When it rains

We’ve had the most beautiful weather this past week, perfect for pottering round the patio with a watering can,

visiting the pergola in the evening light,

and even enjoying a rest under its blooms at the weekend.

At no point have I had the time to get stuck into any really big jobs – it’s all just watering and weeding at the moment – but little seedlings are popping up left, right and centre, and sometimes it’s enough just to have a look while I give them all a good long drink.

Before last week, though, we had some truly miserable weather – for May, that is – with low temperatures and seemingly interminable rain. In truth, I didn’t get into the garden at all. Instead, I caught up with a little stitching.

You might remember my starting a new embroidered holiday diary while we were in the Lakes this Easter. From sketchy beginnings on a sun-drenched shore,

that first motif is now complete.

It won’t be framed until the year is out, and of course I haven’t pressed it as there will be more sections to add. In fact, you can still see the purple disappearing pen in places, but it will fade.

In the end I decided to add to my meagre selection of colours and now have this pile of beauties to choose from:

which made the pebbled shore,

woodpiles,

bluebell woods,

and hilltop stream so much more fun to do.

In fact, it was so much fun that I started retrospectively stitching a view of Pale Hall, where I spent my 40th birthday in January, before the sun reappeared. It’s good to know that I have something on the go, given our unpredictable British weather. Garden on good days, craft on bad. At least, that’s usually the summer plan around here.

I do have plans to launch another dress pattern later this year – it’s all ready to go, apart from the tutorial – but for now I’m just enjoying doing smaller bits of stitching in the smaller pockets of time available. I’m a great admirer of those who can whip out a sketch book and capture a moment on a page – and perhaps one day I’ll learn to draw – but for now I’ll keep doing something similar in linen and thread. And it’s the simplest thing in the world to throw a little inexpensive embroidery kit in my bag when I go away, and enjoy revisiting the scenes of our holidays as I stitch away at them when it rains.

Madeleine

Do you keep a holiday diary of any sort?

Away and back again

I often choose Easter as the time when one set of projects will end and another begins. Gardening, of course, begins in earnest around this time, as does the washing and spinning of a fleece. Because of this, I like to have my cold-weather knitting and sewing wrapped up, leaving me free to focus on the plants and some outdoor carding and spinning (raw fleeces are just too dirty for me to want to work indoors).

Of course, Easter is a moveable feast, which makes it an odd date to start the gardening year. It’s good to know I’m not alone in my madness: folk wisdom dictates that potatoes should always be planted on the equally moveable Good Friday. For me, though, Easter has two constants that makes it the perfect time for this changing of the guard. First, I always have a two week holiday in which to finish off lingering tasks and really get the garden started. Second, we always go away, if only for a couple of nights. I suspect that it’s this change of scene that has the greater influence on me, because we almost always go somewhere dominated by nature, which makes me almost ache to be in the garden when we get home.

This year we went back to the Lake District bothy that we hired three Easters ago. I think that it might be one of my very favourite places for an off-grid, switch-off and reconnect-with-one-another holiday. I love it there. I love that fact that there is no electricity, let alone wi-fi. I love the fact that there’s nothing to do on the candlelit evenings but play a game together, or snuggle into your sleeping bag with a torch and a good book.

Most of all, though, I love that fact that there’s nowhere else to stay on that side of Loweswater and in the mornings you have all this to yourself.

As everyone in the UK knows, the weather over the Easter weekend was sublime. It was perfect for early morning walks in the woods around Loweswater, admiring the gnarled trees and patches of bluebells.

I liked to finish my walks by approaching ‘our’ bothy via this green lane. Can you see it, nestled in the trees?

If you timed it right, there might be some breakfast or a cup of tea to enjoy on a log bench whilst watching the children play endlessly on the rope swing. We were very relieved to find it still there, three years later.

Despite the fact that I have done a reasonable amount of walking the in Lakes, and John has done a vast amount more, neither of us had ever been to Ennerdale, so we made that the object of our Easter Sunday walk. If you don’t know, Ennerdale is the dale which is being rewilded, which means that there are no cars beyond the car parks, no boats or bouys on the lake, and far, far fewer people than in other parts of the Lakes. We climbed the fell on one side before dropping down to walk through the most wonderful woodland, full of twisted roots and natural stepping stones, before stopping to have our lunch on a little pebbled beach. On the far side of the water was an Easter egg hunt which felt madly busy after the peace and tranquility of the first half of our walk, but we quickly left that behind and followed the curve of the shore full circle.

