Tree time

With Arbor Day falling on June 5 it’s a good time to ask some experts about their favourite trees for autumn colour.

Gordon Collier, who developed Titoki Point garden between Taihape and Waiouru (closed to visitors since Gordon moved on), now gardens on the shores of Lake Taupo and says  if he had to pick just one tree it would be Cornus Eddie’s White Wonder – pictured here in spring and autumn.

“It has brilliant autumn colour and beautiful flowers in spring – and the American dogwoods don’t get too big so it’s a good tree all round. Both Eddie’s White Wonder and Cornus florida are good for colder climates.”

Gordon, an advisor to the New Zealand Gardens Trust, also recommends Gingko biloba, Cotinus Grace, one of the American smoke bush shrubs that grow to tree size, and Japanese and American maples, especially Acer rubrum (red maple) which has spectacular colour and is notable for its tolerance of wet soils and air pollution.

“I’d like to recommend Fraxinus raywoodii, the claret ash,” he says, “but it gets very brittle.”

John Wakeling, who with wife Dorothy has planted some 18,000 trees since they began Waitakaruru Arboretum and Sculpture Park 20 years ago in a disused quarry near Hamilton, also recommends Cornus florida, saying it is an “exciting” tree.


Tupelo. Photo: Sandra Simpson

“We have Nyssa sylvatica, or tupelo, but although the colours are good, the leaves don’t hang on.

“The Japanese maples and American maples are generally good but we find that sugar maples [Acer saccharum] don’t do so well here and lose their leaves in March.”

John likes the combination of yellow leaves and white bark of Betula nigra (river birch) and Betula utilis jacquemontii (Himalayan birch) and as an alternative to the common Liquidamber styraciflua recommends the delicate colours of Liquidamber formosana (Chinese liquidamber).

“Oaks are good too – even if they’re not particularly vibrant the leaves hang on. But there are some strong colours from pinoaks [Quercus palustris], red oaks [Quercus falcate] and scarlet oaks [Quercus coccinea].”


Scarlet oak. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Ruth Appleton has developed an arboretum in a valley at Pahoia, near Tauranga, and always intended it to be an autumn garden.

Her pick of the bunch? Cornus florida Cherokee Daybreak (see a photo here).

“The leaves change colour throughout the year, becoming very intense in autumn and it has white flowers in spring.”

Another of her autumn favourites, although more often noted for spring flowers, are ornamental cherries – among them Prunus Kanzan, Prunus Hillieri Spire, Prunus Ukon and Prunus Tai Haku.

And Ruth, who has created five ponds along the swampy valley floor, couldn’t be without Taxodium distichum, the swamp cypress which turns a vivid rusty orange in autumn before dropping its needles.


Swamp cypress. Photo: Sandra Simpson


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