As summer returns this week for what is, in the south at least, an impressive last gasp, thoughts turn to mellow evenings, earlier sunsets and all the things associated with the switch into autumn.

And although we cannot predict whether there will be an indian summer, or we’re in for a wet and windy few months, something we can always rely on at this time of year are the bursts of gorgeous colour which autumn trees and shrubs provide, lifting the gloom brought on by the seemingly endless dark days to come.

British gardens are renowned for the stunning colourful leaves which will begin tumbling down during the coming weeks, so what better way to lift the spirits than a visit to one of the great autumn gardens the countryside has to offer?

Different years bring different dramatic displays in our trees and shrubs; no two years are the same. This is because the intensity and colour differs depending on the weather.

As temperatures get cooler, the level of photosynthesis decreases in leaves and as a result the green colour disappears, leaving existing orange and yellow pigments to shine through, developed by sunlight and cool weather.

Bright light brings out red colour, so the sunnier the autumn months, the more glorious the colourings on trees will be. Rainy days however, are bad news for the light tends to be dimmer, and rain and wind can wash leaves off the trees early.

Trees and shrubs which are most spectacular for autumn colour include Berberis thunbergii, or Dart’s Red Lady, Euonymus europaeus, or Red Cascade, and Berberis x carminea or Pirate King.

Autumn arboreta are plentiful in Britain, and many are extremely old and have been passed down through generations of enthusiasts whose influences range from China to South Africa.

This year, many leaves have already turned, as the warmer weather is bringing seasons forward. Also, the amount of rain during the summer affects the leaves. A dry spell can encourage plant to produce more berries which means more colour.

So, although traditionally it is not until later in the autumn that we see the truly magnificent displays of colour, in the right places the turning already is well underway.

Although there are countless gorgeous autumn gardens to see in the UK, below we suggest a few of the best ones to visit through September and October.

Bodenham Arboretum

Incredible colour, with views sweeping over lake marks Bodenham out as one of the outstanding autumn gardens in England. With Persian Ironwood, Wtich Hazels and Viburnum, the colour lasts from September right through to early November, making it worth several visits if one can, to appreciate how the scenery changes over the weeks.

Details: Bodenham Arboretum & Earth Centre, Wolverley, Kidderminster, Worcestershire. Open daily, 11am – 5pm. Admission: Adults: £5, children and concession: £2. For further information, telephone 01562 852444 or log onto www.bodenham-arboretum.co.uk.

Stourhead

An outstanding example of the English landscape style, this garden was designed by Henry Hoare II and laid out in the mid 16th century. A beautiful lake is surrounded by banks of thick woodland which dramatically change colour in autumn. The views at this time of year are breathtaking, particularly on a sunny day.

Details: Stourton, Warminster, BA12. Open all year round from 9am – 7pm. Admission: adult £5.80, child £3.20. For further information, telephone +44 (0)1747 841 152.

Down House

With a five year restoration of the garden just completed this spring by English Heritage, the gardens are in incredible form, and one can see why they so inspired Darwin. The view from the Sand Walk across the valley to ‘The Big Woods’ which largely unchanged since his time, is unmissable this time of year.

Details: Kent. Open 10am – 6pm (except Monday and Tuesday). Admission: adults £6, concessions £5, child £3. For further information, telephone English Heritage on +44 (0) 870 333 1181 or log onto www.english-heritage.org.uk.

Winkworth Arboretum

A hillside woodland, which contains over 1,300 different shrubs and trees, many of them rare. Autumn is a riot of colour, with reds, purples, oranges and yellows all exploding around the park. There are also two beautiful lakes and plenty of wildlife to spot amongst the foliage.

Details: Hascombe Road, Godalming, Surrey. Open from dawn to dusk all year. Admission: adults £4.50, child £2. Reduced rate when arriving by public transport, bicycle or on foot. For further information, telephone 01483 208477 or log onto www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

Borde Hill

Borde Hill is a quintessentially English garden which really comes into its own during the autumn. It’s Nerine lily collection as well as some other unusual South African plants including aloes, proteas, and impatiens in the restored victorian greenhouses come to life every year producing a blaze of colour.Even on the greyest of days one cannot fail to be lifted by the superb blend of colours achieved by the careful planning creative thinking which have gone into this garden.

Details: Haywards Heath, West Sussex. Open 10am – 6pm daily. Admission: adults £6, OAP £5, children £3.50. For further information, telephone +44 (0) 1444 412 151 or log onto www.bordehill.co.uk.

Westonbirt

Westonbirt composes an enormous collection of trees and shrubs. There are 18,000 here from all over the world, making for 600 acres of beautifully landscaped countryside. This makes it one of the finest tree collections in the world today. However it is the combination of wild flowers, fungi, birds and animals as well as the trees themselves that make Westonbirt such a special place, not least in the autumn, when it really stands out.

Details: Open 10am – dusk. Admission: adults £5, concessions £4, children £1. For further information, telephone +44 (0)1666 880 220 or log onto www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

Batsford Gardens

Heavily influenced by Chinese and Japanese garden culture, Batsford arboretum is unlike any other in this country. Featuring a Japanese tea house, a gigantic buddha and a waterfall, there are lovely surprises round every corner. In the autumn the trees really come into their own, with the acers already beginning to turn and the liquid amber about to really start glowing.

Details: Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire. Open 10am – 5pm daily. Admission: adults £5, concessions £4, child £1. For further information, telephone +44 (0)1386 701043 or log onto www.batsford-arboretum.co.uk.