Friday, 7 October 2016

Season of Mists and Musings

It's the start of October already, and 'tis the season for dark evenings, finding the winter woolies and snuggling in front of the TV to watch Strictly Come Dancing! The Autumn Equinox came and went, and with it a review of my quarterly To Do list, which is as long as ever. Will I ever achieve my goals? The project to reclaim my sewing desk and sort out my sewing notions has been ongoing for a few months now - nearly there! But I'm still getting cross at the chaos, and particularly since there are items I still haven't found (and some bits which I unpacked before I had a place to put them, and now I can't find them again!)

Summer flew by in a whirl of belly dance festival, covering LIFT classes, summer school, gardening, planning classes and workshops for the Autumn term and an absence of beach time, because whenever I was up for it, the weather was not. Most of the time I seemed to be either dripping with sweat (having exercised/danced/gardened) or feeling a bit chilly.

There have been comments on Gardeners' Question Time and Gardener's World about it not being a very good summer, weather-wise (again!), which is some consolation - it's not just my imagination. There's a tub-trug in the garden which I haven't been using for weeding, instead leaving it to gather rain water so that every so often, I can dip plant pots or my watering can into it. It got down to a quarter full before it was topped up again, and is now brim-full. I've been loving the hour-long Gardener's World programmes, and shall miss them when they finish for the season.

The pink rose is definitely a keeper, just not where it's currently growing. The scent is better than I thought and it's growing strongly. It sends up shoots nearly as tall as I am, which bend over, and then new shoots 'break' from the stem in the style of some of the older roses. It's rather sprawly and would probably grow up and through another shrub. I'm still researching what it is, while wondering why that matters to me!

The Buddleia under the washing line obviously got its roots down this year and grew terrifically, in some places over two metres of growth in one year. This is without any feeding, so the soil must be quite fertile (everything in the garden soil grew quite lushly this year, must have been a bit of relative warmth and wet). Some of the flower spikes were roughly half a metre long! In mid to end August, the flowers were frequently covered in butterflies; beautiful fresh Large Whites, Small Tortoiseshells, Peacocks, Red Admirals, and Painted Ladies. I so enjoyed having a cuppa, sitting on the swing seat to watch them, or standing next to the flowers and listening to the butterfly wings as they fluttered around. Sheer joy!

The Buddleia made so much growth that it was summer brittle, with shoots breaking every time there was some wind. The last blow brought down one of the very large main branches; split at the base, and is now wilting drunkenly across the patio. I suspect the way it's been growing means that transplanting it may be difficult, but I'll probably pot it up for the winter just to get it out from under the line, as I really need to plant out the herb bed before it gets too cold and wet. Some of the marjoram, thyme and the fennel rotted off in their nice, free-draining pots this summer. I already have a bag of horticultural grit to work in, and some stone to top dress as well. While I've been digging it over, I keep coming across pockets of richer soil with pea gravel, presumably where things have been planted in the past.

The other thing blocking progress of the herb bed is the Crocosmia. I had seriously considered putting the whole lot on the compost heap, but a couple of friends said that they would like some plants of that and anything else that was going begging from the garden. Then, I saw it against the purple Buddleia, and the bees going in and out of the tubular flowers, and decided that some can go in the front garden.

The bit of digging I have done in both the front and back gardens has revealed stony clay soil, not the easiest thing to work with. I rather like doing a bit of digging (or perhaps it's weeding and turning over, considering that I have to use a fork!) and find I can manage an hour before really needing a sit-down. But that's when the soil's not horribly wet from rain in the preceding days. It makes me wonder how plants which like a nice root run, such as the roses, will cope. My plan to have raised beds for vegetables now seems like a necessity.

The mellow fruitfulness is a bit lacking. The young gooseberry plants were completely defoliated by sawfly larvae which I didn't notice until they had done their worst, as if they appeared one day and stripped the plants overnight. I've had some good courgettes, but many seem to have suffered from some kind of blossom-end rot and the ubiquitous slugs and snails. The aubergine had trouble flowering, because every time it grew one, its stem was bitten through by the marauding molluscs. The first few 'snack size' cucumbers were surprisingly good, since when the molluscs have devoured all the developing fruits. I didn't get any spinach or lettuces. Other gardening friends have commented on the apparently huge numbers of slugs this year. Something will have to be done! I've picked the French beans as they've been produced, but the plants weren't very bushy or floriferous. The outdoor tomatoes have had real trouble ripening and it looks like I'll have to pick the remainder (which is most of them!) while green and see if they'll ripen indoors. At least the plants haven't succumbed to blight, and the ripe tomatoes I've had have been wonderful! Only a couple actually made it back into the kitchen! I'll have to look up the variety of the yellow cherry tomato, the flavour was superb.

I was awoken at dawn on 1st September by a skein of geese honking overhead. Misty mornings, shorter days, a new school term and fat Garden Spiders Araneus diademata crouching in the centres of their dewy webs; all signalling the change of season. There has been a noticeable drop in temperature in the past week, and today's east wind combined with no sunshine means the house is fully 5 degrees colder than it was. I'm wearing layers in an effort to delay putting the heating on.

The swallows have gone, of course. I was aware of them leaving for a while, feeding as they went. Each time I saw them, I wondered if  it was the last until they return next April. In fact, the last time I saw some was nearly a fortnight ago on 24th September (the latest I've ever seen any), silhouetted against grey clouds and blown sideways if they dared to deviate from their course in the hope of catching an insect. Making wishes for their safety, I watched them as they flew east over the fields, until the black specks merged with the sky .

The Hawthorns are loaded with berries. I've heard several people speculating that the berry load means that it will be a hard winter. In the past few weeks, there was a day when the media (including the BBC) was full of headlines stating that it was the 'hottest day of the year' (and there have been a few very hot days this year). Well, it might have been for London and the home counties, but it was pretty miserable, overcast and a little chilly here. I went out and drove back in heavy rain, so I stayed in the car, listening to the radio for a few minutes, (complete with swearing at the 5.00 pm news headlines 'It's the hottest day of the year!'), waiting for the downpour to ease off  rather than get drenched in the few metres between car and front door. The water was coming off next-door's roof in a sheet. I scurried into the house and up to the office, to find friends in the West Midlands and north west England posting photos of flash flooding and talking about dramatic thunder and lightning.

Here are some garden highlights from mid August to early September, as a reminder of the warmth and colour; Scented Geranium flower, Crocosmia, Red Admiral on Buddleia (the colour difference on the wings is because one is a little back-lit), Evening Primrose, a cluster of at least 35 buds and flowers on the pink rose mentioned above, Small Tortoiseshells on the Buddleia, the Campanula posharskyana flowering again (I cut it back after its first flush of flowers to tidy it up), a fuzzy buzzy bumble bee in a Campanula flower, and one of the long Buddleia flower spikes against a blue sky while a flock of Jackdaws swirled around.

9 pictures from the August garden; scented geranium, crocosmia, red admiral on buddleia, evening primrose, cluster of pink roses, small tortoiseshells on buddleia, campanula flowers, bee in campanula flower, buddleia flower spike against a blue sky with jackdaws flying over

Bye-bye Summer! Welcome, Autumn!

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