I completed what was to be my final yarn project of the season while we were there – far quicker than I would have done at home, as Ilse and I spent the first afternoon of our stay crocheting, reading and dozing on a hillside in the sun while the others did a Via Ferratta climb. Luckily I’d brought some materials with me to start an embroidered 2019 holidays diary, and set about sketching my idea whilst admiring Loweswater one evening.

I didn’t get terribly far with it before we came home, but I’ve been enjoying working on it since and it is coming along at its own pace. The plan is to add a stitched sketch of our lovely stay at Pale Hall in January, and then take it on holiday with me all year.

As you’ll probably have guessed, this was entirely inspired by Gillian’s holiday embroideries. I made one a couple of years ago, when we went to Greece with family for a couple of weeks, and never shared it on the blog. It hangs in our guest room and I love it in all its imperfection. There are many happy memories stitched into that bit of linen. (I do intend to share it here, but it is fiendishly difficult to photograph. One day I’ll surprise you with it.)

On the way home, we had to stop in on of my favourite spots to let some sheep meander across the road, and I took a final couple of photos to remind me of quite how big the world really is when I’m sitting at home in York.

There’s nothing quite like a mountain to put you in your place.

Home again, the children helped me in the garden for a couple of days. The vegetable patch was less than manicured. I like to tell myself that I was letting all those weed seeds germinate so that we could get them all in one go…

Whatever the justification, a couple of overcast days later all four beds were weeded and compost spread on the parts that had missed out in the autumn. Two more days saw them all the seeds that could be sown, sown, and the potatoes planted too. I can look at the next two photos much more happily.

I think the Easter holidays might be my favourite of all, coming as they do just as the world is waking up around us. With a short stay away, somewhere simple, to refocus my mind on the world around me and force me to look up from whatever might be in my hands. I love the forcefulness of spring: the way in which is bursts upon you, ready or not. And I’d like to think that I am, usually, ready, although this year I fear that I am not. But more on that next time.

Madeleine

Did you have a lovely Easter? Go anywhere or do anything special? Does Easter inspire you to make seasonal changes in the way you spend your time?

Gardening again

The sun came out yesterday and it was just the ticket to get me going in the garden.

Oh my goodness, how I’ve missed it. The fresh air, the worms in our homemade compost, the tucking in of little plants to new homes. It was the happiest afternoon I’ve enjoyed in a long while. I blame the sunshine, mostly. It was so good that I had a little nap in the hammock between planting up the pots and arranging them on the patio.

I’m not sure which I enjoy more: transplanting new purchases (there was a trip to the garden centre in the morning) or watching old ones reawaken. My hosta, which I thought might have died, is putting on new growth almost daily:

My fern has had babies while I wasn’t looking:

But best of all, my £1 supermarket ‘cut flower’ hydrangea is still going strong one year later, as are two cuttings I took from it last autumn:

I also enjoyed moving these enormous and beautiful bulb lasagnas to a new location. Planted last autumn, we’ve enjoyed crocuses, daffodils and one lot of tulips so far, with a second nearly ready to come into bloom. I will be planting these again every year, as they have brought me so much pleasure over the past several weeks.

Ilse helped me sow four trays of flowers for the cutting bed, and as well as some cosmos and nigella direct. The lilies are reappearing, and the aquilegia are sending up their flower spikes. In fact, they’re self-seeded and I can’t wait to see what the new flowers look like, as they cross like nobody’s business. I was careful to avoid them in all my weeding. The peony is on the move, and we’re already on our second type of tulip for the house. What with the ever-steady alstroemeria, and the still-slumbering gladioli and freesias, there should be flowers for months, but I’ve put in some sweet peas and anemones because I love them.

If you peer very closely at the top picture, you might spot our willow fedges, planted about a fortnight ago. We have been watering them carefully and are crossing our fingers until they sprout. They are probably the best thing we’ve done to the garden for years. It’s amazing what a load of flimsy willow rods do to a space. Suddenly, I have three different gardens to tend, and it feels very liberating. Having spent the last two days on the flower part of the garden, I’m looking forward to getting going in the vegetable garden next week. But while the weeds and general air of dilapidation would normally frustrate me, the willow allows me to completely compartmentalise it. For some reason I am perfectly happy to ignore it for the time being. Fancy that.

