Lots of fig leaves. One – admittedly quite large – fig tree. Lots and lots of leaves. And big leaves they are too. Great bulb-fingered hands of leaves, lying dry and curled on the lawn as if grasping the diminishing warmth and light of the year.
That was my afternoon in large part: leaf raking. I enjoy the task: it feels satisfying (much more so than mowing, for instance, which is simply dull). A sunny late autumn day, leaf-rake in hand, cannot be bettered. And the leaves will be put to good use, being left to rot down in a chicken-wire cage at the allotment, to create lovely rich leaf mould by next autumn.
The tree itself will need some pruning before the winter is out: but that is a job best left until the weather is properly cold, and all growth has stopped.
My mind wandered along the path suggested by fig leaves, to Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 3, sewing fig leaves together to make ‘aprons’ – not the single fig leaves of many paintings, attached as if with some prelapsarian Velcro. And how that precedes one of two favourite horticultural moments in scripture – God walking through Eden ‘in the cool of the day’. Perhaps, like a character in a Samuel Palmer painting, wearing a straw hat and smoking a clay pipe?
The other moment is when Mary Magdalene encounters the risen Christ in the early morning of Easter Sunday – ‘supposing him to be the gardener’. Not a shepherd, as so often, but Christ the Gardener.
Gardens can offer such peace and refreshment at both ends of the day, even now as the days shorten dramatically towards the Solstice. The quality of light, the silence, the sense of the day beginning or ending in earnest. To take a moment and savour a garden at these times is truly a delight, and one too often missed in the haste to begin work or pack up for the night.