But returning to a September garden is a reminder that there’s stuff to be done. It’s heavy manual work too – no more springtime wandering around looking for new growth and pulling out the odd weed. Instead, it’s cutting back the dying jungle of grass, hoping that this will pay back in a better wild flower display next year. The wet grass burns with that delicious autumnal scent; the thick smoke writhing up in the sunlight
A few weeks ago, I was minding my own business (hanging out the washing, since you ask), when a sequence of loud cracks made me turn around in time to see half of the large beech tree on the other side of the burn slowly collapse into ruin like a demolished factory chimney.
There was not a breath of wind. The weight of its summer foliage alone had become too much for it. A tiny number of extra cells built into a leaf or a developing fruit had tipped the scales and set off the chain of destruction.
Ancient beech trees have a habit of doing this. This is because the beech is an expert in spreading its canopy as widely as it can, and, given freedom to do so, will push out branches at almost ninety degrees to the main trunk. As these develop into heavy limbs, they become massive cantilevers, depending on the huge strength in tension that wood has to stop them splitting under the weight. You can see this engineering in what remains on the right hand side.
Beech is a short-grained wood, so it has little of the springiness of spruce or willow, depending instead on the packed bundles of its cells to reinforce itself against gravity. But where water collects in the junctions of its limbs, and eventually penetrates the bark, it is fatally at risk.
The grey wood here has been penetrated by water over the years, and the bundles of cells have swollen, rotted in places, or have split apart. Each strand that can no longer support the tension places an added burden on the rest. Eventually, it all becomes too much…
A fallen tree disturbs. It is somehow wrong to find the vertical made horizontal; to be able to explore the canopy as if one were a bird. A fallen tree is a stranded fish – out of its element – all the wonderful fractals of its twigs, branches, and limbs lying with their balance destroyed and no longer a purpose to any of them.
But the mountain cannot reproduce. The beech tree can.
Between the thunder showers, I was putting new roofing felt on the bantam house, and giving it a coat of preservative. It’s luxurious accommodation: bantams are happy anywhere that is reliably dry and relatively well ventilated, and for many years my flock lived inside an old chest of drawers, (with the drawers removed). But about ten years ago, I relented and bought a flat pack chicken house (this was in the days before the ridiculously expensive and trendy Eglu made an appearance.) So this is where they have lived ever since.
In fact, she’s always thoroughly disliked her offspring. And, as is the way of the world, the more she ignores Fluffy, the more the wretched creature runs cheeping after her. Possibly it has something to do with the name – for which I take no responsibility – but it has to be said Fluffy is not likely to win many prizes at a poultry show. I suppose, like the ugly duckling, it may turn out to be a swan, but I have my doubts.
As moral exemplars for your human offspring, chickens leave a lot to be desired. They not only indulge in child abuse, but refuse to share or play nicely. Plus, the cocks are flagrant practitioners of sexual harassment, and don’t even seem to care. Now and again, the hens become careless and stand on their chicks. They don’t care much either.
But give them enough space to get away from each other when they need to, and bantams eventually bed down into a grudging kind of flock mentality. And some of them even make good mothers. You can only see the back half of Ostrich, but she’s taking care of her three chicks. They obviously have a good future ahead, well-spoken with nice manners, while Fluffy….well, who knows?
It hasn’t rained for three weeks. This is unheard of. Exceptional. What’s more, it’s reliably warm and sunny. What has happened? I’m disgruntled; I have nothing to complain about. Even the grass is barely growing.
I’m especially pleased, because this is the time of year when shrubs are contemplating next year’s flower buds, and the more they are lulled into thinking that it’s safe to put a bit of energy into that endeavour, the better next summer’s display is likely to be.
The other good thing is that we are sweeping into the Time of the Fragrance, led, as always, by philadelphus. Drifts of the scent sweep up the bank as the heat goes out of the day.
(I fear the lense on the camera is scratched. Comes of keeping it in my pocket along with secateurs, the odd nail, cherry stones and fragments of bantam food. So apologies for the picture quality meantime…)
Honeysuckle contributes, less intense, more concentrated within the flower. There are so many cultivars of the climbing honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum, that it’s hard to choose. But if you want scent rather than colour, it’s a good idea to stay close to the species. Mine has been good this year: often it suffers from fly, which ruins the flowers unless you spray it early enough in the year.
There’s also this rose: ‘Ispahan’ – one of the few roses that I can really be bothered with. A damask rose, growing happily through a viburnum to eight or nine feet; minimal maintenance, zero pruning unless I feel like it, and usually pest-free. And wafts of scent to reward me for my neglect. If only all roses were like this…
It has also been a great year for meadowsweet – filipendula ulmaria – the plant that lies behind asprin.
This grows wild in all the damp places in my garden – i.e. most of it, and I count it as a pernicious weed, because its creeping rhizomes smother stuff, such as irises, which might be trying to share the space. But when it’s in flower, with its strange half-bitter fragrance, I relent.
I always forget, as I run around in May and June planting stuff and keeping the garden relatively clean, that July is different. Quite suddenly, plants, grass, weeds, unwanted tree seedlings – in fact everything – just grows, without showing the least modicum of restraint or respect. Fecund to an extreme. Two weeks ago, you could walk along a nice path in the herbaceous border. Now, you have to wade through it.
At the same time, serious gardening becomes impossible. Usually it is the rain. This year, remarkably, it is the heat. But mostly it is the midges. They are especially ravenous this summer, even in the sunlight, which they normally avoid. I suppose they hatched late because of the cold spring, and are now desperate for their blood meals (how I hate that phrase!) so they can breed again. Vampires have nothing on these creatures. Research shows an isolated gardener can be attacked by 40,000 midges an hour. I believe it.
July is also when you notice all the plants that are in the wrong place, or have grown too big. The campanula lactiflora in the picture above was once a well behaved component of the border, but it has gone rampant. You can’t move campanulas this size, so I shall either have to expend heavy labour hacking it out, or else live with it.
This gunnera is obviously bent on world domination too. I merrily planted it thinking it would provide some shade for a few primulas. Now there are no primulas, and it’s about to attack the white flag iris in the background. Then it will start on the bridge. Sneakily, it will die back in Autumn so that I’ll forget about it and fail to do anything to stop it.
They then have to spend the cool of the night pulling themselves back into shape. They are not built for sub-tropical temperatures. But they are tough; and will survive – but unless we get a lovely cool day with lots of rain soon, (It’s not often you find me expressing that kind of wish!) I’ll miss out on the fragrance drifting over the pond.
One of the oldest habits we have is to walk up and down a patch of land. Usually we had an animal with us; a horse, an ox, a buffalo. Sowing, ploughing, reaping. Up and down. Every time we take out the mower, we continue this. We no longer need the animal, more’s the pity. But it was not so long ago:
When you mow, cutting the grass in a rhythm you have learned from doing the same thing dozens on dozens of times over the years, with every hummock and curve a known friend, the mind blanks. It ceases to be a task. It ceases to be anything. Each time you pass, say, a familiar ragusa rose, you see its shape at a fractionally different angle. A kaleidoscope of colour and shape. The memory assimilates better than the camera.
In the unmown grass, small flowers bloom. One pass, and they are compost.