Saturday, October 29, 2011

The virtues of autumn

I've just been reading Veg Plotting's post about her GMT tidy-up. The clocks go back in the UK tonight, from British Summer Time (BST) to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and VP says she uses this as a moment to remind herself to do an autumn clear-up and square everything away for winter. I think it's a really good idea.
I was pottering about in the garden today too, impelled not so much by the time change as the fact that for once - for the first time for weeks - I didn't have to do anything tedious like go to the tip, or tidy out the garage, or stack books.
There's something very calming about autumn chores. Sunshine is a bonus, rather than an expectation, and the earlier dusk drives you indoors for a cup of tea before you get over-exhausted. It doesn't matter if you accidentally stand on something or chop something back by mistake, because unless you're very unlucky, it's about to go over anyway.
And autumn chores are cheaper! In spring, there seem to be endless temptations to splurge - buying new plants and new pots to replace those damaged by frost; buying new plants and pots because, ahm, I can't resist them and so on.
Tidying, on the other hand, doesn't cost anything, and there isn't the same sense of urgency as there is in spring, when everything is growing at 100 miles an hour. I felt very virtuous as I swept leaves, cut back dying annuals and subsiding perennials, and put unused pots away in the garage for winter.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Golden October

It seemed odd, when I got up early this morning and found the car registering a temperature of 7C (44F), to look back and think that only three weeks ago, we were basking in 28C (82F) sunshine.
It seemed even odder to find that, by the time I'd done all the chores and finally got out into the garden, it was 16C (61F) and I had to dispense with my padded down jacket.
We're due for another seasonal see-saw over the next few days, with London predicted to hit 20C (68F) tomorrow, before the weather turns colder and wetter by the end of the week. If I had one of those weather houses with a little man and woman, I bet they'd be whizzing round in circles by now.
Still, I shouldn't really complain because it's perfect weather at the moment for doing a bit of tidying up in the garden. My resolution this year is to chuck out all the summer bedding in the front garden and replant the containers for the winter, adding some bulbs for a spring display.
I make this resolution every year, but invariably end up pulling out the frozen, mushy wreckage of pelargoniums in early March in order to replace them with ready-grown daffodils because a, I couldn't bring myself to throw out the pelargoniums earlier and b, never got round to planting the bulbs.
However, this year is different. I have already cleared out the containers in the front garden and replanted with skimmia and spotted laurel, underplanted with 'Thalia' narcissi.
I have even bought pumpkins, and a 'Happy Halloween' banner for the front porch, plus some rather chic spiders with pink and orange glitter on them to decorate the trellis. Goodness, I'm organised!
The back garden has been left to its own devices while all this is going on. I usually clear out those containers once we've had the first frost, at which point I cut down the cannas and put them in the garage for the winter.
I've been out to fill up the bird feeders and mow the grass at regular intervals, however, so I've noticed that the eucalyptus which was pruned at the beginning of September (on the right of the picture) is showing signs of growth.
Unfortunately, I haven't been able to take a picture of this, because the branches are higher than me and trying to photograph them results in silhouetting them against the sky. I must get up on a stepladder, though, because it's been a fascinating, rather teenagerish process.
Normally, the eucalyptus has very smooth, creamy bark, particularly at this time of the year when it has shed its old top layer. But where the tree has been pruned, I've noticed what look like tiny pustules appearing along the branch. New shoots!
As the weeks progressed, these pustules have got bigger until now they are on the point of sprouting. It's very exciting - and rather nerve-racking, given the see-sawing temperatures.
I'm going to keep my fingers crossed.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Home makeover: final episode

So where was I? Oh yes, I was about to have the study redecorated. Well, today I can report that for the first time in three weeks, I can sit down at my own computer, at my own desk, on my own chair. Oh, the luxury!
I find that any sort of home makeover project is a bit like childbirth. You embark on it with great excitement and enthusiasm, only to discover that most of the process is quite tedious and involves a variety of problems, false alarms and delays. When it's finished, however, you're thrilled with the results - and after about a year, you've forgotten all the discomfort and inconvenience and you're thinking about the next one.
While the study was being redecorated, I also went through a Fridge Trauma. I won't bore you with it: I started writing down the saga and nearly sent myself to sleep. So I'll just say that my fridge was out of action for four weeks. It's OK now (more or less) but I never imagined that being without a fridge could prove so stressful.
While all this was going on, of course, the garden was rather neglected. We've been having a spell of very good weather here in the UK, which is lovely but also a bit worrying. We need rain at this time of year if plants like camellias are going to give a good display in the spring, because late summer and autumn is when they are forming their buds.

Love the autumn colour of this sumach, which was a passalong from my friends Peter and Delphine. The coleus beside it is Trusty Rusty.

Seeing the decorators at work inspired me to paint the bird table. In the end, I went for a safe, boring cream, but I think it looks good. I also painted some trellis to go across the front of the house, but that's another post. I did so much painting, in fact, that my daughter remarked drily that she was surprised that the cats were still their original colour.
Talking of the cats, here they are.

As you can see, they get on quite well. Luigi, on the left, is the criminal mastermind, and Mario is his willing accomplice. They are very good at stealing food and I have had to buy a pedal bin instead of a touch-top bin, as Luigi worked out that if you jumped on the bin, and then onto the work surface, it opened. Mario could then jump into the bin and retrieve whatever took his fancy. They are thieves and scoundrels - but very cute and cuddly.

One of the great pleasures of autumn is the low light, which illuminates foliage like a spotlight. The alocasia on the left is A. portadora.

There's a lesson here for anyone who wants to grow dahlias (centre) in close proximity to yuccas (bottom left). Don't. You won't be able to get in to deadhead the dahlias without donning a suit of armour.