October plant of the month: Claret ash

An autumn show-stopper to enjoy while it lasts

Fraxinus angustifolia 'Raywood'*The Forestry Commission advise that this tree is susceptible to ash dieback disease so please note it is not available for sale and the movement of plants around the country is forbidden. However, it's still looking great at Hyde Hall so it's worth enjoying while we still can.

This wonderful ash Fraxinus angustifolia ‘Raywood’ produces the first rich red tints of autumn and heralds the finale of another gardening year in spectacular fashion. Fraxinus (or ash as they are commonly known) are a group of deciduous trees grown for autumn colour and often strikingly coloured buds visible during the winter.

This particular variety is commonly called the narrow-leaved or claret ash and makes a wonderful mature specimen with a large rounded crown clothed evenly with branches making a fantastic sight in the landscape as a mature specimen. The leaves on this species are pinnate and narrower than the common ash (Fraxinus excelsior) and they are distinctly glossy and shiny. The leaves are also held more densely with 5-9 leaflets per leaf and they begin to turn from shades of dark green in early October to quickly produce rich tones of dark, claret and burgundy red of the strongest colour.

The leaves turn colour quite early compared to many trees and they soon start to fall once they have turned, so you must be quick to see this tree at its best as the whole canopy looking stunning may only last a few days! This variety of ash will make a large specimen and therefore does need space to develop, reaching up to 70ft high and 50ft across on maturity. As its mature crown forms a brilliant rounded shape it looks better grown on its own as a specimen tree where its shape can be fully appreciated and its crown can develop un-impeded.
Several species of ash are grown at RHS Garden Hyde Hall and a great mature specimen of the claret ash can be found growing near the lake, where it looks stunning set against the water on a fine autumn day. Other trees with great autumn shades such as Liquidambar and Nyssa have also been planted around the lake to complement it. Younger examples of the claret ash can be found in the Robinson Garden where they provide dappled shade to an understorey of perennials such as epimediums, hellebores and Physalis alkekengi var. franchetii (Chinese lantern) which provide a wonderful splash of bright orange during the late summer and autumn.

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