Autumn clearance

Like the summer flowering plants, I have lulled into dormancy. This lockdown feels more depressing than the first, for there is no novelty, and of course darkness falls at 4.30pm. Whilst in March and April we may have had time to notice sap rising, this enforced stillness in November makes us aware of the year decaying, drawing in its energy. The spring and summer spent outdoors has been replaced by hours inside, fingers cold, fire on. Not that this necessarily needs to be a bad thing of course: there’s time for learning a new craft, for proper cooking, and for reflection. A few weeks ago I had a go at macrame for the first time, a craft that I would highly recommend for the simple reason that it has the good manners to be beginner-proof: if you make a mistake, no matter, just undo it and have another go.

macrame wall hanging, the close-up
macrame wall hanging, the long view

I’ve also been rummaging through the bunches of dried flowers hanging in the sun room (aka the Drying Room), most of them refugees from this summer’s garden and allotment, though some were foraged from hedgerows back in September. A vase of cornflowers, hops and strawflower makes for an easy long-life display – and when I bore of it, I’ll put the dusty stems in the compost and simply make a new one.

This summer’s flowers, now dried, make an easy longlife vase…
…though the poppies have left their legacy in the drying room, as
tiny seedlings try to make a life in our rotten window sills.

I have avoided the back garden for a few weeks, and though it is littered with leaves and the summer perennials are battered by the wind, there is still colour. Globes of undeveloped white flowers adorn the rose, and these chrysanthemums have finally decided to put on a show after weeks of dormancy. They look ridiculous, 1m tall plants standing alone in the bed (for their intended companions of sunflower and fennel have long gone), flopping around in the gales, but I haven’t the heart to cut them back just yet. These are new plants, put in back in April, with zappy firework petals. The lack of sun in our overlooked garden does not suit them, so next year I’ll move them out to the allotment where they can bake in the sun and provide months of cut flowers.

One of the new chrysanthemums, to be moved from garden to allotment
Firework colours and late to flower

On the allotment, thoughts turn to preparing the soil for winter. I had my last basket of flowers back on 1st April, and the dahlias have now been touched with frost, and the chrysanthemums are battered with wind. ‘Tidying’ is a dirty word these days and whilst I agree that we should not strip the land of all its life over winter, I do think it’s wise to remove the decaying annuals and give the land a feed with mulch whilst it has a period of rest. Besides, I actually think that beautifully mulched soil has its own aesthetic appeal.

The last basket of the year, cut 1 November (though I’m still harvesting kale and herbs)

More importantly in allotment terms, this is the time of year to take the vigour out of the perennial weeds. This year the culprit is creeping buttercup, which snuck in unnoticed by me and has set up rather than extensive home for itself amongst the cut flower bed. I spend a few hours bent double (I think garden yoga could be a thing) picking through roots, knowing that my efforts will by no means remove our guest but may stop it exceeding its welcome.

Time for the autumn clearance to begin
A few hours later, ready for mulch and cover

Normally I remove the chrysanthemums in November and my put-upon Mother takes cuttings from them for the next season, but this year the allotment chrysanthemums are staying put; an experiment in over-wintering. I have gained confidence from the fate of my dahlias, which I have ignored for three years (leaving them in the ground to face winter snow, rain and flood) and are now so big as to be a nuisance. I take these three plants up, their tubers so big I can barely lift them, and they will rest in the shed until the spring when I decide their fate.

Three dahlias, untouched for three seasons, now so large I can barely lift the tubers

As autumn clearance goes it’s pretty light touch, which suits both my inclination and, I increasingly feel, the needs of the soil. In a few weeks the manure will go down, then black plastic to keep the wind-blown weed seeds away, and next year we start all over again.

Also this week:
Harvesting: Cavolo nero, last strawflower
Cooking and eating: A lot of cooking. Proper roast beef lunch, fuelled with a glorious Cremant de Bordeaux found, of all places, in the bin-end section of Homesense. Never underestimate the power of good sparkling white wine to take the edge of life. Also: ricotta doughnuts, pizza with Italian sausage, cranberry orange breakfast bread, Nigella’s self-saucing chocolate pudding.
Also: Setting A Suitable Boy aside as I am finding it indulgently long-winded and finding solace in EM Forster’s A Room With A View, a novel so staggeringly brilliant I have read it at least 5 time before and still finding new things to marvel at. Watching all the Toy Story films with Harry.

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