Almanac: Autumn memories and a distraction of flowers

We have already passed midwinter and yet I have so many memories of autumn that I want to preserve. September, October and November brought with them a time of intense creativity as I worked on my illustrations, commissions and the launching of my little art shop. I kept taking my daily photographs, though it is only now that a post-Christmas calm has settled that I have had a chance to write about them here.

Today I wish to share a story of a crisp October day, an attempt to write to a deadline and the sense that sometimes a moment of inspiration is too good to miss.

I was meant to be writing. When I looked up from my desk and out of the window, I could see a sharp breeze blowing the delicate late blooming flower petals to the ground. I pulled on my boots, grabbed a little wooden bowl and collected them all.

Sitting back down at my desk again with a cuppa, I set my finds up along my desk. The aster contrasted with the teal of my journal perfectly. My mind drifted back to a poem …

“…on the hills the golden-rod

and the aster in the wood

And the yellow sunflower by the brook

In autumn beauty stood.”

WB Bryant

When I added a second blossom, the petals intermingled, like the fingers of a couple holding hands, or the interconnectedness of loved ones. I called this photograph “Friendship.”

Even as I write this, on December 26th, the hebe plant outside my window still has a few little blossoms left. I most often regard hebe as a froth of lilac although, it is when you study it up close, that its true delicate beauty can be seen. The name, which this moment prompted me to look up, comes from the Greek meaning “bloom of youth.”

Verbena has self-seeded all over the raised beds and I cannot quite bring myself to uproot it, so there will likely be double the amount next year.

I can see a whole life etched out in a fallen leaf. A loss of crimson at the tip when the first frosts arrived. The scars of insect bites.

Eventually I set my lucky finds aside, ready to write. Sometimes I find that working creatively on a different project, ignites my imagination for another. One deadline has slightly slipped, but my stock photography assignment is now submitted two weeks early.

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A selection of my photographs are available as postcards here

I’ve linked below to where you can buy the journal mentioned in my post from Amazon. If you click on the picture and buy the item I will get a small commission to help support my art.

ZenART Faux Leather Dotted Journal – B5 Sized, 7 x 10-inch, Notebook with Vibrant Colors, Japanese Edge Motif – Lay Flat, with Grid for Journaling

Potager Garden: The secret life of the evening garden

I grow ever more fond of watching night fall in the garden. After the bustle of the day and distant traffic noises, a quietness descends at around 8 o’ clock as the late summer evening draws in.

Although I find the geraniums beautiful in the daytime, they now look so dramatic against a background of shadowy foliage, in the “miniature woodland” area of our tiny potager.

Still catching the last rays of light is this pretty self-seeded wildflower, towering next to the stream, that I believe must be a loosestrife. Living at the top of a hill, it is rare for there not to be a breeze rippling through our garden. I love to watch the constant sway of tall plants on spiked stems and the bees that weave and dart around them.

A light rain starts to fall, however at this time of year I do not have to rush back inside for a coat. It is a delicate, refreshing shower, not a downpour. At the first sign of soothing water, a snail emerges to make the most of it.

Soon after the rain stops it has already faded from the stone walkways, yet remains clinging to the plants. The poppy seed heads, which hover over the stream, bob and dip. The droplets slide down stems, into the running water below.

I slowly walk the paths whilst reading about the life and times of a woodland. I have been enjoying this book little-by-little since New Year’s Day. There is an entry for every date of the year and tonight’s July observation seems very apt.

“How enjoyable the land is, when the sun has sunk below the rim of the known world, when other people have gone to bed, and there are stars over the dark, still oaks.”

“The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood” by JoHn Lewis-stempel

The light dims a little more; I return my book to the kitchen and grab a favourite woollen jumper.

We have lost a few young apples to the rough storms throughout late June, yet the hardier fruits hold fast, looking eminently tempting.

The raindrops stick in place on the water resistant bamboo leaves. I move the plant stem gently; the droplets descend slowly, in an orderly queue.