I know that not everyone is as mad about their garden as I am every spring, so if you’ve read all the way to the end of this post then thank you! But if you haven’t gone outside and stuck your hands in some soil yet this year, I urge you to do so. Apparently it has some feel-good bacteria or something, but whatever the reason it cheers me up no end. Pick a sunny day and repot a geranium or something. It’s as simple as that. Happiness as nature intended.

Wishing you a very happy Easter, if you are that way inclined.

Madeleine

Do you love the start of the gardening season? Does it cheer you up too?

Still not gardening (sort of)

Having announced that I wasn’t going to be starting work in the garden before Easter, I have to confess that I did head out and do a little pottering on both days of last weekend, and have some more planned for today. Nothing major. But it would be a shame to let the tulips in my cutting garden bloom unseen:

or for the cuttings under the poly tunnel to go unwatered. I also have plans to plant two willow fedges before it’s too late, so Seb and I constructed three rather rustic-looking gates to keep the hens in the right part of the garden.

They aren’t finished – the willow ends need weaving back in on themselves, and the sticks need sawing off at the edges – but I’m glad to have them made and almost ready to hang. The plan is to add more and more willow to them over the years as the fence/hedges grow, and thus make them sturdier over time, although they are easily sturdy enough for now as it is. Our hens might be determined, but they are only hens.

The plan is to divide the garden into three: a civilised patio/ lawn/ flower area near the house, the rest of the lawn and the hen house, and the vegetable garden/ fruit patch/ compost heaps/ children’s dens tucked away at the back. Several of our neighbours have similarly divided gardens and it works well when they’re as big as ours.

For once, though, there is absolutely no wishing away of time until that project is complete, because in the meantime the garden is bursting into life in the most exuberant way. This is the view from the kitchen window:

and above the compost heaps the new buds of the cherry are fat and red against the rusty old keys of the ash tree beyond.

The hawthorn hedges are greening up nicely:

and there’s purple sprouting broccoli to accompany our Sunday roast.

Still, despite not really getting stuck into work out there just yet, I do have one goal for every day that I’m not at work, which is to enjoy at least one cup of tea al fresco. Which is why I’m going to log off and get straight out there to enjoy the sunshine while it lingers. In fact, I might even give the outdoor chairs a bit of a clean, and an airing. After all, that doesn’t really count as gardening, does it?

Madeleine

I hope your garden is bringing you as much pleasure as mine is bringing me – what are you particularly enjoying, just now?

Colours, inside and out

Normally I’d be in the garden at the very first signs of spring, but not this year. This year, for sanity’s sake, I decided that gardening would commence at Easter, and not before. So apart from watering the odd seedling on a sunny windowsill, I have no jobs to do.

Instead, I pop into the garden whenever I get the chance, and just wander about. I rugged up on Sunday and had a cup of tea in our lopsided pergola, surveying the emptying vegetable beds. We’ve been enjoying the last of the leeks and the parsnips, and the first of the perpetual spinach and PSB. Mostly, though, I just wander around, looking at what’s coming back to life. The most urgent garden-related job is eating our way through the bags of soft fruit in the freezer from last year and even the year before that. We need to make room, you see.

It is surprisingly liberating. On my way into mass last week I heard an older man comment to his wife that it was time to get the lawnmower out, gesturing to the lush new growth in the church grounds, and I just thought oh, there’ll be time enough for that. One of my neighbours was out dealing with the first dandelions of the season, and for once I thought that ours could wait. I’ve not lost interest in the garden. Quite the opposite, in fact. I am very excited about my plans for the new season. But I’ll start them when I’m ready.

In the meantime, I am quite happy polishing off my wool supplies. I finished a second little bonnet at the weekend and have tucked it away in my handmade gift drawer, ready for a teeny-weeny head. It’s even smaller than the last – more of a newborn size than 3-6 months, and used up the end of a ball of sock yarn. Since then, I’ve been crocheting a simple snood using up the odds and ends from all this winter’s colourwork knitting. I added a ball of vaguely mustardy yellow to the mix and am enjoying playing with the colours, just choosing the next stripe. It’s brighter than my usual makes, but I do like it. I’m not sure whether this will be for me, or another ready-to-hand present.

