Parthenocissus quinquefolia - autumn leaf

Above: Parthenocissus quinquefolia - autumn leaf

Garden diary: September

1 October 2002

I knew there were at least two frogs in the garden now, and while working on the new pond I discovered there are four. This makes all the hard work of recent weeks seem worthwhile - particularly when they're croaking by the pondside at dusk. I think I must have seen too many cartoon frogs on TV in my younger years, making cartoonish frog noises, as real frog sounds are really quite soothing.

The real frogs make a sound that is almost as good as the song of robins or the purr of a cat sitting on your knee for taking you away from everyday cares.

I've been watching frogs a lot recently, deciding that the best way to work out their requirements was to watch their behaviour in the mini-pond I made last year. From this concentrated observation I realise that they need firstly, rocks around the pond that they can crawl under. One flat rock I knew housed one frog, as it used to appear sometimes and jump into the pond. I was rather touched to find, during recent work when I had to temporarily move this stone, that two frogs were under there, side by side. (I asked them if they were a pair, but they didn't answer.)

Secondly, it seems, they need rocks in a step-like formation from the deeper part of the pond, or one of the shallower ledges around it, that they can climb up to get them out of the water and onto the surrounding land. Having watched them bobbing around at the part of the pond that had no ledges, desperately trying to climb up perpendicular polythene (to get away from me, and my temporarily disrupting pond investigation), I can imagine it must be unpleasant to be a creature that accidentally falls into one of those fish ponds with sheer sides, that's like a big black hole.

Thirdly, they seemed to like vegetation. Indeed, I assume it was the quality of the vegetation that attracted them to my pond, as I doubt it was the pond itself. Around the pond, covering some of the rocks, was a planting of ivy, ferns, hardy geraniums and Francoa, which together had formed a tangle of leaf, which had knitted together nicely over the summer.

So right next to the tiny 2ft x 2ft pond that had only about 1ft of water I've made a larger pond, still small, but an improvement. This is more than twice the size in terms of surface area, and with a depth of around 18 inches-2ft in the centre. It's still not a lake, but it's as big as I could make it, and includes a generous area of planting around it, to help shelter those frogs as they clamber out up the carefully created stepped exit points.

I knew from my reading up on the subject what wildlife ponds needed, but reading about it is never as useful as observing the actual wildlife using your own pond.

When you read about ponds they always tell you they will attract wildlife almost immediately. Spike the cat is invariably the first "wildlife" to investigate any garden feature I've made, whether wall, path or pond. This pond he was most appreciative of, and drank out of it immediately. It's almost like he sits there watching me digging for hours and thinks "Poor thing, I'd better go up there and encourage, act like it's useful." So he trots up, peers in, leans over and has a drink. Bless.

23 October 2002

At last, today, I managed to make some time to be outside in the garden. This time last year I felt the need to "tidy up" for winter. This year I'm leaving it untidied, in general. There are, however, things that need doing, such as saving vulnerable plants from frost, and removing the build up of fallen leaves in gutters and around drains. I also need to make a cover for the pond before the trees drop their leaves. This process has begun, slowly.

We've had the first frosts in the last week or so, and also this month periods of high winds and heavy rain. None of this has encouraged me out into the garden. Today, late afternoon, I realised I'd feel bad if I didn't get out there for a while before dark. Too much sitting at a computer recently, and too much focussing on the doings of humankind.

When there are tasks that need tackling in the garden, I like to wander around for a bit first with a cup of tea and a cigarette, surveying the scene and attempting to prioritise. Usually I find that whatever I decide is most important gets started, but then something else distracts me, so I start doing that, then find dusk is descending and with it the need to rush around finishing several jobs at once.

Today the jobs I tackled were non-strenuous and easy to complete. I picked up some of the leaves collecting under the Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia Creeper), fished a couple of leaves out that had fallen into the pond, took down the last few runner bean plants, and added the overflowing compostables container from outside the kitchen door to the compost heap.

There's always a moment, working in the garden after weeks of absence, when I become aware of a connection to the place, and feel reassured and calmed by the simplicity of it all. Other things in life are important and valuable, and give meaning to existence, but working in the garden takes you to the heart of things.

I went out there still thinking of worldly cares, noticing how cold I was, worrying about whether I could get anything done before it got dark.

