It is not only autumn colour that has got into a muddle this year. Pigments have not developed in leaves as we expect, but neither has the abscissic acid that seals off the stalks of leaves and lets them part company with their branch. I am looking out of the window at a Stachyurus praecox, which by now should have turned its special bright parchment yellow and dropped its leaves. They are still green, frost-rimmed but neither colouring nor falling. The only colour is below them where Iris foetidissima has opened its pods and bared its scarlet seeds, among prostrate bergenias, their prone leaves a mournful sight.
Last weekend we were in the New Forest for our son’s wedding in Beaulieu parish church, the converted factory of the abbey destroyed by Henry VIII. Beaulieu is one of the loveliest spots in the south of England, isolated on its tidal river by the wilderness of the New Forest. Crossing Beaulieu Heath in deep frost (it was -7° centigrade) was like Hobbema’s Holland. They were skating on Hatchet Pond (and have been able to for the past three winters; a hat-trick without precedent, they tell me).
The road to Brockenhurst from Beaulieu winds through a grove of ancient oaks and beeches which were still full of leaf. Even the golden birches, sparkling with rime, were holding their leaves. A fine layer of snow on the upper side of every branch turned wide-spreading trees into dancers gesticulating with out-stretched arms. With such movement and such colour the forest became fantastical: a mythological tapestry, sparklingly clear in some places, veiled in others by patches of low mist, and stained, at sunset, with pink and purple light.