All things considered, I am quite pleased with my new approach to spring, even though it is really a response to the fact that I don’t have the time at home to do everything I want to all at once. I’m even beginning to think that might be a good thing. It certainly feels like it, from my vantage point in a sunny bay window. I might do a little final planning by the fire this weekend, and check my supply of seeds so that I’m all ready to go when the wool runs out. But that’s as far as the gardening is going to get, for now at least, and for once I’m okay with that.

Madeleine

Do you hit the ground running in spring or sit back and watch it instead? I actually think I might be enjoying it even more than usual this year, by just paying attention instead of making mental to-do lists. What’s your favourite approach?


Everything but the knitting

It is still light when I get home from work, and I am feeling a tremendous urge to do everything but the knitting. Remember this shot from a couple of weeks ago? It hasn’t been touched since. Despite several bouts of feeling that I really ought to finish it off, it just isn’t happening. But that’s okay, because everything else is.

It’s half term here next week and I am very much looking forward to a few days off with the children, as well as tackling a few projects around the place. I am desperate – desperate – for some time in the garden. I know it’s early, but perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I am spending so much more time indoors these days, at work. Whatever the reason, that’s where I’ll be spending a whole day, as well as any little snippets of free time I stumble across. Just now, it is in that funny late winter state of being both a terrible mess (think blown down brassica cages and piles of sticks still waiting to be burnt) and beautiful (think bulbs). The crocuses are up and they are just the loveliest little blooms, minding their own business here and there until someone takes the time to crouch down and appreciate their charms. I love them. As well as admiring the flowers, I also want to sort out some chicken-proofing and get on with planting lots and lots of seeds. Having decided against a full vegetable garden in the autumn, I have now done a U-turn and intend to plant a full vegetable garden. Will I curse myself for this in June? Maybe. But I want to get my hands into the dirt, and have endless salad for free. And there are few things more therapeutic than a spot of watering after a long day at work.

In the spirit of getting ready for spring, I am also going to spend a day or so ploughing through the end of all those sewing projects I cut out at Christmas. The last two weekends were completely obliterated by the children’s ballet show, so I’ve got a couple of things that haven’t made it to the machine yet, including a prototype skirt for next year that I’m very keen to start wearing. And I’d also like to do a spot of pre-spring cleaning, while I have the time.

Conscious that I’m quite capable of spending the entire week ticking things off a project list, the children have each been told to choose something that they’d like to do for an entire day with me. In no particular order, the three younger ones have chosen: playing cafe with real food all day (the menu has been in progress ever since), making a mid-Victorian dress so as to dress up as Jane Eyre for World Book Day the following week (I’ve got a book out of the library to help) and doing a spot of twitching in a bird sanctuary (we’ll be choosing the warmest day for this). We’re also going to be seeing Ben, and are looking forward to seeing what he chooses for us all.

Doubtless I will also find time to finish that lovely little baby bonnet, which will be very satisfying indeed. After which, I’m inclined to put away my needles for the time being. I’ve a garden to grow, and plenty of sewing to do in the form of quilt blocks and pattern samples. We’ve been saving avocado pits and skins in the freezer, as well as the elderberry harvest, and are hoping to spin and dye a little fleece on rainy days. Then again, if it snows you’ll probably find me by the fire once more, casting on for something or other. I blame it on the weather.

Madeleine

Have you had half term this week, or are you off next week like us (or not at all, if you live outside the UK)? Done anything fun? We’re open to recommendations!

As I’ll ever be

I have spent quite a bit of this holiday getting ready for the new year. There’s a lot on the books for 2019: a significant increase in work hours, a big birthday, work on the house, more patterns to publish, an outdoor swimming event, a couple of nice holidays… Then there are all the things I want to carry on with: parenting and gardening, ballet, music lessons, reading and crafting and working on my writing. Enough to keep me out of trouble, at any rate.

Yet for all my planning, I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I don’t see the logic in having just one shot at changing habits every year. If I want to change something, I’ll change it, no matter what the calendar says.

I do, though, always feel a shift during the Christmas holidays. It’s less to do with dates than the passing of the winter solstice, the subtle lengthening of the days, and the inevitability of the spring to come. Winter is here, and it won’t last forever. So I find myself making preparations, and urging others to do the same.

