My son, when asked which of the four seasons his favourite is, will always say winter. He dislikes the heat – it takes me some weeks or even months to convince him that a jumper is a good idea, even when the thermometer dips below zero on the some early morning bus runs before school. I think he likes the fact that he has more of my time as well, as there is little to do in the garden or nursery and very often the smell of baking dominates the house when he returns from school. He likes the feeling of cosiness and comfort that winter brings and perhaps even the fact he doesn’t have to justify time spent indoors.
The rest of us – myself, my partner and daughter – say autumn. In our lovely valley, something almost imperceptible happens in early to mid March. The sun loses its bite, the evenings slowly begin to creep up into daytime and the air carries a light scent of wood smoke. Paddocks that were cut for hay in summer are beginning to flourish with new green spears of grass but the impending winter is ensuring that most other plants are finishing their growth for the season and beginning their autumnal decline.
Some people view this decline with dismay – believing it to be the herald of the months of bleak and cold yet to come rather than a season of beauty in its own right. They spend hours upon hours raking fallen leaves and bemoaning the fact that branches are becoming bare and once again their soil is not hidden under months of spring/summer growth. A lot of these people regret ever planting anything deciduous, as if their lives would be far easier if their garden was awash with nothing but shades of green. I can pick them when they come to see the garden our autumn and decide instead to enjoy a nice lunch in one of Mole Creeks nice cafes. To them, the lawn is a mess covered in red and yellow leaves, and they find no delight in standing beneath a tree that is slowly dropping its leaves. Even our toadstools hold no fascination for them.
Regardless of the many hours I spend trying to convince them otherwise, I suspect they will never waver from their desire for an evergreen life. And that’s OK, because if there is one thing I have learnt by spending my life to date in retail, it is that we are all different.
It’s now late April. The process that started in mid March is well underway. One of my morning school bus trips is made in the dark and the evening one not far off that either. A very mild April had meant a delay in autumnal colour, and I suspect we will be enjoying it well into May. Each of our over 100 birches is a lovely golden and our gravel driveway is lettered with their fallen leaves. The small gingko we planted well over a decade ago has once again taken our breath away with its clear, buttery yellow leaves and various ornamental grapes – including the incredibly large leafed Vitis coignetiae – are shades of crimson, scarlet and orange. This year, the grape we have growing up our summer house has delighted us by its autumn colouring – the individual veins on the leaves have changed at a different time to the rest of the leaf, creating a marbled effect that has been stunning. I’m sure there is a detailed explanation for this happening, but rather than be bogged down in science, I would rather just enjoy it for what it is – a miracle of nature. The willows that line our back boundary (Mole Creek itself) are very nearly bare, and the leaves that are left will soon join those that fell before them in carpeting the ground thickly.
Many of our crabapples are also well into their autumn display. Years ago, Susan Irvine helped us acquire the beautiful Malus trilobata, whose leaves are much more like those of a maple rather than a member of the apple genus. It sets little fruit, but its leaves are so pretty – especially in autumn – and its upright habit so easy to accommodate that we treasure it immensely. Most of our crabapples have lost their fruit by now (either by the hands of birds or by my jelly-making) but the small apples on Crabapple ‘Jack Humm’ that cloaks our cubbyhouse are only now beginning to turn bright red and so I know they will be around for a while to come yet.
We have large stands of Cornus alba – the red-stemmed dogwood – and their deep pink autumn colour is as striking as their bare stems in winter. Pink is not often a colour associated with autumn, but actually, it is quite common. Think pink nerines, pink Japanese windflowers (Anemone) or the incredible seeds of some of the Euonymus species (spindles) – in that instance shared very artfully with bright orange in a colour combination that would have made our grandmothers shudder. A more demure shade of pink is found at ground level with the lovely autumn cyclamen. As if the incredible marbled silvery leaves weren’t prize enough, cyclamen flowers are perfectly formed stunning in their simplicity – and providing they are not smothered by falling leaves, they can be enjoyed for weeks.
There is one other thing that is very much a part of our garden in autumn that we are not entirely responsible for, but that has arrived as a result of what we have created here – and that is fungus. There are few things we look forward to more than when the first signs of toadstools appear – white, bulbous masses slowly breaking the soil, before long miraculously transforming into bright red and white spotty beings that could have leapt from the pages of Pookie (surely you have all heard of Pookie?). We even have garden visitors who ring to confirm their arrival before they come to walk our autumn garden – such is the following they have.
I could continue on for pages and pages about autumn, probably because, as I said earlier, it is my season of choice. I adore spring for the sense of anticipation that accompanies it, and for all the woodland treasures that emerge from under month’s worth of rotting leaves. Summer is when life revolves around BBQs by the creek and the scent of roses, and winter is when all those SBS movies clogging up our DVD Recorder can finally be enjoyed. Autumn is…..well I’m not really sure. A slow winding down? A time to take a breath and really enjoy the garden before the weather forces it anyhow? I’m not sure. All I know is that the odd combination of wood smoke, decay and over-ripe fruit is as pleasing to me as any full blown rose; and as for all those fallen leaves? I’ll let the wind do it’s work.