Autumn in London’s parks

It’s been a big week. Big politically, big earthquake-ly and big back-to-square-one-with-our-house-hunting-ly. But it’s amazing what a stroll in a park (or three) can do to clear the mind and lift the spirits and it’s a particularly special time in our parks.

The framed Ionic Template at Chiswick House and Gardens

The framed Ionic Temple at Chiswick House and Gardens; a Grade I listed, free admission garden

Autumn this year has been like no other autumn. I’ve seen it through entirely new eyes. Of course, I haven’t seen a cold temperate autumn like this for nine years and so there is almost certainly novelty at play. But I also think nine additional years of living makes you appreciate, more fully, the truly valuable things in life and the nature of their fragility. I could leave it there, but I can’t help wonder if there is also some subconscious connection between ageing leaves and ageing garden designers. Something along the lines of empathy!

Autumn in Hyde Park

So many simultaneous autumn colours in Hyde Park

The thing that has struck me more than any other this season, is the quality of light at this time of year. There are still plenty of dull, grey, English days but when the sun is out, it positively sparkles, twinkles and illuminates foliage in a way that is entirely mesmerising.

Low light hits this Hydrangea quercifolia

Backlit Hydrangea quercifolia in Hyde Park

It isn’t just the beautiful colours. Colours make the light quite vivid, but it’s simultaneously incredibly soft. Everything becomes translucent, the light picking up each and every leaf, almost electrifying them and bringing them to life.

Autumn in Hyde Park

An autumnal carpet in Hyde Park

And it’s the angle of light, too. So incredibly low in the sky. Not at all like autumn or winter in Australia. Long rays of light glide horizontally over the ground, seemingly coming to greet you. Like gentle spotlights, picking out and highlighting individual features of the landscape.

Horse chestnuts in Hyde Park

Horse chestnuts in Hyde Park. Oh, how I love finding conkers!

Everything feels soft and mellow and full of depth. Fallen leaves seem to gain a whole extra dimension; their texture and strong relief lifting them from the ground in 3D.

Beautiful autumn colours at Chiswick House and Gardens

Beautiful autumn colours at Chiswick House and Gardens

The focussed light rays encourage your eyes to see with a new focus. Leaf veins that you’d never have noticed at other times of year suddenly have a compelling hold of you.

The solitary autumn rose

How we so notice the details of perfection when all around is fading

Rather than noticing that the roses are over, you notice that one, strong, stoic flower–the very last across the rose garden–is holding on that little bit longer, before closing its eyes for winter. You notice everything about that rose; each and every last fold of petal. It reminds you how you are only limited by your mindset; in decaying scenes you can always find beauty if only you try hard enough.

Buttery leaves at Chiswick House and Gardens

Buttery leaves on a damp day at Chiswick House and Gardens. You can almost see the compost forming underneath

Autumn can’t help but remind you of the passing of time. But it also reminds you of renewal and of the cycle of life. In amongst the trees, in their moment of glory, when all attention is on them, you realise how stately they are and how reassuring their stable presence is.

Stately London plane tree

Stately London plane tree lit by a warm light bouncing off the Serpentine

They are no longer just trees. They suddenly become the most important features in the world. Ones you can’t take your eyes off. Standing there, year after year, watching life develop all around them. What, I wonder, do they make of our faster and faster pace of life; of each person walking past them glued to their mobile phone?

Autumn colours in St James's Park

Autumn colours in St James’s Park: handily just round the corner from the RHS Library

Fleeting beauty is always appreciated more than permanency and autumn is the ultimate season of change. Until leaving the UK, I’d always thought summer was my favourite season. It’s the season of sunshine and shorts, long days and busy social lives.

Taxodium distichum at Chiswick House and Gardens

Almost fluorescent Taxodium distichum deciduous conifers at Chiswick House and Gardens

But this year, spring and autumn have been equally thrilling and I realise how much I now appreciate their contrasts.

Pelicans in St James's Park

Pelicans in St James’s Park; first introduced to the park in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador

I’m not sure I’ll be as full of beans about winter; perhaps that will never live up to spring, summer and autumn. But of course, that remains to be seen and I must remember my mindset.

Kensington Palace

Kensington Palace in low autumnal light, just as the tree starts to turn

So hats on, gloves on, scarves on; let’s see what winter brings!

Fungus in the low autumn light

Fungi: a true sign of autumn. Just don’t munch the tree roots, please

Calmness at Chiswick House and Gardens

All is calm, at Chiswick House and Gardens

17 thoughts on “Autumn in London’s parks

  1. Adriana says:

    Lovely photos Janna, very reminiscent of my 41 years living in the Dandeong ranges. I love autumn too, it’s my favourite season. Here in country Victoria with its foggy, cool autumns, chilly winters that extend into spring, it makes Sydney and NSW seem like a foreign country to me too in regards to light, temperature and seasons. You don’t have to much to worry about just yet in regards to senescence though! Good luck with your search – my sister taught me a very positive outlook when we once missed out on a house we really wanted: “It didn’t have your stamp on it – there will be something better for you”. I thought it a little optimistic or trite at the time but it has always worked for us since.

    • jannaschreier says:

      It is incredible the difference between the light, temperature and seasons in different parts of Australia; even just within the tiny little south east corner of the country! I think I have been surprised in the UK because it is just so far from the equator; way, way further than Hobart, for example. I’m just very grateful for the Gulf Stream, which makes the temperatures so much nicer than they would otherwise be. Thanks for your wise thoughts on houses; I am sure it will all work out OK.

