The Garden in the Fall

by frankbeswick

Fall is a special time in the garden, a mellow season when we can savour what is left of our crops and prepare for next year.

Fall is a time for looking backwards and forwards, reflecting on the successes and failures of another gardening year and at the same time preparing for the next season, remembering that a garden is never static, some things in a garden have to be let go, but other changes must be put into place. Garden work never ceases, even in the cooler seasons, but we can work while enjoying the crisp air and slight chill of the season that we British call Autumn.

Picture courtesy of Geralt, of Pixabay

The Allotment in Fall

A garden never stands still, but there are some enduring features. The robin comes again, a reassuring element of permanence in a year when the seasons have been strange. I have seen her a few times,flitting down to seek for grubs. She seems a little less wary of me now, but she never gets too near; and I have never found where she nests. Nor have I looked for it. She deserves her privacy.  She is stocking up her strength for the winter. I can identify her  as female because of her light red breast, as opposed to the bright red of the male, one of the many manifestations in nature of the subtle differences between male and female. 

The vixen still makes her presence  felt. She hunts across a number of plots and leaves her brown footprints on my black geotextile mulch. She has been preparing for winter, feasting  upon wood pigeons. The fox in England has defeated the fox hunters by becoming an urban creature, with cleverly sited and concealed dens in hedges and waste sites. The hunters can and do ride through villages and have been known to illegally intrude into gardens,but try doing that in a town! This vixen has a lair whose entrance is well sited under a shed on the plot opposite mine,  but she has excavated  a number of escape holes,the latest of which was found on a plot near mine. She has dug under the central path until she reached tree roots and then surfaced. Quite a tough female!  But in all my years on the allotment I have never seen the fox. 

The weather is now autumnal, with the damp chill in the air that is so characteristic of the season. It is not an unpleasant chill, but a slight coldness that adds a tang to the air.Britain is facing a wet spell as the remnants of hurricane Lorenzo spill its load over this damp archipelago. Flood warnings are in place across parts of Britain, but I should be safe, fingers crossed, for Stretford [ in Greater Manchester, there is another one, to the south in Shropshire]  is sited on a slight rise above the river Mersey, which anyway has good flood defences, so it is unlikely to flood. Still, I have taken to wearing rubber boots, which  we British call Wellingtons, when I visit  the plot.I don't want to bring muddy soles home.

There are still some plants a-growing, cabbages and sprouts to be exact and some leeks still await picking. One apple tree remains to be picked and a young pear still has its solitary fruit. The flower bed is dead, with stalks of heliopsis leaning drunkenly over the ground. I am waiting for the stems to rot before my eldest son Andrew and I dig over the bed and replace the flowers. It is a heavy job and his help will be much appreciated,  for although my medical treatment is working well, I still have some way to go before I fully recover my condition. 

Seasonal Jobs

I need to complete the transformation of the plot into a container and raised bed garden. This process has gone well and is nearly completed. I have yet to fill the containers with compost, as there is no need during the autumnal and winter sleep of the garden. More pressing will be to keep the geotextile mulch clear of leaves, which would in the long term turn to soil and attract weeds. 

More  important is the need to trim the bushes. My jostaberry is not as productive as it once was  and so it must come down, but that job can wait a while. I need to prune the blackcurrants, which have not done well due to the unsettled weather conditions in Britain. Much work is needed on the gooseberries as well, whose spiny stems are rather daunting to work on. 

But work on the greenhouses is necessary. I have two of them, and until this year simply grew in pots on the greenhouse floor, but recently I used some money to purchase greenhouse staging, two-tiered metal tables four feet long. This purchase has been driven by a recognition that I need to take the strain off my back. I grow chilis, aubergines [egg plants] and bell peppers in the smaller greenhouse and I will use the upper tier for plants and the lower tier for storage. I do need better storage facilities for tools, but there is the problem of where to site the shed. I  am slowly working at the fiddly job of assembling the staging. It is a straightforward task, but I am not especially dexterous with my fingers and so it takes me some time. I am still assembling the first of the two tables. There are just so many nuts and bolts!

