It is not easy to plot the chromatics of autumn. Timing is tricky, but so is the matching of tints that vary from year to year. A tree that turns yellow one year will do orange the next, or a bush usually reliably red go off in a sulk of yellow. There are consistent performers; Acer palmatum Osakazuki is famously hard-wired for a fiery climax, but mainly we just trust that October and November will give us the visual warmth we crave.
Spring is not so different: pricks and splashes of bright colour on bare branches or bare ground are scarcely susceptible to colour coordination. We just have to put up with pink screaming at yellow.
When someone does make a successful effort, though, at more subtle and considered colouring the result can be marvellous. We walk more and more often these days in the rapidly developing arboretum at Marks Hall, twelve miles away near Coggeshall. The Winter Walk beside the lake there is planted with real sensitivity for quiet autumn tints. (We do well in East Anglia for winter gardens: Anglesey Abbey and the Cambridge Botanics both have splendid examples.)
At Marks Hall the groundwork, as it were, is done in tufts of a delicate buff grass, a pennisetum, like big stitches in a tapestry.Through it run skeins of dogwoods and spindles that turn tender shades of pink and buff, grey and rose and yellow. There are gold-leafed ginkgos overhead, white-trunked birches and sage-green sarcococcas. It is the deliberate limitation of the palette, the avoidance of high-pitched colours, that gives it resonance.
We are not spoilt for good woodland gardens in Essex. Beth Chatto’s is an exception, of course. Marks Hall Arboretum is becoming important enough (as I have risked before) to be dubbed our Easternbirt.