Legends of the fall: The golden, dying sunlight of autumn makes even drying seedheads look spectacular

Dylan Thomas said we should rage against the dying of the light. Though I can imagine many of us feel like stomping at the very least while the autumn nights get shorter, the dying of the light does have some advantages. As winter draws in, the sun moves through a lower arc in the sky, and light angles in the garden become much longer and more golden, lighting up leaves and drying seedheads as dusk approaches. And as we move closer to the winter solstice, the sun doesn't just travel a lower ' path across the sky, it also rises and sets further to the south every day, narrowing the angle from which sunlight appears.

It's worth thinking about how to use this soft seasonal light. In The Morville Hours, last year's surprise horticultural bestseller about the evolution of Katherine Swift's Shropshire plot, Swift explained how she wanted to mark out the sun's winter journey in the garden itself. This doesn't have to mean building a mini-Stonehenge. Simply marking the point on your fence every week where the sun is rising and setting gives you a sundial-like sense of its movement across the sky. It also gives you something to celebrate when it starts to move back again.

Even if you don't fancy a bit of new-age druidism, you can still enjoy the light itself. Tidying up the garden is a great temptation this time of year, but leave spiky seedheads such as eryngiums, cardoons and echinops for dramatic backlit silhouettes. Even garden herbs such as fennel will provide tracery for autumn sunshine and morning dew. Spider's webs are another free October treat, lighting up the garden with their silvery traces.

Plants with strong autumn colour, such as acers, the little maples, look especially good with the low light shining through their leaves. It's worth working out exactly where the sunshine will be coming from before planting autumn-colour plants, to maximise the range of shades you'll see. Think about what time of day you'll be using the garden, then try to plant so the sunshine will backlight the leaves. Every vein comes into true focus.

Finally, make sure you actually get out into the garden this time of year. There's nothing like the fresh smell of morning in October, as leaves begin to rot down and the cycle begins again. At Foxhanger in Somerset, pictured on page 25, designer James Alexander- Sinclair used gravel as a base, which allows remaining seedheads to self-sow next year's generation of small plants. Verbascums, the gorgeous grass stipa tenuissima, and bronze fennel all run promiscuous through the flowerbeds. And if there's one thing guaranteed to warm us through a long winter, it's that promise of new growth to come.

Five gardens to visit: Where to catch the spectacle of autumn

Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire

Dramatic silhouettes provided by the monastic ruins, and beautiful reflections in the water gardens of neighbouring Studley Royal all add up to a wonderful day out. On 11 October, Denise Carter of the Mid-Yorkshire Fungus Group will take a fungus foray, giving collecting and cooking advice.

www.fountains abbey.org.uk

Stourhead, Wiltshire

This garden is at its most glorious on a still autumn day, when colourful leaves are reflected in the lake for double impact. A gentle circular walk around the garden is suitable for all but the most unsteady, and you can finish with a hearty lunch in the Spread Eagle, a gastropub located just outside the gate.

www.nationaltrust. org.uk/Stourhead

Hergest Croft Gardens, Welsh Marches

A delicious garden of mature trees and shrubs which deserves to be better known. Glowing autumn colours and a planting of maples awarded National Collection status should please any October visitor, but make sure to admire the conservatory, autumn border, and pumpkins in the kitchen garden, too.


Westonbirt Arboretum

Hundreds of thousands of people will descend on Westonbirt over the next month to gawp at the fall colour in this world-class tree collection. Avoid the Old Arboretum crush and head to the New Arboretum to walk in old Forestry Commission larch plantations now underplanted with hundreds of Japanese maples. www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt

Kew Gardens

Last year the gardens looked as if they had been set alight with blazing scarlets and oranges, from red oaks, sweet gums and maples. Let kids amuse themselves on Treehouse Towers, the outdoor play area with rope bridges and zip wires, or take a free Tapestry of Trees Tour with an expert guide, daily, focusing on autumn foliage. www.kew.org

Three autumnal plant pleasures

Berberis thunbergii 'Erecta'

Not the year-round school-uniform burgundy variety, but one with crisp green leaves throughout the summer that turn in autumn to the brightest reds and oranges. Grows very straight, hence the name, and deeply thorny, so good for a boundary. £6.95 from www.perryhillnurseries.co.uk

Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire'

You have to be mean to get repeated joy from these dogwoods (left), as all the stems must be cut back to produce the fiery-coloured twiggy new growth. But this will light up your garden even on the dingiest winter day. £7.99 from www.crocus.co.uk

Angelica gigas

Common wild angelica, at 6ft-7ft high, is an impressive plant. But Korean Angelica gigas is even more stunning, bearing deep-purple flowerheads before staying skeletal through the autumn. £6.99 from www.crocus.co.uk

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Suggested Topics
Jeremy Clarkson
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
Life and Style
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own