Since the clocks changed, the days have been fairly miserable. There have been a couple of lovely days, like last Friday when the sun shone warmly all afternoon and it was possible to keep working until almost five before the dusk settled. At one point, busy as I was cutting back herbaceous growth at The Manor, I found myself thinking it was spring rather than autumn. It is odd how, every so often the turns of the year can feel like one another – spring like autumn, autumn like spring. It may have been the rooks, whose incessant cawing accompanied me through the garden all day until it was replaced by the staccato coughs of pheasants going to roost.
But for much of the time it has rained, and made everything soggy, muddy and drab. Herbaceous plants have turned from growth to mush seemingly overnight. Grass cutting has been more or less impossible. At one of my gardens the mowers had been out before I arrived, and large patches of lawn were chewed-over and ruined. Nothing to do but leave them to recover for now. One frost is all we’ve had so far, and that barely enough to cover the lawn.
Bulbs continue to go in – mostly tulips now, but I have been presented with a few late daffodils and crocuses which are better off in the ground than going mouldy in their bags. At the same time, many alliums which were planted a few weeks back are already showing through, and a cursory scrape of the topsoil reveals many other spring bulbs putting out strong shoots.
At the almshouses I have been tidying and cutting back gently – leaving plants to die back naturally where possible, as I do in my own garden by and large. At The Manor, however, I have to take a much stricter approach – anything which will not last out the winter must be taken down to ground level, leaving only Hellebores, Digitalis and some grasses standing above the bare soil.
I know that the ‘artfully frosted’ look, always so beautifully photographed in the garden design books, is very hard to achieve – and utterly dependent on there being some bright, cold, frosty days at some point in the winter. But I still prefer leaving some plants to catch the cold and light as winter passes through. And, of course, it is better for wildlife which can find a winter home in all sorts of unattractive (to human eyes) decaying vegetation. I am sure the fat frog I had to turf out of his home deep in the wreckage of a slimy Hemerocallis clump would agree.