The larger greenhouse, which is eight feet long, where I grow tomatoes, needs its floor replacing.I had had a problem with weeds intruding through the wood chip floor [possibly their seeds were in the wood chip] and so I imported a large tarpaulin and laid it down.But it is too large for the greenhouse and makes the floor uneven, so up it will come and be replaced by geotextile mulch. Here is where Andrew comes in useful. The structure is weighed down against the wind by paving stones inside, which are laid on the inward pointing edges of the frame. They will need lifting and replacing after I lay the fabric. But for safety's sake they should be lifted by two people. The medics would not be too happy if they get my back right only for me to damage it again lifting heavy weights. 

I need to clear some scrap wood, but the way is to wait for November the fifth, Guy Fawkes night, when people hold bonfires to commemorate the failure of the Gunpowder plot in 1605 when plotters attempted to blow up parliament. The allotment holds a bonfire, but while I will give them scrap wood, I will not be going, as I have the Annual General Meeting of the local branch of the National Vegetable Society that night, which is a pleasant party night. 

Finally the pond needs cleaning out. I won't do this in summer as I don't want to kill and pond creatures, but the frogs will now be in the warmth of the compost heap, burrowed against the cold and predators [foxes eat frogs.] That is why I will not shift my compost in winter.I don't want to disturb hibernating creatures


I went to the plot yesterday and found the gate open, unusually, but we are having a bit of trouble with the padlock.Routine maintenance problems, but we are having the AGM on Sunday and after that the lock is being renewed. One problem with allotments is that people who have left the site and given up their plots sometimes retain copies of their keys, which is not right. Occasionally, these people take things that are not theirs. So key change at times is necessary. 

I was greeted by a large group of birds, some wood pigeons, but also the largest flock of magpies that I have ever seen there. They scattered as I came in. They must have found a food source, and it was probably on an abandoned plot near the gate. Their presence delighted me, a brief moment of joy in the existence of other  creatures.  The wind was gusting, but not unpleasant.I enjoy the windiness of the season. I like the endless dance of the browning leaves as they spiral in their vortexes in the everlasting dialectic of creation and destruction, death and rebirth 

Peaceful, slow work mostly on my own with only passing plot holders to pass on a cheerful greeting is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. I spent much of my working life dealing with humans with all their foibles, so in my retirement I compensate by relishing working on my own, in the open air, peacefully without stress.

Medically gardening is good for you. A friendly Irishman who has a plot near mine is 79 and not a well man. He is  suffering from heart problems, but his doctor was adamant, "Do not give up your allotment." It is keeping him going. After some time digging over a raised bed I was heartened by the fact that my back was doing well and the postural problems that were affecting my walking have eased significantly, But then we got the perennial problem for British gardeners, it suddenly began to rain heavily, so I departed for home and true to my British culture made a cup of tea. 


Updated: 10/09/2019, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 11/12/2019

There are plenty of magpies where we live.

Mira on 11/12/2019

What a pleasant article! I especially delighted in the presence of magpies, as they are rare in places I frequent. (I spend most of my time in Bucharest.) In fact I have a photo of my phone with the birds of one of our parks and there are no magpies. I did see some, though, in the gardens of a monastery near Bucharest.

frankbeswick on 10/10/2019

Where I live we do not grow winter tomatoes, except in heated glasshouses, which I don't have.

blackspanielgallery on 10/09/2019

Looks like you are busy. And from the details it seems global climate change is affecting your garden.
A few weeks back, in late August, the horticulturist on the radio was saying it was then time to plant a winter tomato crop. I suppose it is not possible in colder climates. Indeed, waiting for summer to abate was the problem, so heat tolerant tomatoes were the recommendation.

frankbeswick on 10/09/2019

Your area. Derdriu, sounds beautiful.Some of your species we don't have in the UK, such as bluebirds and blue jays, mourning doves and mockingbirds. While I have seen jays in woodland we have never had any on the allotment.

We don't have a shredder, so wood prunings are either burnt for ash or put in the compost heap. I compost grass clippings and am constructing a leaf mould bin to contain fallen leaves

DerdriuMarriner on 10/09/2019

frankbeswick, Thank for the philosophy, practicalities and products.
Blue jays, bluebirds, downy woodpeckers, mourning doves, northern mockingbirds and robins are still around here.
What do you do with the wood from light prunings, such as of the black currants, and severe, such as of the jostaberries? Is allotment policy to let fallen leaves lie, to scoop them up for bonfires or to use a leaf shredder? Grass clippings and shredded leaves make such wonderfully earth-smelling natural composts, fertilizers and mulches.

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