The Plot Thickens

Hi, I’m Karen Meadows. Thank you for visiting The Plot Thickens.

I’m lucky enough to be the tenant of one of fifty large allotment gardens in the middle of the small and beautiful stone town of Stamford in England’s East Midlands. The gardens were first created by Brownlow Cecil, 4th Marquess of Exeter in the mid 1800s and their layout has remained virtually unchanged. Between the plots we have some 200 old apple trees, many of them rare varieties, and in 2017 Natural England awarded the gardens heritage orchard status.

Over the centuries at least 500 people have worked these plots. Follow our quest to discover who they were, what they grew, and what shenanigans they got up to. Be prepared for numerous diversions and musings along the way about gardening life here in our quiet (and occasionally not so quiet) little corner of Stamford.

If you haven’t discovered our website yet, do head over to Waterfurlong Orchard Gardens, where you will find a wealth of information about our gardens and gardeners, past and present.

And now for the small print...

The Plot Thickens is a non-commercial blog. All recommendations are based on personal preference and my own or our other gardeners’ own experience. Payments or free goods are not accepted in return for reviews of products and services. If an exception is made this will be clearly stated.

All words and images, unless otherwise credited, are my own. If you would like to copy text or images, I’d kindly ask that The Plot Thickens gets a positive mention and a link back to this blog.

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Why Do Leaves Change Colour In Autumn?

October 12, 2018

                                                                                                                 Photographer unknown

 

It’s that gorgeous time of year when the natural world treats us to a last burst of colour before the onset of winter. But why do leaves change colour and why is autumn colour better some years than others?

 

Leaf colour comes from pigments - natural substances produced by leaf cells to help them obtain food. The three pigments that colour leaves are chlorophyll (green), carotene (yellow and orange) and anthocyanin (red and pink).

 

During spring and summer chlorophyll floods the leaf, pulling in energy from sunlight and masking the other pigments with its greenness. As the days become shorter and cooler the production of chlorophyll slows down and eventually stops. Any chlorophyll remaining in the leaf breaks down and the green colour fades. The carotene pigments you can’t normally see are magically revealed, making the leaf look yellow or orange. 

 

Meanwhile, a layer of corky cells forms across the base of the leaf stalk in preparation for shedding. This restricts the movement of sugars back to the main part of the tree. These sugars become trapped and concentrated in the leaf and are converted to anthocyanin, giving trees and shrubs such as maple, dogwood, sumac and acer their characteristic red, wine or purple colour.

 

A few trees, like oaks, barely colour up and go straight from green to brown. It all depends on the amount of chlorophyll residue and the concentration of carotene and anthocyanin in the individual species.

 

 

WHY IS AUTUMN COLOUR BETTER SOME YEARS THAN OTHERS?

 

It’s largely down to weather. Cold nights speed up the

destruction of chlorophyll and, provided the mercury doesn’t fall below freezing, they also stimulate anthocyanin production. Likewise, sunny days cause sugars to concentrate in the leaves and further stimulate anthocyanin.

 

The perfect recipe for stunning autumn colour is:

 

- A hot, dry summer

- Sunny, dry autumn days

- Cold, but not freezing, autumn nights

 

Cold, wet summers and cloudy, rainy autumns result in more muted colours. This year's heat and drought has given us a late bonus! 

 

 

 

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