While I was absorbed in picking up piles of leaves by Millennium Shed, Rosie the cat trotted past, tail in the air. Stopping momentarily to acknowledge her presence, I noticed I no longer felt the autumn chill, but felt warm and comfortable. Not the kind of warm you get from sitting at a computer in a centrally-heated room. In the pause from working, I also noticed that the light had a luminous quality I don't expect at this time of the year in the late afternoon, a kind of hopeful glow, on the walls of the garden, the remaining green leaves, and the brilliant red of the Virginia creeper across the trellis and along the grey slate of the shed roof. This was all noticed in the time it took for Rosie to walk past me, looking up in acknowledgement in that slightly blinking, relaxed way a cat does when it knows you.

In such moments, of hopeful sunlight late on a cold day, the stressful things that occupy the mind all fall away. Sometimes in recent weeks I've been preoccupied with all the wrongs in the world, both local and global, and wondered how any sentient being can keep sane in the face of it all. Sometimes I've been standing in the garden early in the morning wondering if you ever get over the death of someone close, or whether everyone else also has moments when it feels like it happened only yesterday.

But the questions are irrelevant in the late afternoon light of an autumn day, standing in the garden. The answers are irrelevant too.
. . . . .

For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.
. . . . .
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

T S Eliot - Four Quartets

31 October 2002

The summer display generally carries on until October, with late-flowering perennials and climbers, and this year was no different, though frosts mid-month did leave the dahlias looking a little sad. For the first half of October the area planted up with dahlias, rudbeckia and nasturtiums looked at its peak. The reds and yellows suited the light of autumn, which is of such a different quality to the light of summer.

Clematis "Henryii" and "The President" have had a second flush of flowering this month, while Clematis tangutica continued to spill its small yellow flowers over the wall into the street.

Some years in autumn I've wanted to tidy the garden up for winter, but this year other commitments mean I've not had time, or energy, to do things that really don't need doing. Apart from one brief gardening session recently, my contact with the garden has involved mainly looking at it through the window. The fading flowers on the heleniums, crocosmia and fennel have been left to form seedheads, and leaves falling have been left to collect in corners where I can pick them up more easily, when I get around to it. I guess if you feel like tidying up in autumn, then you should, but it's useful that if you can't tidy up it doesn't matter.

(I can tell it's autumn because every time I get up from my typing chair, Rosie the cat takes advantage of the ready-warmed cushion and jumps into the seat. Apparently everywhere else is too cold for her. I waited to see if she was going to take over typing this, but she didn't seem interested, so I've returned.)

I did have to do something out there though, as I'd already noticed a potential problem. Where Kitchen Corner meets the rest of the garden there's a trellis overhead, covered in roses and a clematis. Over the substantial bulk of these two plants the Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia Creeper) has also crept, meaning a huge mound of foliage, all resting on the rose "Madame Alfred Carriere". She was doing her best to support this great weight, but I noticed that in the breezy weather the foliage mound was like a sail in the wind. I thought it was likely it would pull the trellis off the wall in the event of gusty autumn gales.

So I had to get out my trusty 3-way ladder and tackle some of the bulk, on the day strong windy storms were predicted to hit the UK. This involved removing some very beautiful highly-coloured autumn leaves from the Virginia Creeper, but needs must. Luckily I got it done before the storms arrived. Not as bad here as in some parts of the country, but windy enough to have brought down a whole weight of foliage if I hadn't thinned it out considerably first. (And felt very virtuous, of course.)

I realised too that there were other things I really needed to do something about, indeed should have done weeks ago. Like buying bulbs, and wallflowers. A quick trip to the garden centre was just in time - the wallflower stock having got down to the last two bags. These are now planted, half in a large pot and half in the garden.

(Rosie the cat has now decided that if she can't have the chair, she'll have to share it with me, so she's on my knee. As she's sitting up in the middle of my arms while I'm typing, it's rather restrictive on movement, but also quite amusing. I think she might want to contribute something, she looks very interested in the words appearing on the screen.)

I had a wild and crazy tulip-buying incident too, and stocked up on some old favourites like "Apricot Beauty" and "Queen of the Night" as well as a new red variety (whose name I can't go and check up on, as Rosie is obstructing any vertical or sideways movement). Having spent hardly any money on the garden all year, and having birthday money, I felt it was about time I treated myself. Tulips are yet to be planted, but as it's recommended they are planted later anyway, I can save that for a day when I'm feeling more energetic.

Back to October highlights and diaries


Parthenocissus henryana, autumn 2005

Above: Leaves of Parthenocissus henryana turning colour, autumn 2005.

Garden diary: November