berries that beautify the Dene and its surroundings. Without an abundance of fruiting shrubs and trees, the winter would seem longer and very drab, and more importantly, wildlife would suffer. For this reason, it would be a kindness to wildlife to avoid foraging for berries this year (except, perhaps, for blackberries) because the yield does not seem to be as great as we would hope.
The Oaks will soon be giving up their seeds – acorns beloved of adults and children alike. Collect two or three and plant them in soil in a pot, ask our working party to plant them for you in years to come! In recent years, frost has caused the dying oak leaves to freeze to their stems, releasing them after snowfall. The sight of golden coloured oak leaves atop a path of pure white snow remains fixed in the memory and was both surreal and stunning at the same time. Will we see such a sight again?
The Common Alder sheds its branchlets of cones at our feet. They make a lovely addition to Christmas decorations in their natural state or sprayed white, gold, red or silver. They are in abundance all around the Dene. The colour of the Sycamore in Autumn depends upon specific weather and climatic conditions. Frosty nights and sunny days are needed for the most glorious sequence of colours. Our varying conditions are not always conducive to lasting colour, but regular walks in the Dene this Autumn will reveal some stunning sights. Let us hope we do not need to book flights to New England as an alternative!
One of the enduring memories of Autumn is the sound of leaves beneath the feet; can anyone resist kicking the piles of leaves that accumulate along the paths? As the season progresses into winter, deciduous trees descend into dormancy. The harder the winter, the deeper and longer the dormancy, and in many cases, a longer rest of this kind is beneficial for the trees and shrubs. Winter brings its own thrills so let us not be down hearted, but celebrate another turn of the wheel of life and give our thanks not only to mother nature but also to the small and dedicated group of people of the working party who keep the paths passable, the river flowing and maintain the steady state of our wonderful Dene.