Originally landscaped by Capability Brown in 1776 from surrounding woodland is Sheffield Park in East Sussex. A garden for all seasons, it is during autumn when it is at its most magnificent. Lambent tongues of orange, gold and vermilion burns brightly against a cobalt sky. Japanese maples, fothergillas (mountain witch alder), Liquidambar styraciflua (sweet gum), Taxodium distichum (bald cypress) and Parrotia persica, the Persian ironwood, take on their seasonal finery to create a vibrant tapestry of rich shades to wow and dazzle visitors.
It is like walking in an Impressionist painting, the views and vistas are spectacular, including those that lead the eye to the imposing mansion built on the axis.
Everything is built on a big scale, even the lakes are known as ‘ponds’. The five hand-dug, clay-lined lakes reflect the carefully placed trees and shrubs, doubling the delight. Swans serenely glide over the mirror-glass waters, reflections ripple for a moment or two before relaxing into a perfect smooth surface.
In autumn visitors crunch their way over multi-coloured leaves, breathe in the sweet scent of burnt sugar from the dusky-pink and pale yellow foliage of the katsura tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum and enjoy the gentle rustle of the strategically placed bamboo.
Following on from Brown was the last great English landscape designer of the eighteenth century, Humphry Repton who also designed Sheringham Park in North Norfolk.
The Pulham Falls, which connect Ten Foot Pond and Middle Lake (where water-lilies bloom all summer), were commissioned by the 3rd Earl of Sheffield and installed between 1882 and 1885 by Pulham and Son. The park was further developed in the early years of the 20th century by its owner, Arthur G. Soames.
Many north American trees were planted over the centuries which turn far richer colours than the native British trees. Sheffield Park was designed as a pleasure garden, not an arboretum, and people are encouraged to engage with nature. Orange ribbons mark the trunks of trees that visitors are encouraged to climb. Meandering paths lead you through the garden and further walks can be taken in the wider parkland.
There are no herbaceous borders to admire and foliage at the water’s edge is kept to a minimum so as not to interfere with the reflections of the flaming foliage in the water.
Special trees include Nyssa sylvatica ‘Sheffield Park’ which has a richer red and purple colour that last longer than normal nyssas (black tulepo or blackgum) and the ancient Ginkgo bilboa (maidenhair tree) which has fan-shaped foliage that turns butter-yellow in autumn. One sweet chestnut is at least 450 years old and there is also an English Oak that was planted in 1485.
If you are in the area around the end of October (usually the best time to catch the colours) then do visit this internationally renowned landscape garden. Be warned: Weekends are very busy, so if you can visit mid-week and early (10 am) or later (3 pm) in the day you will find it easier to park.