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Garden Blog - An Autumn walk

An Autumn Walk in Search of Garden Fruits

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

- ‘To Autumn’ (1819) by John Keats (1795-1821)

Madingley Hall is not a thatched cottage but John Keats sums up the focus of this walk, with an abundance of fruit for us to see and for wildlife to gather and garner.

The walk starts at the east end of the balustrade lawns, below the North East terrace with map figure 1:

Euonymus alatus ‘Compactus’ Behind the bench, this low deciduous Asian shrub ignites each autumn with intense red hues. This compact cultivated form was raised in the United States in 1928.
The informal screen behind is:

Cotoneaster floccosus which produces clusters of small red berries amidst its semi-evergreen foliage; the attractiveness of the berries was a quality noted by E.H Wilson, when he introduced it from West China in 1908.
As the path descends along the border, the bright yellow autumn foliage of:

Decaisnea fargesii will catch your eye. Amongst the golden foliage are metallic blue seedpods, reminiscent of a broad bean. Inside, a sticky white pulp surrounds the black seeds. The French missionary Père Farges found the plant growing in the mountains in West China and sent it back to France in 1895

Behind the Decaisnea is:

Photinia davidiana (formerly Stranvaesia davidiana) was discovered by another French missionary, Père David in West Szechwan in 1869. An upright evergreen plant, which is best presented within a group of shrubs rather than as an individual specimen, it produces clusters of hanging red fruits backed by reddening foliage at the tips of its branches.

Continue on the circular path, past the large clump of evergreen Prunus lusitanica, Portuguese Laurel, carrying racemes of black fruits. Beyond, on the left (figure 2) are two:

Photo by Kate Cooper

Ginkgo biloba, Maidenhair trees, which light up a misty or dark afternoon scene with their foliage turning gold, creating a glowing carpet when they fall to the ground.  The tree is monoecious with the female tree (second and northernmost) producing small plum-shaped fruits which are very smelly when crushed.

On the opposite side of the path:

Euonymus europaeus, Spindle.  The red-pink foliage of this native plant is accompanied by fruit with a pink seed coat, or aril, which gradually splits open to reveal four orange berries

The backdrop to this area is:

Parrotia persica, Persian Ironwood.  This autumn display starts in early October on the periphery of its canopy, the branches gradually catching alight with reddish/purple shades, and the show is finally extinguished in December when the final leaves drop.  

Follow the path which curves to the left and above the metal fence are hanging branches of:

Taxus baccata the native Common Yew, bearing their fleshy crimson fruits; the poisonous seed is enclosed by a fleshy cup or aril.

When you reach the central vista (figure 3), the area beyond the fence line looking away from the Hall is planted on either side with five types of native shrub, three displaying autumn fruit. The Spindle is joined by:

Crataegus monogyna, Hawthorn, with small red fruits, which have a variety of common names including Arzy-garzies, Boojuns and Hoppety haws. It is said that the flesh is “like overripe avocado-pear or whey cheese” (Flora Britannica).

Viburnum opulus, Guelder Rose, has striking shiny brilliant red fruit, hanging in heavy clusters among the maroon autumn foliage.

Cornus sanguinea, Dogwood, has similar autumn foliage with small black fruits.

As you approach the Woodland Border the path forks.  Continue right (figure 4) to see:

Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’, the Wedding Cake Tree.

If at the fork you chose left, under the large evergreen (with small red berries) umbrella shaped canopy of Viburnum rhytidophyllum is:

Ruscus aculaetus, Butchers Broom, native of hedgerows and woods in Southern England. These specimens are shy to fruit but a few deep red, marble sized fruits can be seen, popular with Victorian butchers on the Isle of Wight for dressing their “Christmas sirloins with the berry-bearing twigs” (Flora Britannica).

Follow the route around the perimeter of the Hall past the Tower Wing, up the curving path to the Game Shed (figure 5) On the right hand side is:

Viburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’, the yellow fruiting form of the Guelder Rose. 

Rosa rubriginosa, the Eglantine Rose, is adjacent and is grown for its abundance of bright red egg shaped hips.

On the opposite side of the path, the larger and more prominent hips of:

Rosa rugosa ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’ resemble miniature tomatoes, around an inch in diameter. Continue up the slope to the walled garden car park

Enter the Walled Garden through the oak gates and take the perimeter path to the right. Immediately prior to the Rose pergola (figure 6) stands a large herbaceous plant:

Phytolacca americana, with flowering racemes of white flowers producing purple berries. The berries give rise to its name, Red-Ink Plant, the red extract being used to dye wool and textiles. Another common name, Virginian Pokeweed, indicates its origin, the Native Americans chewed the seeds to treat arthritis and as an extremely effective laxative, albeit in small amounts as the seeds are poisonous  

Continue past the raised alpine bed and after a few metres a waist-high shrub clothed with small shiny violet fruits accompanied by autumnal leaves will appear on the right hand side (figure 7):
Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii ‘Profusion’ is a particular favourite with visitors and staff, and its extended name should not deter further attention.  The fruit are retained after leaf fall.  The species was introduced by the missionary Giraldi at the end of 19th Century from Central and Eastern China, this free fruiting cultivar being awarded the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Garden Merit in 1984.  A better form exists a little further on after you have turned the corner and are starting to walk towards the Hall, on the left hand side

Return to the courtyard by the white door. Near the back door to the hall (figure 8) is:

Cotoneaster horizontalis, the Herringbone Cotoneaster, another plant introduced by Père David. The branches are adorned in autumn with a multitude of small red berries, backed by tiny leaves turning to reddish hues.

Go through the back door to the Hall and turn left to the bar (figure 9).  A plant which course members often ask about completes this autumn walk from the comfort of the bar, the shrub rose:

Rosa moyesii ‘Geranium’ has thorn-ridden arching stems carrying blood red flowers in June, followed by bottle shaped crimson hips. The species was named after the Rev. J. Moyes, another missionary in West China and the plants native habitat. The cultivar was raised at the Royal Horticultural Society Garden at Wisley in 1938; it was awarded the Society’s Award of Garden Merit for its fruits in 1950.

The combination of the autumn colour, fruit and the contribution made by missionaries introducing some of these plants brings John Betjeman’s autumn poem to mind:

“Red apples hang like globes of light,
Against this pale November haze,
And now, although the mist is white,
In half-an-hour a day of days,
Will climb into its golden height,
And Sunday bells will ring its praise”.

DID YOU KNOW: You can study garden and wildlife related weekend courses here throughout the year.

Visit or call 01223 746222 to find out more

(c) University of Cambridge2017
Photographs by Colm Sheppard (unless otherwise stated)