Gold leaves (and red ones)

In the US, they rave about ‘New England in the fall’ but I reckon ‘old’ England in autumn is pretty hard to beat.  Leaves changing colour and starting to drop, along with crisp or misty mornings, is one of those heralds of cooler weather and bring moments of delight to what can sometimes be a dull season. 

With the dry summer we had this year, many deciduous leaves were starting to fall already, so I was beginning to wonder if we’d have any decent autumn colours at all.  But the warm September and then the sudden drop to colder temperatures has kept those leaves hanging on and looking fabulous!  (If you want to learn more about the science of why leaves change colour, this lovely article from Kew Gardens is an interesting read).

To celebrate those great colours of autumn, here are our thoughts on leaves, what to do with them and what to plant to get spectacular colours in your own garden.

autumn leaves

The purpose of leaves

Leaves generate energy for plants by turning sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into ‘food’ in a process called photosynthesis.  As the weather cools, the bond between the leaf and the plant weakens and deciduous trees will lose their leaves, not a problem because the tree needs less energy in the winter. Losing leaves also helps preserve moisture in the tree (less surface area to evaporate from) and allows the wind to blow more easily through the branches, meaning the tree is at less risk in storms.

(We love this article from Forestry Scotland about the purpose and colours of leaves).

Make your own leaf mold

In the natural world, fallen leaves decompose and become the fuel for next years plants. It is one of those ways that nature has learnt to recycle nutrients.  We can replicate this process in our own gardens by making our own leaf mould, which can be a brilliant mulch and help to add organic ‘bulk’ to poorer soils.  Here’s how:

Gather up the fallen leaves from your garden.  A good way to do that is to run over them with your lawn mower, which usefully serves to chop them up at the same time!  (If you have roses, don’t collect any leaves that have black spot as you risk carrying over the disease to next year).

You then need to store the leaves while they decompose.  If you are going to make your own leaf mould regularly and you have the space, you might want to spend time constructing a ‘bin’ like the one shown in this Gardeners’ World article and video.  

If you don’t have the space or are just trying this for the first time, bin bags will do perfectly well. Make a few holes in the bag for drainage and ventilation (or the leaves will just go sludgy and mouldy) then fill the bag with chopped leaves. If the leaves are really dry, sprinkle half a watering can over them and then tie it closed.  Put the bag in an out of the way spot (no special conditions required) and come back to it next spring.  If the leaves haven’t quite reached the crumbly consistency you require yet, just leave them for a further few months.

Leaf craft

If you are feeling creative, there are lots of things you could make with fallen leaves.  Autumn leaf wreathes, a colour spectrum of leaves or even leaf printing (messy but fun!).  We love this gallery of leaf craft ideas from Country Living for some artistic inspiration.

What to plant for autumn colour

We are lucky that in our climate, many plants have leaves (or stems) that will change colour over different seasons.  If you’re a particular fan of autumn colour, the ‘holy grail’ is surely a selection of colours from reddish-purples through to amber-golds to provide that kaleidoscope effect.  Here is our pick of some of the top performers:


Prunus sargentii or Sargent’s cherry

Masses of pretty pink blossom in the spring followed by fiery orange-red leaves in the autumn (an ornamental cherry so the fruits are not edible). Many varieties of flowering cherry have great autumn colour (and blossom) too.


Hamamelis or Witch hazel

Many varieties of witch hazel have stunning autumn colours; this Hamamelis ×intermedia 'Arnold Promise' is a good example. In addition, witch hazel also flower in late winter or early spring, producing spidery yellow, orange or red flowers on bare branches.  They provide colour and often great scent when little else in the garden is doing its thing.


