Sunday, 28 October 2012

Gardening with the seasons

Acton's Lock, Regent's Canal, Hackney
The tall, lithe birches in the carpark have already yellowed and, with the slightest tremor of the air, sent leaves earthwards, floating gently down, until they stand now as skeletal reminders of longer, warmer days.

One of the flats above ours, its balcony railing festooned with boxes, is all but bare, with white petals from its final flowers helicoptering to the ground.

The London plane just on the other side of the wall that divides our carpark from the park beyond, and by which I find myself judging the progress of the seasons (it’s always late), is just revealing the first hints of yellow.

Today day has been grey – not 50 shades: just one. Grey and with dampness hanging in the air.

For all the promises, this weekend – yesterday morning apart – has been dull and grey. And colder. And with the hour having gone back, it’s felt as though autumn proper has arrived with a bang.

Like last Sunday, though, today has also been a time to get out into the garden, creating new habits of all-year-round activity.

Protected tree and planted pots
The core tidying had, by and large, been finished. But as the temperature even in central London dropped, it was time not only to wrap the lemon tree in a duvet of fleece to protect it, but also to think ahead and plant bulbs for next spring.

Two visits to Columbia Road have produced a variety of daffs and tulips, crocuses and snowdrops, with the addition of some anemones and a small bag of scilla.

The tulips include Blue Diamond – which sounds as though it comes straight out of a Dick Barton plot.

And there’s Red Riding Hood, a small, early variety, plus Van Den Berg’s Memory, a traditionally-sized red – the latter of which evokes memories of Amsterdam.

Last weekend, having cleared and cleaned out a number of pots, we planted in the drizzle. Today, there was only the merest hint of rain in the air as we completed the task.

Instead, the wind was whirling around, sending Boudi and Otto scuttling back inside quickly: they don’t enjoy wind in their longer fur. Loki, on the other hand, with her much shorter fur, seems to love it, in a wild sort of way; chasing after leaves.

There’s something enormously pleasing about such work. It adds another layer to my growing sense of the cycle of the seasons.

And here you are, not simply packing away the garden for the winter, pruning away the dying and clearing the decaying, but preparing it too for the start of the year to come.

With a little luck, we’ll start to see the first delicate signs of life pushing through soil and toward the watery sun in January.

In the meantime, metallic winter heathers in jewel-bright hues, and cyclamen in vivid pinks and reds, are adding a touch of colour to the patio.

There’s still work to do. The remains of the tomatoes need to be cleared away and the pots scrubbed out; the final chilies – a large handful or red, orange and green – were harvested earlier and will be grilled and then preserved in a jar of olive oil.

And then there’s the patch at the back. The beans were dismantled a couple of weeks ago, but the rest of the bed needs digging out.

Taking 'baby veg' to new levels: with 5p piece for scale
Now that the temperature has dipped, there’s no hope that the carrots and swedes and turnips will grow more than they have – and they’re not at edible point now.

But it was good practice getting them up – you really can’t just pull them out, I realised, after a couple of failed attempts. That’s what a small fork is for!

The summer, like so much else, ensured they didn’t grow enough, early enough.

The soil needs to be sieved out – I’ve done some already, but it’s backbreaking work, to be done little by little – and then I’ll dig a little compost in: a case of some TLC before planting anything next year.

This is the first year in which I’ve ever gardened all year around – not simply planted a few things and assumed they’d take care of themselves, and done nothing else.

Some weeks ago, Guardian gardening columnist Alys Fowler noted that, if this was your first year as a gardener, you mustn’t be disappointed: it’s been bad a bad year for everyone – slugs and snails excepted.

Which was reassuring. But even after such a bad year, the bug has bitten. And there will be much more to come, with the benefit of some experience and a little more knowledge, as the days next lengthen.

But before then, a winter beckons spent curled on the sofa with my new Royal Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Gardening – a wonderful early birthday present from George – planning and considering and dreaming.

No comments:

Post a Comment