  2. Suzanne says:

    Although on opposite sides [and ends] of the globe, moving into opposite seasons and with opposite weather extremes, we are sharing some very similar elements Janna. I also have been in awe of the beautiful light in the mornings and evenings; bright yet soft, casting an ethereal glow over the garden. This year there has been a marked change in seasons, perhaps more noticeable because I was away for two weeks. I left in sprinter and returned to sprummer! And maybe because I AM ‘aged’ I have been closely examining the myriad of living organisms in the garden; their beauty gives great joy. This year I am not feeling the trepidation which usually comes with the first hot days for summer. It’s going to be all right [says she with optimism!].
    I’m sorry to hear about the house. My second daughter would agree totally with Adriana’s sister…it wasn’t meant to be. Von’s usually right.

    • jannaschreier says:

      It’s interesting that you can see similarities when, as you say, we are quite literally, poles apart! Light is such a wonderful thing and can affect our mood so much. Bright yet soft is definitely a winning combination! When we arrived here in March I remember it was the pale blue skies that hit me first. I wondered where that Australian depth of blue had disappeared to. But there are always positives if you look for them and it makes the world a much more interesting place to have these geographical variations. You’re not aged though! Far from it. You can cope with two boisterous toddlers; that doesn’t sound aged to me! I hope you enjoyed your trip to Sydney.

  3. Kathie Thomas says:

    Lovely Janna, Autumn is also my favourite season, although I wouldn’t refer to it as ‘ageing’ but rather ‘maturing’ 🙂 It is true, as I grow older, I have a much bigger appreciation for gardens and their seasons and while spring is lovely and has lots of new things bursting forth, Autumn, for me, means that things are cooling down, the heat of summer is passing and I can look forward to cool and relaxing nights that promise a better sleep.

    Mind you, here in Melbourne, we’re in the last weeks of Spring and it’s still like winter here. Very topsy turvy seasons. And even more so up here in the Dandenong Ranges and spring usually brings winds with it but this year, I think we’ve had at least 2 or 3 year’s worth of winds. We’ve had wind storms I’ve not seen up here before.

    Re your house search – the right house just hasn’t turned up yet. We lost out on one in Kallista early June 2009 – we thought it was ‘the’ one. Half acre, beautiful gardens, beautiful house. We’d gone away overseas for a conference so couldn’t stick around but thought if it was still available when we got back at the end of the month, it was ours to have! Needless to say, it wasn’t but only 8 weeks after we returned, late August, we did find ‘the’ one. 2 acres, single story home, no steep driveways, perfect for long-term and aged living as we’ll definitely be retiring and growing old here. And the garden had some well established trees and bushes but still had a lot of blank canvas to work with.

    • jannaschreier says:

      There is something nice about being cosy inside when the weather is cooler, fire blaring and thick duvet on! My friend in Canberra has said this Spring has been especially windy there too. I hope all those wonderful Dandenong trees are standing firm. Thanks for your kind words about the house. It’s lovely to hear that all worked out well for you. It sounds idyllic.

      • Kathie Thomas says:

        Yes, a lot of trees did come down in the area during the windstorms we had here but not as much damage as there might have been and we’re all safe here. On our own property we still have a couple of trees to cut up and move and we’ll eventually get there. But all the same, it is a lovely area to live in and we love it.

  4. Miranda Montrone says:

    Thank you Janna for your blog. I look forward to reading it, and am doing so as I sit on my don’t verandah loving my shady Sydney garden with bromeliads, gardenias and hydrangeas. I do so love English gardens and am looking forward to my forthcoming visit to London to visit my daughter, even though it will be winter. I will definitely look at the winter bones of these gardens. Good luck with the house search. I echo the comments above. The right house will appear at the right time.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Miranda. It is funny to think of you in Sydney with bromeliads and gardenias. It is such a world away from here. So familiar to me and yet it almost seems a life time ago that I was growing those plants. How lovely to have a holiday to look forward to. As long as you bring all your warmest clothes, I am sure you’ll have a wonderful time, especially as you are visiting your daughter. In some ways I’m sure it will feel more ‘Englishy’ to visit in the coldest months and the pressure is off for nice weather, which can be a disappointment in summer. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for lots of crisp, bright days for you. If you have any questions about visiting English gardens, do drop me an email.

  5. Louise Dutton says:

    Janna, you have a wonderful way with words and those photos are just gorgeous! By the way, are those pelicans a pink tinge?

  6. germac4 says:

    Lovely photos of my favourite season, as you say, it is all about the changing light and colour …although, to me, there is always a touch of melancholy about autumn, in places that really experience winter. A few years ago, we spent some time in Ireland in autumn and you are right, the long shadows, and soft light and colours were amazing. (but glad we were coming home…it was mighty cold too!) Here in Canberra autumn is a gorgeous season!

  7. kate@barnhouse says:

    Autumn really has been rather special this year, lovely to see that you enjoyed it too. Now the seasons are turning again it will interesting to see what you make of winter, let’s hope there aren’t too many days of gray skies and sodden ground ahead.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Hi Kate. Yes, I’ve been told it’s an especially colourful year, which I hadn’t fully appreciated when I wrote the post. Funny you should mention the sodden ground; I was thinking that it is all a little depressing to think that it probably won’t dry out until, what, May, now?! But we’ve had beautiful blue skies this afternoon so my friend and I took the opportunity of going for a walk in Hyde Park. It’s so important I catch those sun rays whenever they come out to play! Hope you haven’t had too many ‘wet’ issues in your garden over the last few days.

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