PHIL CALVERT: Summer is over-hyped - give me autumn any day!

Phil Calvert
Phil Calvert

When you turn the page on the calendar and realise September is with us, in psychological terms you realise summer does not have long to run now and the longer darker nights are drawing in as autumn days draw ever closer.

But surprisingly, while the general trend is downhill, September, and even early October, can supply us with some pretty decent weather … and after a miserable August like that I think we deserve it.

Last Tuesday I was walking along the shores of beautiful Coniston Water. The surface of the lake was as still as a mill pond and low cloud hung onto the slopes of Weatherlam, Swirl How and, of course, the Old Man of Coniston itself.

Across the lake, odd trees on the slopes around Brantwood had hints of the autumn colour that will soon dominate the view. In the middle distance the steam-powered motor yacht “Gondola” chugged its way quietly across the water, thin wisps of smoke drifting into the air. But it wasn’t the only smoke we saw.

Back in Coniston wisps of smoke were drifting from several chimneys, giving away the fact that fires burned in several grates, and when my daughter led me kicking and screaming (but not much) into one of the pubs, there was a fire burning in the grate there, too.

Yes, I think we can safely say August 2011 was pretty disappointing weather-wise, and the bank holiday itself equally so. It cannot have been an easy year for traders and hoteliers, when with concerns over the economy, a “staycation” mentality could have supplied a bumper year. Instead. It was a damp squib, and yes, pretty chilly at times.

We have barely sat out on our garden furniture this year as the warm balmy nights have been conspicuous by their absence. But hang on a minute, while August can be hot it is often pretty damp and although the year is now fairly advanced, September can be a very good month. Indeed it was not too many years ago when we still had the wakes weeks, that people took a week’s holiday in September.

We have often taken our holidays in September and even into early October and had some fantastic weather. Being a bit of a miserable beggar, I rather like to avoid the crowds and so would never dream of going to, say, Cornwall in July or August, much preferring to wait until the crowds had disappeared in September, while in early October, certainly in Cornwall, you have the added bonus of most parking restrictions being lifted and so you can park within easy reach of the harbours at the umpteen fishing villages scattered around that coast.

As a result, I am quite looking forward to September. There may be chilly nights, but it is a real pleasure to watch as the early morning mist in the river valley burns off as the sun rises into a clear blue sky, granting us gorgeous sunny days with warm sunshine, but not too hot, making it perfect for getting out for a walk or outside into the garden. And as the sun sinks, and evening sets in, there may be a chill in the air, but it is no hardship to pull on another layer and savour the last hours and minutes of daylight before retreating indoors to a fire crackling in the grate and the delights of winter cuisine.

If the weather is kind and the night-time temperatures moderate, the flowers in our gardens could linger for another month yet. Sometimes even longer. Whatever, there is now the added bonus of the fruit harvest. There is a simple pleasure in picking fruits from the Victoria plum, filling baskets with apples and Tupperware with brambles. It is a delightful time of year, and frankly, I prefer it to summer.

There is colour everywhere. The moors are still pink with heather, and slowly but surely, the trees develop their autumn colouring, be it the yellows and golds or the magnificent reds.

In our gardens many bedding plants, especially the begonias, are still in full flower, but as the odd basket, tub or flower bed start to look a bit tatty, I like to clear them out and replace them with pansies, violas or maybe cyclamen to invest them with a little colour ready for winter. But best of all I like to plant bulbs for next spring.

September is the key month of the year when it comes to bulb planting and it is a thoroughly pleasant process. There is something comforting and reassuring about planting bulbs. They are nice to touch and hold such promise for good things to come …. and they are so easy and remarkably reliable!

Bulbs should be bought as early as possible if you want the best choice. Check the bulbs feel firm and plant in any reasonable, well drained soil. As a rule-of-thumb plant them to a depth three times the height of the bulb, so a 1” bulb in a 3” hole, a 2” bulb in a 6” etcetera, and cover and gently firm the ground.

As tubs are vacated from summer use I get them planted up with bulbs and label them. Crocus and daffodils can often peep through long before Christmas, and even though low winter temperatures will then arrest their growth they make interesting space fillers as clearly they are a sort of work-in-progress and ready for the return of longer, lighter days.

And the colours are good strong uplifting colours. I personally love the rich yellow of miniature daffodils like ‘Tete-a-tete’ or the bright red of dwarf tulip ‘Red Riding Hood’ and the strong blue of Hyacinth ‘Ostara’. All easy. All reliable and entirely beautiful.

You know what, with the over-hyped summer largely behind us, I am really looking forward to the next few weeks. They have the potential to be some of the best weeks of the year.