The Late Autumn Garden (or I Loathe and Detest Leaf-Blowers)

I’m writing this on November 2nd and what a strange autumn it has been so far. I don’t think I can recall a wetter season: we’ve barely been able to get into the garden since we opened, back in late September. I’ve never known the lawnmower’s wheels spin in the wet grass and soft ground so often. I know I’m not a big fan of garden neatness, but I’ve also never seen the lawns looking so grotty with big greenbergs of mulched grass, and tyre marks everywhere. There are leaves as far as you can see, but it’s too wet to rake them up – not that I worry about them much: normally we fill a few bags at the end of the season and keep them for leaf-mould in a year’s time. The thing is, I detest leaf-blowers, which have done more to disrupt the peace of the countryside than anything a mere tractor could achieve, even pulling a fifteen-furrow plough! And what do the noisy bloody things achieve? Why, they remove a few leaves that a fit and healthy person could have raked-up in half the time. I hate the modern obsession with neatness. It’s all about control – just like politics. We should learn to live alongside nature, where fallen leaves are a part of the changing seasons. They’re not even slightly the same as hamburger wrappers and other street litter. But I’m in danger of exploding … time to calm down.

We opened the garden on the weekend of September 21-22nd and thank heavens, it didn’t rain. In the end we raised almost £2,000 for the National Gardens Scheme, where the money will go to worthy charities such as MacMillan Nurses. Every year our visitors find something new to please them and in 2019 it was the fuchsias in the front garden. We’re reasonably certain they’re Fuchsia magellanica, var. gracilis but they are a particularly good strain. Maisie bought the first plant from a garden stall by the side of the road somewhere in darkest Norfolk, in those wild sandy lands east of King’s Lynn. The man said they were descended from The Queen Mother’s favourite plant in Sandringham garden – or was that invented as a clever selling point? Given the fact that Sandringham was just down the road, I’m inclined to believe it. Mentally I doff my hat whenever I pass by them. But seriously, they were looking fantastic this year. Rather remarkable, but they had been cut down to the ground by the harsh late frosts of The Beast from the East of late February and early March 2018. That’s quite a recovery.

Fuchsia magellanica, var. gracilis growing up the wirework dome in the front garden. This photo was taken a few days after our garden opening in late September.

Fuchsia magellanica, var. gracilis growing up the wirework dome in the front garden. This photo was taken a few days after our garden opening in late September.

Wet seasons do have upsides, though, and this year it has been a profusion of enormous field mushrooms that suddenly appeared in late October. On our land they were growing in a field full of sheep and I spotted them through a hedge (for which I award myself top marks!), as I was driving by. They were enormous and I was able to pick sufficient to dry and keep us stocked-up all winter. Field mushrooms can be home to maggots, so it’s worth checking for small holes when you remove the stalk. Then we slice them up and leave them in trays on the top of the Aga (stove). They dry in a few hours and the smell is gorgeous. If you dry bought mushrooms they smell of nothing. Once dried they can be crumbled into gravy or simply added to sauces. Nothing, but nothing tastes better than dried wild mushrooms.

Autumn produce coming home to the kitchen, with field mushrooms, dried (in the glass bowl), and fresh hot chillies and tomatoes from the greenhouse.

Autumn produce coming home to the kitchen, with field mushrooms, dried (in the glass bowl), and fresh hot chillies and tomatoes from the greenhouse.

Field mushrooms sliced-up and ready for drying. Keep the dark ‘gills’, as they are superb when added to gravy.

Field mushrooms sliced-up and ready for drying. Keep the dark ‘gills’, as they are superb when added to gravy.

Various parts of the garden come into their own at different times of the year. The Glade, which is the otherwise very damp area beneath a grove of yellow alders and birch trees, is at its best in spring and early summer, when it’s carpeted with geraniums and late bulbs. During summer it becomes a shady refuge from the heat and bright colours of the long border. But in autumn its appeal is quite different: the turning leaves of the alders and the pale bark of the birches combine to give the area a unique autumn character, which seems to change every few days. I find it quietly satisfying and reassuring. A Garden of Smug Complacency, perhaps?

The Glade Garden in October.

The Glade Garden in October.

Slightly earlier in October the soak-away beds behind the barn were looking wonderful with a variety of tints and textures. Autumn colour doesn’t always have to be in-your-face: I prefer the changes to be more subtle. And I don’t think the damp soak-away beds (which take the run-off from the barn roof) have ever looked better.

The soak-away beds behind the barn.

The soak-away beds behind the barn.

My final picture, also taken in mid-October is of the Rose Garden. We never wanted our Rose Garden to be populated by roses alone – which is what the Victorians loved. No, we believe that roses look their best when set against shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Here’s a view of one end of the Rose Garden, with the wonderful North American river birch (Betula nigra), with its splendid peeling bark, on the left.

The Rose Garden, with the trunk of a River Birch, on the left. River Birches thrive in very wet soils – which says a lot about our garden.

The Rose Garden, with the trunk of a River Birch, on the left. River Birches thrive in very wet soils – which says a lot about our garden.

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