This year, as every other since we’ve lived in this house with its big old garden, we’ve had a family day out there, hacking and chopping and pruning until it is in a fit state to leave until it greens again. We filled two enormous builders’ sacks with evergreen waste to haul to the council compost facility, and have a heap of branches by the fire pit just waiting for den-building and a spot of chicken-proofing before an enormous bonfire one dull weekend to come.

As is also always the way, my focus has shifted away from knitting to sewing. I love to pull all my fabric out in the quiet days after Christmas, and write little labels assigning projects to each length. This year, though, I tried something new. Conscious of the fact that my time and attention are going to be stretched, I went ahead and cut every single one of my projects for the coming season. I have to give full credit for this to Jo at Three Stories High, who wrote a post about this in November. I have to admit, I read it and thought that while it was a good idea, it wasn’t for me, because I don’t like to have more than one work in progress on the go at a time. But when I was writing my labels, I realised that I probably wasn’t going to want to draft a new skirt pattern on a Saturday after the cleaning and shopping and ballet runs. I certainly wasn’t going to be in the mood for grading boys’ waistcoat pieces for the upcoming dance show. And I would probably put off dyeing the background fabric for my 5″ scrap quilt when faced with another week’s worth of laundry. Besides, in my head, a length of fabric is a work in progress the moment I pay for it. So I got on with it.

First I pulled out my tailored skirt block and drafted a new style I want to develop.

I drafted a bias-cut cami, and some new underthings, and cut up a stack of old clothes into scrap-quilt squares. There are also three bags and two lined zipped pouches, ready for some simple evening stitching.

I bought a couple of packets of Dylon and turned a ripped sheet, old pillowcase, stained dress shirt and boringly white fat quarter into grey background fabric.

And then I cut out 197 background squares in various shades of grey.

I dealt with all other the leftover pieces straight away, and now my quilts are ready to sew.

I graded a waistcoat pattern for Seb and the other boy in his ballet class, and cut all the pieces.

Then I tidied my little studio, including my sewing drawer. All that’s left uncut are two lengths of fabric for pattern tutorials (because I need to photograph the process) and one piece of rather lovely Liberty that I suspect is destined to be used whole, on the back of a quilt.

Everything else is ready for garments, bags, pouches or quilts.

And then I set my space up to carry on with my 2 1/2″ postage stamp quilt.

Not all the days have been quite as purposeful, though. I’ve been going for lots of long leisurely swims with John or one of the children for company. I’ve done some very relaxed piano practice. There has been a lot of lounging around watching films and knitting up my latest design. We’ve been for a few lovely sunshine-y strolls, including one down into the Hole of Horcum yesterday, when the purples and greens and oranges of the winter landscape delighted us all. We’ve been planning lots other of walks for the coming Sundays, with the odd pub lunch thrown in, as well as other nice things to do together in our downtime. And there’s a fiendishly difficult jigsaw in progress on the dining table.

Mostly, though – and especially in the week to come – I am going to be attempting the impossible, in trying to store up as much rest as possible for the weeks ahead. So yes, I will definitely be having that second cup of tea in bed, and perhaps doing a few rounds of colourwork before I get up. There’s nothing urgent, just now. Everything is as ready as it’s going to be for the weeks and months ahead. Now we just need to remember to enjoy them.

Madeleine

Are you ready for – and looking forward to – the new year? What does it hold for you?

And so to bed

Brace yourselves, because that was the only vaguely pretty photo that this garden post has to offer. November is descending into darkness and we spent a final Saturday afternoon putting the garden to bed together. I snapped a few quick photographs on my phone just as the sun was threatening to slip below the city-stunted horizon, and empty beds are not the most photogenic of subjects. Yet when I’m reading about other people’s gardens, I want to see the work behind the scenes, and not just the glamour shots of sweet peas in all their finery.

My task this weekend was to clear the cut flower bed and protect the tender plants. A couple of old fleeces, too full of second cuts and noils to be worth my limited spinning time, had been put aside for just this purpose. They’re protecting the incredibly productive alstroemeria, some freesias and, for the first time ever, my gladioli bulbs. I’ve always dug them up and overwintered them in the garage before, so keep your fingers crossed for me. I still have a mountain of compost and leaves to dump on top of the whole bed, to protect and feed it over the coming months, but I’m waiting for some muscle to come home from university for that particular task. That, or a burst of energy and enthusiasm one bright morning. I have shifted a lot of compost over the last couple of weeks and need a bit of a break.

