‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,’ opined Keats about autumn. ‘Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun’. Hmmm. Not much about autumn 2023 feels mellow or friendly what with Storm Babet, grizzly skies and mizzly days.
Instead, I’m tempted to turn to northern comic Peter Kay for autumnal words of wisdom. Yes Peter, it’s ‘that fine rain that soaks you through’. Everything feels damp. It’s too soon to have the heating turned up high but too late to leave the house without a cardigan. Autumn 2023, pah. Still, tis the season to take stock of the garden. Where to begin? If autumn is damp, then this summer was positively sodden. I live in the north of England where residents endured a particularly saturated year. Weeks went by when it rained every day, water butts threatened to overflow, and my cats stared forlornly through the cat flap. Any more rain and dolphins would have been swimming down the street.
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, the combination of rain, (occasional) sun, and clement temperatures resulted in staggering growth in my garden. At one point, I woke from a drowsy nap on my lounger to find a particularly rampant climbing nasturtium curled round my wrist. I was out of the seat faster than a speeding bullet.
Aside from that day of the triffids in Lancashire, I approached my wet and windy garden with a sense of sangfroid: rain = happy plants = flowers = seeds. And so, once the sweet peas put out their pods, the brooms were ready for harvest and the giant poppies had done their thing, I collected the seeds, dried them out, and shoved them into paper envelopes. This winter, I will keep them in a cool and dark cupboard where they will wait, biding their time until spring when I will plant them, nurture them, and watch them bloom.
But seeds weren’t the only bounty from my soggy garden. As someone with a chequered history when it comes to keeping things alive, I’m a big fan of hard-to-kill plants. Not unlike myself, I admire species which need little attention and are content to do their own thing. The many varieties of bamboo fall squarely into this category. As with cats, bamboo plants are fairly undemanding when it comes to the basics of life. They want water, a bit of sustenance, and to be left alone. That’s my kind of plant. And even though bamboo requires very little of its owners, it produces so much pleasure. When it’s dark and gloomy, the bamboo’s foliage catches the light; when it’s blowy and bitter, you can hear the rustle of the plant’s leaves, whispering in the wind.
Bamboo goes above and beyond. Even when it’s dead, bamboo keeps on giving. The stems are extraordinarily strong and, I would argue, exceptionally beautiful in all forms. After a number of years growing them in pots, mostly as screening for nosy neighbours, I’ve learned that these voracious plants don’t last forever. Pot-bound bamboos have a limited lifespan, but they can still be useful. So, I screwed my courage to the sticking place and cut down the bamboo canes which I had come to love. There were lots of them, many of which I have since repurposed as stakes for other plants, including Spanish flag and cosmos. I’ll keep the rest in the shed and, when the time is right, they will re-emerge, ready to support another generation of plants in my northern garden.
This article first appeared in Catena