The bees make their final forage until morning. I took a liking to this little hard worker, heavily laden, pollen stuck to his fur.

The moon is framed by the branches of the silver birch tree. The woollen jumper’s sleeves are perfect for pulling down over my hands as the temperature drops. My husband makes me a cup of hot tea and together we walk the garden and quietly reflect back on our day.

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Potager Garden: Unexpected arrivals, bees in motion and the first potato harvest

We are still keeping up with the early starts. Bright light streams in around the tiny gaps in the shutters; getting up is not so hard when the sun is waiting to greet you.

In the garden, the bees arrive dozily, a few at a time, meandering amongst the lavender flowers. Soon, there are countless numbers, the tempo increases and the combined buzzing is audible from the other side of the garden. Nature’s own rush hour.

Share in our morning ritual and enjoy this slow-motion capture of the first bumble bee of the day on the lavender flowers.

By the French doors, a single sprig of self-seeded verbena catches the breeze. I have tried buying verbena plants from the garden centre before and they have never taken. During the lockdown, I have been a lot more appreciative of “weeds” and their potential as free flowers. I have been allowing them to grow and, like a lucky dip, seeing what I have got. I’m so happy with this latest arrival.

Tucked into an old mossy log that forms part of the edging to our stream, a strange silvery leafed “weed” appeared this April. It looked a little like sage at first, then grew taller and taller, the leaves became scallop-edged and multiple large buds drooped heavily towards the ground. By then, we had already guessed it was a poppy, but could never have imagine how beautiful it would be.

On my kitchen windowsill, I thought I was only nursing newly sprouted courgette seedlings, safely away from the greedy snails. However, little bell-like mushrooms appeared overnight; there must have been some spores in the organic compost. The tiny fungi only survive into the afternoon before withering, though for the next few days, every morning I find another trio.

When my order of bird netting arrives by post, I plant the courgettes into the old onion bed, with gravel around the stem, copper mesh and the netting stretched above. So far, so good.

The rose has been persuaded to attach to the arbour and now, clinging on securely, it is climbing at speed. Fresh buds are appearing daily. My little daughter, who always likes to run around the garden before her breakfast, enthusiastically points out any new ones, happily calling “flower!”

As soon we see the honey-scented white blossoms appear amongst the vegetable plants, it is time for our first ever potato harvest. Unlike most of the vegetables we grow in our potager, the potatoes give no hint to the size of their crop, hidden so completely beneath the soil. Even onions give you a bit of a glimpse of how things are going.

My son chitted these seed potatoes throughout Lent and, keeping with horticultural tradition, dug the trenches for them on Good Friday and kept them watered them throughout the draught. I really wanted them to be a success for him. Happily, he is able to pull the plants out whole from the loose no-dig soil and as he triumphantly raises them aloft, the bounty of new potatoes hang beneath on tiny white stems like little baubles.

We ate this first batch within an hour of unearthing them, simply boiled and served with a little butter. They were delicious; soft and melting. It was one of those times I have wished for our own acre of land, meaning we would never need to buy shop-bought potatoes again.

Newly emptied terracotta pots now await my next round of seedlings.

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Potager Garden: An old watering can, a gifted tree and patterns in the stream

The skies are greying and it is a glorious sight. After two months of very little rain, watering our little vegetable plot has become a part of daily life. The watering can is almost half the size of my toddler daughter, though she insists on tending to the seedlings herself. She has found a way of heaving the can onto the raised bed and then tipping it from there. The dent in the metallic surface is a tribute to her persistence.

Our three resident pigeons always like to sit on the potager gate before a rain storm, ruffling their feathers and preening as the light starts to dim. They seem unsure of whether to chance a few more grains from the feeder or hurry off to shelter. If they look a little portly, it is because they supplement their diet of bird seed with the fallen biscuit and cake crumbs of our five children.

