Garden notes: Autumn rhythm

Porridge weather has arrived. There was porridge for breakfast this morning, served with a spiced compote of windfall apples and pears. Delicious. The sky, on the other hand, was the grey of that peculiarly nasty porridge: the kind that goes all gluey in the pan. And, truth be told, I felt a little that way out myself. Lethargic and sluggish and low. Because try as I might to hope otherwise, I know that summer is over and the whole of autumn and winter lie ahead.

I’d like to be one of those people who embrace autumn. The kind who long for the weather to turn. But I’m not. Instead, I seek out the compensations. A good excuse for knitting. Long cosy days when the whole family gathers to be near the fire. Pies, and mackerel, and hot sticky puddings. There are many things to love about the colder half of the year. The thing is, I have to get there first. When I wake on a day like today, all I want to do wave the children off to school and collapse in an armchair with my knitting or a good book and a blanket to shut out the season. Yet there are sheets to be washed, and meals to be cooked. Floors need scrubbing and nobody but me is going to see about the garden. And those chores, those pesky chores which keep me from a day of wallowing in the gloom, are really my saving grace. So today I sat down with my notebook and did what I’ve done for the last seventeen years: I decided on my autumn rhythm.

Mrs P laughed when I showed it to her. I don’t blame her: it is scarcely any different to last year’s. First some time at the piano: soothing and effective all at once. Then the garden. Then the house, then this, then that. Slowly and purposefully, it pulls me out of the morning quiet and into the day. There are no deadlines, no time slots other than the obvious. There’s no rush; there’s plenty of time for a cup of tea or half an hour working on my latest project. And after supper is eaten, the evening is mine to do with as I wish. This is the time to sit under that blanket and read, or knit, or do a little sewing by hand, and chat to John or listen to the wireless. The day is done, but more importantly, it is done well, and that matters, in the autumn.

Each part of the rhythm counts. It matters that there is a stew in the oven and crock of fresh soup on the cold shelf for the week. I care about getting the sheets washed and ironed and back on the children’s beds. Making music makes me happy, as does getting better at it. But the turning part of the day, the part that lifts me from the gloom, is the time I spend in the garden. I never, ever want to go out there when it’s cold and damp and grey. Today I promised myself I only had to do ten minutes. Dig the potatoes, I said, and that’ll do. But then Penelope made me laugh by standing right over the fork so as to get at all the worms, so I spent a little longer pulling some bolted lettuce for them all. In doing so, I noticed that the second, smaller flush of lavender was ready for the taking. And while crouching there, I smelled the sweet peas and cut another vaseful for the kitchen. Then there were the windfalls to pick up: the good ones to come indoors, the sluggy ones for the chickens in their run. The tomatoes needed watering. The veg patch wanted a walk and an inspection, and all told, I was out for an hour and a half.

It’s not as exciting as spring. It’s not as brilliant as summer. And yet somehow it’s in the autumn that I’m most glad I have a garden. It keeps me going, gentle and funny and kind, pulling me outdoors each and every day. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, and working in it, and writing about it, these past few months. There’s not much left to say now, except this: know that I’ll be out there in the wind and the drizzle and snow. Ostensibly, I’ll be taking care of it, fitting it into my daily rhythm. In truth though, it’ll be taking care of me.

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