The veg patch is done, for now. Before dealing with each bed, I worked out the crop rotation for next year so that I can treat each accordingly.

Two beds got a few inches of compost.

This one will have roots in it next year, so it only gets a layer of cardboard.

The fourth bed (just out of sight to the left) has this winter’s roots and other veg still in it, but it’ll get a mountain of compost dug in come spring, and the beans and peas that will be planted will be perfectly happy in there.

I still need to prune the fruit bushes, so didn’t think to take a photo of the fruit patch. It’ll be pruned and each bush given a top dressing of organic fertiliser. I love growing fruit; you get maximum output for minimum input.

My PSB are loving the colder weather, as are the leeks.

The perpetual spinach still has a couple of meals left in it,

and although the parsnips look unimpressive above ground, they are one of my consistently huge harvests every year. We virtually never buy them, and we dig them up all winter.

I do need to bring in and use the end of the beetroot though, before we get any serious frosts.

The flower bed by the patio has been mulched by the apple tree above it, and I’m inclined to leave it like this, apples and all. The birds and other wildlife love them and it makes a convenient blanket for this bed.

I have to say, fresh air and excercise apart, there is something faintly sad about a November garden. There’s a line from a Carol Ann Duffy poem that pops into my head every time I go out there at the moment: The trees have wept their leaves. They certainly have. But there’s also pleasure to be taken in doing things for the very last time this year: the last bit of strimming, the last mow, the last weeding of a bed. The garden is fast becoming a blank canvas, ready and waiting for spring.

Not all is asleep out there though. For the first time ever, I filled our hanging baskets with violas and they look so pretty, these little flashes of colour either side of our front door. Seb spent some of his pocket money at the pet shop this weekend, and filled his bird feeders with fatballs again. Bulb lasagnas have been planted. The hens are still laying, just about. We’re planning a night-time birthday party out there, with a big fire and a barbecue and hide and seek in the dark. The garden might have been put to bed, but it’ll be lying awake for some time yet.

Madeleine

Have you put your garden/ pots/ patio to bed for the winter yet – or are things just waking up into spring where you live?

 

On hold

I have been meaning to make elderberry syrup for three weeks now. Mrs Beeston raves about it. Mr Winter has been tempting me with tales of his bottling exploits. Even Mrs East keeps asking whether I’ve got round to it yet. Three weeks on, the answer is still No. But at least the berries are no longer on the tree.

Instead, last Thursday, I made five minutes to run out and cut a basketful of the drooping clusters. All day, while I was waiting for the kettle to boil or for a reply to an email, I ran a fork through the tiny branches, knocking the berries into a tub, before sticking it in the freezer. They, like so much else right now, are officially On Hold.

These past couple of weeks, everything that can be shoved in the freezer has been. Pears? Freeze them. Tomatoes? Freeze them. A box of softening purple plums? Fr – ooh, actually, lets stew those with brown sugar and cinnamon and have them on our porridge. And everything that can be dried, has been. The airer on the landing, that sifter of warm upward drafts, is currently hung with mint and hydrangeas. The garden is collapsing, and I am catching what I can.

The thing about putting things on hold is that it doesn’t make them any less important. I still want to use that bag  of avocado pits for an weekend dye session; its just that I have neither the time nor the fleece just now. When I’m pickling cucumbers (eight kilos and counting) I can’t deal with the marrows, too. And while I’d like to claim that it’s just the rush of September that knocks me off my feet, the truth is that things are put on hold all the time, in this house. I left half the elderflowers on the tree in May because I was tired of preserving them. On hold, they turned into the berries I picked last week.

The trick is to know what’ll keep, and what won’t. Some things get better, given time. French beans are maturing into dried haricots – and next year’s seed. Cooking apples just keep getting sweeter. But those gladioli won’t keep coming forever, and there’s a limit to the number of days I’ll have cosmos by my desk. There’s already an empty seat at the after-school teatime table. Neither I nor all the science in the world can freeze these fleeting years.

