“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one autumnal face.
Were her first years the golden age? That’s true,
But now she’s gold oft tried and ever new”.
John Donne, The Autumnal
Until a few days ago the leaves of this Acer palmatum had been a deep purple. Then, after a few nights of frost they have turned into gold. The intense cold has destroyed the chlorophyll pigment in the leaves, making them change colour. The frosty nights have been followed by bright sunny days, which have helped the leaves to produce sugar which has in turn made use of the anthocyanin pigment which gives the leaves their bright colour.
The north of England isn’t of course the best place to see this effect and it isn’t guaranteed to happen every year. You need the right combination of cold nights and sunny days. For the real McCoy you need to be in New England or Japan. When I was in Kyoto earlier this month I saw some stunning photos of how the Maples (most of them bright red) will look in November. I hope to see them some day, but in the meantime I’ll make the most of what autumn has given us this year.