Acers or Japanese Maples

One of the trees most associated with autumn colours are the Acer family.  Depending on the variety, their leaves can be anything from purple (atropurpureum varieties) to almost lime green in summer, changing to golds or deep reds in autumn.  They have a beautiful leaf shape, too. This one is an Acer palmatum Nuresagi



Amelanchiers are a bit of an all-rounder.  With varieties suitable for smaller gardens or pots, lovely blossom and a good shape, they are a popular choice with our garden designers. This Amelanchier canadensis, or Snowy Mespilus, turns a golden toffee colour in the autumn.

liquid ambar

Liquidambar, commonly known as Sweet Gum

All Liquidambar varieties have maple-like leaves which turn super colours in autumn, colours which are often fairly long-lasting.  This Liquidambar styraciflua 'Worplesdon' also has a lovely textured trunk and pretty flowers in spring.




N. Haggard 20 September 2022

I just wanted to drop you a quick note to say how delighted I am with my new garden.

Jon, my designer, listened to my ideas and delivered on everything I asked for. I wanted something different to any garden I’d had before, no lawn, no landscaping but packed with plants. He designed such a lovely secret garden, around a statement tree. And I have to commend him for his unwavering patience! I changed my mind a hundred times but never did he give me the impression that he was losing patience with my endless indecision. And my confidence in him led me to place an order for over £10k.

My landscaping team, Blade and Tony, were exceptional, from their work ethic, skill and knowledge, to the way they dealt with me, the customer. My standards are very high and I couldn’t fault them.

All in all, a very professional team of people. And it showed that they all care. I’m over the moon with the finished result. I will send you a before and after photo. Thank you so much.

A delighted customer.

G. Gray. May 2022

My front garden has been transformed by Andy and Bradley who both worked incredibly hard and I am delighted with the result. Andy had the vision and skill to turn my idea into reality and I can't thank him enough.

C. Haig Sept 2021

We recently had our garden landscaped by Hambrooks and I just wanted to pass on my thanks, not just for the outcome - which is superb - but for the professionalism of all the staff involved on the job who are all a credit to you company. Mike, Dave, Les and Adam.

H. Sharp Sept 2021

I just wanted to let you know how delighted I am with my new garden. Melanie was a delight to work with and the ideas she had have worked perfectly. Also Sheldon laid the patio beautifully and him and Dave were a pleaseure to have at my house. Quiet workers and polite.

B. Rendell April 2021

I would like to say how delighted we are with the work carried out. Mel, Paul and Tony all worked very hard, they totally took on board the specific need relating to safety as well as the general garden issues. Paul and Tony were excellent at consulting and discussing with me what I felt best in terms of the brief and adjusting if and as necessary, constantly pleasant and polite to deal with. Mel had picked up on particular issues from the first consultation and offered valuable advice. The outcome means a great deal less worry for me going forward.
Altogether a very positive experience and outcome which I would not hesitate to recommend to others.

Stephen March 2021

Dom and Adam's work (garden maintenance) is greatly appreciated. Dom really listened to everything we discussed very carefully and went out of his way to understand and then act upon that discussion. We are extremely pleased with the work done - both to the pond and pyracantha.


We have been coming to Hambrooks for years and it's our favourite garden centre because of its friendly helpful staff and a great selection of plants and trees and the garden design ideas.

“We wanted to write and say how pleased we are with our low maintenance garden makeover. We are very impressed with the attitude of your staff who were prepared to listen to our requirements. Your team John and Rick brushed up and left everything tidy at the end of the day. We now have a garden we can manage and it looks great. THANK YOU HAMBROOKS.”

Mr & Mrs Venables, Southampton. April 2019

“Dear Josh & Mike We just want to say you both did a brilliant job of designing our garden along with the guys who did the work who were amazing. A few weeks on its looks even better now some of the plants are blooming. Thank you!!”

Mr & Mrs Gazzard, Winchester July 2019

“To James, John & Rikki. Thank you so much, we are delighted with our new garden. We really appreciate the attention to detail, the high quality workmanship and the standard of the finished project. We are amazed at how John & Rikki resolved the difficulties of the site and by the quality of their craftmanship. It was a pleasure to work with them and thank you for making our ideas into something we will enjoy for years to come.”