Two of them seem intent on digging up the silver birch tree. There has been a deepening trench just in front of it for some time where the pigeon family likes to bathe and rest. Maybe this is nature’s instinct, for now I notice there is a tiny tree sapling growing from the soft, pecked-at soil; a thank you gift from the birds.

The first spots of rain are sporadic and heavy, thudding as they thump down on the hollyhock leaves beside me. The pace quickens. Shrubs flicker and twitch in the downpour. My daughter and I retreat to the kitchen.

Later, hail arrives. In June?! I dive outside, no time to grab a coat, to catch a closer look at the beautiful swirls and overlapping circles in our tiny stream. The ice storm subsides within seconds and the hail melts away. I am thankful to have witnessed the precious, rare moment of ice chips dusting the summer flowers.

Afterwards, there is the drip-drip of the plants and that wonderful scent of greenness and life that always follows a thorough soaking.

I wonder if this year’s bees have been chastened by their first encounter with rain. They seem to slowly creep back to the garden with less confidence than before; not darting now, but warily circling the salvia petals from a distance before approaching.

Soon after, the bird song starts up once more. The day gradually brightens into the perfect evening. No watering required tonight, I pull up a chair.

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Potager Garden: May 2020

The first three weeks of May test a gardener’s willpower. It seems so warm and sunny yet you must try and hold your nerve against a surprise last minute frost. I continue the ritual of gathering up my seedling pots and placing them inside the kitchen every night. Just in case.

I enjoy the allium buds, knowing that the moment they transform into a stunning starry cluster they will not last very long in the garden. To my younger children, they are magical swords and fairy wands. Long afternoons of adventure await these delicate ornamental beauties.

Then, to my unexpected joy, a bulb has been displaced by winter landscaping and a rogue allium pops up by the end of the stream in the foxglove corner, safely out of the reach of tiny hands.

The evenings are light. The moon is out and yet I still can garden until gone 8pm. When everything is tidied away, I bring my cup of tea out to the vegetable plot. House martins swoop overhead whilst the goldfinches wait on the fence for the magpies, pigeons and starlings to leave a space for them near the feeders. As night falls, the birds return to roost and bats dart over from the lightning-struck oak tree on the field boundary.

I spend time shaping the giant fuchsias, with the aim that they should look like child-sized trees that my toddler daughter can hide under. The “trunks” look twisted and gnarled once they are revealed – perfect. The flowers are now suspended above thin air like little Christmas ornaments.

The rhubarb grows steadily on the stream bank. However, its twin is too close to our resident pigeon’s favourite sunbathing spot and is pecked to pieces. The rogue allium sneakily bursts into flower.

We find an old packet of beans, “best before” a year ago. We decide to give them a chance and plant them everywhere. We sow cosmos, calendula, chives, mint and parsley into pots and planters, wall hangers and baskets. Our pumpkin seeds start their days in old egg boxes. No residents yet in the solitary bee hive, but a plump spider the span of my hand has moved in underneath.

One night we light a wood fire, and dine on toasted marshmallows squished between chocolate digestives. I make hot chocolate for my eldest two sons to sip as the stars come out. They chat companionably for an hour as they watch the fire embers, and I am glad that even as they reach their teens, they remain best friends.

As we reach the end of May, there is a change in the light. It is brighter, yellower in tone. Summer is almost here. My daughter loves the raised beds, which are the perfect height for her toys. She feeds the wooden creatures fallen leaves and pretends the vegetable stalks are a dense forest.

One day, I discover I have a slight deer problem in the potato patch.

Several onions are about to bolt and I spot that two more have suddenly started to form flower shoots. I will need to harvest them all very soon.

I practise summer recipes on rare rainy days. After several attempts I am finally satisfied with my version of a raspberry and apple sponge cake. The next day is glorious and we eat thick-cut slices out in the garden; the children have scarlet-stained fingers and delighted jammy faces.

With June only a day away, our very first rose of the year bursts into bloom by the arbour. A new season awaits.

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