Man of the House harvests our November crop: six wizened red apples. They seem smaller than they were two months ago. Meanwhile the Halloween pumpkins silently decompose on the doorstep, dead fireworks litter the herbaceous borders, and the shed falls down.
Winter gardens are no places for wimps, and I’m a wimp. I avert my eyes as I pass Wyevales so as not to see their banner exhorting me to ‘Tidy up ready for Winter!’ They have a Spring banner too, featuring an Easter chick chiselling out of an egg and the slogan, ‘Time to get cracking!’ That one also makes me feel guilty.
Now is doubtless the right time to plant tulip bulbs, scatter forget-me-not seeds, shove old tomato plants into the compost and pick up the pink plastic doll that has been lying across the lawn since July, limbs lewdly akimbo. Every year I convince myself that very soon I will stomp outside wearing waterproofs and a hearty smile, clearing and pruning and generally showing the garden who’s boss. In this mental image I am whistling ‘Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to work we go,’ and waving a rake about smugly.
But it’s always raining when I look outside, or something more interesting is going on. And so every year the garden realises exactly who’s boss and takes advantage, sending underground forces of bindweed to annexe new territories, encouraging strawberry suckers to grow up the washing line, and marshalling battalions of evil slugs to slither about orange-ly.
If only I had the courage to embrace not tidying the garden. I wish I had the balls of the ESCC gardeners, who put up little signs around the Council grounds which say ‘designated biodiversity area’ wherever they can’t be bothered to clear. I might get some of those signs. ‘Do you think we could have some nice daffs here?’ ‘Sorry luv, can’t be done: that’s a designated biodiversity area.’ I only wish I’d thought of it first.
This is the list of actual garden chores I do in November:
1. Wait till it’s not cold or raining and there’s nothing on telly.
2. Run outside wearing coat over pyjamas.
3. Slip on orange slug, fall and bash bottom on plastic doll.
4. Grab bird feeder and run back into house.
5. Make tea and reward self with biccy.
6. Recoil in horror at disgusting state of bird feeder. Shake fist at birds and ask how could they let it go to seed like this, ah ha ha, have they no respect?
7. Clean bird feeder with Marigolds and industrial bleach. Then clean bleach off obsessively to avoid avian poisoning.
8. Refill feeder with fancy selection of seeds.
9. Notice it’s raining and resolve to put feeder out later.
10. Remember bird feeder in April.
I try one of the wrinkly apples. Delicious. Perhaps next year I’ll plant some raspberries. Or maybe I’ll just put in a few more bindweed plants – they always seem to do well.
Beth Miller, 17th November 2010. Published in VivaLewes.com. Photo by Alex Leith