PHIL CALVERT: November is a quiet time in the garden
November is very much a quiet time on the gardening front. The growing season is drawing to a close, the days are shorter, the nights generally colder and, if wet, the outdoors can often become no-go areas. The prospect of Christmas being only a few weeks away now, means that for most people, the garden is pushed firmly down the list of priorities.
I realise that not everyone finds themselves in the happy position of living in a location where there are so many mature trees growing near their home as I am. When we came to look at our house 20-odd years ago, it was the location that attracted us: a tree-lined avenue of mature trees with few nearby properties and surrounded by fields protected to some extent by greenbelt status.
It certainly was not the house. True, it had potential but it had been allowed to deteriorate quite badly. Slates were missing, the back garden was mainly jungle and as I pressed my face against the glass to peek inside, a chunk of window sill broke off in my hand.
When we eventually obtained access we found a house with lead pipes, damp patches on the walls, smelly carpets and rooms fragranced with the scent of mushrooms. Everywhere there seemed to be a problem. The window frame that had caused me concern (and embarassment) on my first visit was worse than I realised as I pushed my finger through the rotten timbers. We were buying into a lot of work and expense, and frankly we couldn’t really afford the house as it was.
But when we walked outside, the back of the house was a real sun-trap but shielded from the houses across the back by 50ft. beech trees, the garden plot was long, there was room for a garage at the side, while at the front, between the weeds, yellow Welsh poppies rubbed shoulders with ferns in the cool dappled light of the trees. I loved the place. It felt like we were on holiday.
And I still do! Over 10 years we sorted out most of the problems with the property and raised a family there. Family photos feature pictures of babies next to bags of cement, workmates next to the fridge and lots of scaffolding. They were very happy times.
Those years of home improvement are now long gone (although we did get some new internal doors recently) but we still all live there together, enjoying the banter and bickering of normal family life. We all love it here. Those trees, however, are more contentious.
Now the girls ride around in cars that dad hasn’t kept clean for them, they realise that if you park under a sycamore tree, the ‘honey-dew’ of a million aphids will land on the paintwork of their cars as a drab, sticky coating. Leaves fall and lodge near the wipers. During October there is the regular hollow thud of conkers dropping onto the car roofs most nights and of course a deep carpet of leaves.
In dry autumn weather those falling leaves add another dimension to the beauty of our location. If it turns wet, however, the leaves rapidly turn to filthy mush with the passing of various vehicles and, living on an unmade road, no one else is going to clear them up if I don’t, especially as nearly all of the leaves fall on the road directly outside my house.
Consequently, I spend many hours, repeatedly trying to keep on top of them with the mower on the paddock and the leaf-blower in the street. Wifey thinks I am obsessive about it, but I like things just so and tramping through mud to my car is not high on my list of entertainment. Meanwhile, other things get neglected.
The pots at the front door were planted up weeks ago but those at the back are still waiting their turn. The garden furniture needs wiping over but I am busy dragging leaves out of gutters. The pond is ready for an autumn clean but it will just have to wait its turn. I make leaves the top priority. Wifey does not think I should.
So on dry days, when I am not out walking with little Monty, it is the leaves that are my priority. After a happy day sweeping up leaves, cleaning leaves out of gutters and generally getting things straight outside until it goes dark, I know what is coming. The fire crackles in the grate, the smell of cooking hot pot pervades the house, and perhaps a glass of port beckons. Life is good.
But there will always be that guarded enquiry. “Did you manage to plant up those tubs round the back?” Of course, the answer for now is in the negative, and it may remain so for a while. After all, once that job is done it will be the turn of those new doors needing to be painted and these things are not to be rushed. “All in good time dear”.