Sunday, 24 November 2013

Five tulips to plant now

Late November, and the colour is slipping from the trees; down, down to the gardens and lawns, down to streets and pavements, grass and slabs strewn with discarded finery in shades of scarlet and copper and gold. The wind has been fierce, whipping the leaves into a frenzied dance, a kaleidoscope of burnished flecks whirling around me as I walk, swooping and bobbing in front of my face. I watched a leaf trapped in a doorway, caught in the eddying wind, unable to break free and find the way out like a fly by an open window, exhausting itself with frantic effort while being unable to comprehend that the simple way out of its present situation lies less than a few inches away.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Cold addled

It would seem that the grass has at last had the decency to stop growing, or at least to slow its rate of growth to a level appropriate for the time of year. This is fortunate: the ground is getting wet and claggy now as our local clay is wont to become at this time of year, and continued trundling back and forth with mower and heavy boots is liable to compact the soil and exacerbate any drainage problems. Some traffic will still be necessary until all the leaves are off the trees – and then off the grass – but for a few weeks over winter it will be good to give the turf a rest. In spring when the risk of ground frost has past we can think about aerating compacted lawns, but it will need to be drier than now or else the clay smears and becomes impermeable, making matters worse.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Mast year

It is raining acorns. They land with a sharp CRACK! upon the aluminium roof of the landrover, amazingly causing no dents. A less bell-like tone is produced when they fall upon the greenhouse, or upon the garage roof, but a steady percussion is now building to create a sustained accompaniment to the afternoon’s artistry. I am in the process of attacking a neglected woodland understory with an improbably small, but nonetheless viciously efficient hand saw. And all the while, it is raining acorns.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Autumn days and chocolate buttons

Autumn, at its best when days are dry and cold and bright, can throw some truly nasty weather at you. The light rain forecast for this morning turned into a lengthy downpour so heavy that the water somehow managed to flow back along the underside of my hat brim before encountering a brow furrowed against the elements, at which impenetrable barrier it abruptly turned course and proceeded to flow down my face. Puddles formed inside my boots as rivulets of rain coursed down my legs, almost making me regret this morning’s selection of shorts over long trousers, although my prepatellar bursitis – a knee affliction common to plumbers, housemaids, carpet fitters and apparently gardeners – continued to approve of the choice (the stretched fabric of a longer leg when kneeling down causes increased pressure on the lump above the knee; annoying rather than painful). I came home briefly at lunch to walk Bill, threw my sodden clothes into the dryer, and promptly managed to melt all the buttons. I can only conclude that they had been manufactured from chocolate, leaving me nursing a sense of regret at the thought of a missed snack opportunity.

Undeterred by the weather or the state of my clothing – billowing precariously in the chilly wind which had by now replaced the morning’s rain – I continued with the day’s toil, barrowing leaf mold and manure to the borders and coppicing overgrown hazels in the woodland area, all the while thankful for the capacity of the lawn grasses to survive a thorough muddy trampling.

It was gloomy and muddy and damp and cold – so far from the ideal autumn day I carry with me in my head. And while it may have been the frisson caused by the knowledge that at any moment a freak gust of wind could overpower the last remaining fastenings on my shorts and see me chasing my dignity across the rose garden, I think it is more the raw and elemental quality of the days at this time of year that makes me feel particularly present in the moment, particularly alive. I snapped a few hasty pictures on my phone on one trip back from the bonfire in an attempt to capture something of the feeling. Some are even in focus.

So here’s to autumn days, whatever the weather. And here’s to long autumn evenings by the fire, sewing on buttons.

Some elements of this composition are in focus. Just not the ones you’d expect.
Ivy stems on oak trunk