Parthenocissus quinquefolia - autumn leaf

Above: Parthenocissus quinquefolia - autumn leaf

Garden diary: September

21 October 2003 - Autumn garden notes

In the last few days it has rained a little. This is noteworthy simply because it has rained so rarely in recent months. Our fantastic weather has continued on into autumn, and though temperatures have dropped, the sun has shone almost every day and clouds that have appeared haven't been the rain-carrying kind.

The rain yesterday has meant that there are those wonderful earthy autumn smells from the damp leaves and vegetation. Higher, above the ground-level plants, the leaves on the trees seem particularly brightly-coloured this autumn. There's a small tree on the corner of our road which I've never particularly noticed before, now truly stunning, with yellow leaves and red berries.

Closer to home, in my own garden, I've found time to plant some autumn bulbs and to scarify and aerate the grass. Completing both tasks made me feel very virtuous, smug and self-satisfied, until I realised how much more I need to do if I'm to achieve my planned rearranging of the flowerbeds. I've also managed autumn sowings of some sweet peas (more than I managed last autumn) but still need to do a few more.

Rampant jasmines and leaping frogs

For months I've been meaning to investigate the back of the narrow flowerbed against the south-facing wall, where several long stems of the rampant climbing jasmine appeared to have taken root, despite not being deliberately encouraged through any arranged layering. It occurred to me that I could probably separate these rooted pieces into new plants, if I dug them up. This occurred to me at a time I was feeling particularly lazy and unenergetic, and every time after that when I remembered I needed to tackle it I was feeling similarly unenergetic. So it's taken months to do anything about it.

Sure enough, when I eventually got around to further investigation, there behind a recently planted and still rather small trachelospermum the long stems of the jasmine had taken root, in about five places. The trachelospermum did really look in danger of being overwhelmed by all these jasmines fighting for space.

It was difficult to separate out all of this tangle, and some of the longer stems of the trachelospermum got broken in the process, just proving that I should have done something about it earlier.

In the tangle were lots of small frogs from this year's spawn. I kept finding them leaping out, so had to go carefully with my spade. Gardening is much slower these days, as every garden job now involves frequent delays to help small frogs to safety.

I wonder if it's been hard for some of my garden's creatures to find enough food in the long dry spell, as slugs and worms seem to prefer damp weather and don't seem to venture out as much when it's dry. Certainly the blackbirds seem to have appreciated the odd bits of grated cheese that I've put out for them (unless Rosie the cat, rather partial to cheese, has found it first, in which case they don't get a look-in). The birds, looking for moist food, also eat the windfall apples on the ground, as do the slugs. So unless the frogs find enough apples with enough slugs attached they might have trouble finding anything to eat, which perhaps explains why so many of the frogs are still so very tiny and haven't grown much.

Planting the hyacinths

I've planted hyacinths every autumn for years, along with loads of other types of bulbs that flower in spring. I found today a bag of three hyacinth bulbs bought some weeks ago that I'd not got around to planting, so thought I'd better get them in a pot without further delay.

I don't really enjoy planting bulbs in autumn. I know I should - I should be thinking of all that promise of spring flowers. But actually I find it quite a chore. Probably because by bulb-planting time I'm feeling rather morose about the lack of daylight and the approach of winter, and thinking how nice it would be to be like a hedgehog and make a winter hibernating den in a pile of old leaves.

It may have been the effect of the late afternoon sunlight, or the dark brown of the compost in the pot they were placed in, but these hyacinth bulbs looked so beautiful. They have that fantastic covering that's rather papery, silky, translucent, in shades of blue and purple. I must have seen hyacinth bulbs so many times, but never really took notice properly until today. I was so impressed by the bulbs themselves it seemed a shame to plant them, hidden deep in the compost.

The flowers, of course, are equally fabulous. The blue hyacinths in particular are exquisite. Not to everyone's taste, these large waxy-looking blooms, but I love them. And this is probably a good time to mention how excited I am that my photo of a blue hyacinth is to be used as part of a book cover illustration by Kim McGillivray. The book is due to be published in the US next year. The use of the hyacinth photo was arranged through the wonders of the internet without Kim and myself even meeting. (A broadband connection is probably essential for sending high-res photos of hyacinths from one computer to another - if I'd tried to send on the old dial-up connection I used to have, next spring's hyacinths would be flowering by the time the file got down the phone line.)

Back to October highlights and diaries


Parthenocissus henryana, autumn 2005

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

Garden diary: November