One day – a foggy, November day, perhaps – I’ll pull those berries from the freezer. Knowing Ilse, she’ll be with me to stir our witchy brew. Another day, perhaps when everyone else is out at dance or Scouts or just visiting their friends, Fliss will help me draw and dye and fix that elusive pink from the avocado stones. Only last week, Seb spent a happy afternoon turning frozen black bananas into a raisin-studded loaf. Ben’s stashed a bag of sloes against a home-for-the-holidays gin session. And, thanks to John, that fruit will slowly become next winter’s crumbles and puddings and pies.

It’s not a case of putting things off. I’m just saving them for the right moment. When they can be a focus, and not a distraction. A pleasure, and not a chore. And a welcome reminder of all this rush in the still and frozen days to come.

Madeleine

And you? What are you putting on hold?

September again

16 September 1935

Why is it that while spring arrives so tentatively, autumn simply announces itself? Here I am, she says, and, like it or not, here she is. She’s here in fogged-up morning windows, in windfalls on the lawn, in retreating cucumber vines and tired children adjusting to new school routines. Like her or not – and there is much to admire in her red-haired-pale-faced beauty – she’s a stubborn one, and stares down the fast-fading summer.

I’d like to treat September as the start of a new year, and in many ways I do. I feel it in the children as they set off to school each morning, in their blackly polished shoes and trousers with growing room intact. I feel it in the evening when they tumble in the door, satchels full of new books with as-yet pristine covers. I approach the new year as they do, in my best handwriting, not wanting to spoil all that is fresh and clean and novel. This year, I tell myself, will be the year that I really focus on the piano. I’ve started to learn Debussy’s Arabesque No.1 and for an hour and a quarter last night I went over and over the passages, learning arpeggios, trying to commit tricky fingering to memory. If I did that every night, it really would make a difference. Just imagine how well I’d play, this time next year.

I’ve seen enough Septembers to know better. I’ve lived enough to know that it can’t really be the start of a new year, this slipping away of the sun. I’ve spent enough chilly hours at the piano to know that, blanket or not, there’s a limit to the time I’ll spend away from the crackling fire and other, cosier pursuits. And yet there is still enough of a sense of something new to incubate a little hope that, this year, something new will happen. Something will be achieved.

In the garden, cornucopia is no longer the word. It overflows no more. Today there was a measly solo cucumber on the vine; the season of courgettes morphed into monsters is done. Every day, there is a little less. Fewer beans on the vines, less spinach to cut and wash. And yet we are hungrier than ever. To make things stretch, our meals have many elements. Not just an omelette, but with beans and bread on the side and a hot baked apple to follow. Porridge and toast and – oh go on – an egg for breakfast. My usual soup, warmed up in the aga, is not enough for lunch without a thickly buttered roll. There was so little left of our roast last Sunday that the only leftover in our Monday pie was a single chicken breast, bulked out with gravy and copious veg. Mashed potatoes? Yes please, with everything. The children baked biscuits and cakes just days ago and, already, they are gone. Yesterday, there was nothing to add to the stone in our soup. For the first time since June, we need to buy more from the grocer.

And yet there is an odd sort of thrill in the end of the garden season. A new beginning is in the air – far off enough to be pristine and ideal in its conception. A weighing up of what went well and what… didn’t. My cosmos, for instance, have been a delight. The broad beans have not. This year, I grew the best potatoes we’ve ever had, and I’ll be chitting the same variety come 1936. And I have grander plans than that: for island beds of flowers tough enough to survive the hens’ attentions, and walls of willow waving in the breeze. In my mind’s eye, I’ll be digging a lot, this winter. Digging, and playing the piano, and making changes that won’t be washed away with the turning of the earth.

Perhaps that’s why September makes me feel so strange: both ill at ease and excited, all at once. Because in one way it’s another chance to get things right, to make a change, to move forward in my life. And at the same time, it is full of reminders that that’s just what life is doing: moving forward, taking my children with it. Those school books aren’t just a clean version of the previous year’s. What was to be, next year, is now. I can’t make out whether autumn is as lovely as she pretends, or whether there’s hint of  malice in those cold eyes. Whatever the truth, she’ll only give way to winter, but that in turn makes way for the gentle spring.

Cecily

How do you feel about September? And have you made plans for the coming year?