Fire in the countryside

With winter now well and truly upon us, and the hope of an Indian summer a distant memory, is everything outside dull and grey? Tony Ridd shows us that the countryside can still be viewed in techni-colour what ever the season.

The vibrant autumn coloured leaves, that our northern counties witness, tend not to be mirrored on the Island because of our slightly warmer climate. This winter, because a lot of the leaves have stayed on the branches longer, it has been a slight exception. We have been treated to some bright yellow Acer’s, burnt deep red brambles and, I’ve particularly noticed, a lot of dark burgundy dogwoods.

The Field maple, our only native Acer, brightens up hedgerows and woodland edges and it has, been almost matched by some wonderful pastel yellow sycamores, whose large leaves fall to the ground forming a yellow carpet below its branches.

Although not common, the European Larch shows off, its yellow plumage and when planted amongst dark green conifers, such as, the Monteray or Scots Pines, gives a magnificent contrast of colours.

But winter colour in the countryside is not to be confined to leaves alone. Berries and fruit, can still hang on, some well beyond the new-year. With the most bitter, inedible and poisonous being left until last. Here, ‘red’ wins the day, with the hips from dog-rose probably being the brightest and certainly highest in Vitamin C. If not eaten by birds and mice on the stem they will soon fall to the ground where they become soft, fleshy and much more palatable. The bright red but highly poisonous berries of Black Briony will also, eventually, shrivel up with frost and hang on to their hedgerow perches until finally succumbing to gravity. Wild privet whose semi-evergreen leaves will be lost if growing in exposed places, offers a small black berry, again poisonous to us, but desirable to many birds including the winter migrant fieldfare.

One of my winter favourites and possibly the most colourful is the spindle-berry. Not only does it give us bright red leaves in the autumn but its berries compliment pink with orange! We have an evergreen variety of this Euonymus in our garden that has an abundance of very similar and brightly coloured berries, just beginning to open.

The dull purple flowers of the stinking iris, or Roast Beef Plant, one of only two native irises, grows in woodlands, hedge-banks, scrub and occasionally on cliff tops. The flowers become triangular capsules which, when ripe, split open to reveal a mass of bright orange berry-like seeds.

Tree bark and branches are often highly coloured especially when clumps are growing next to each other. The young branches of silver birch look a deep red against the pale branches of ash trees. Many garden cultivars are grown for their winter stems. Coloured dogwoods come in reds, yellows, oranges even blacks as do willows, with the Betula jacquemontii ‘Doorenbos’ and ‘Snow Queen’, radiant in their white peeling bark.

As if to complement the fiery colours of winter, old man’s beard acts like the smoke, reaching as far to the sky as its scaffolding of branches will take it.

What ever the time of year there is always something in the countryside to see and watch, seasons change and so do the colours…