Don’t mention the A word


The word starting with A, describing the season after summer and before winter, has been banned in my household for the last month. I realise that for many the approach of the A word is cause for joy, anticipation of mellow fruitfulness, enjoying cosy night in etc.etc., but for me it signals only the unraveling of everything I have worked for since the year began. I don’t deny the inevitability of the A word’s coming, nor that it has some charming aspects, but on the whole I’d prefer if, like an unwanted caller, it would come back later.

In my garden the A word represents a time when things must be undone; cut back, untied, dismantled, put away, encouraged to rest. October is like May, but in reverse, the exception being the planting of bulbs, which offers some hope of good things to come. All I can focus on is the prospect of a wonderful display slowly disintegrating before my eyes. Cold nights and shorter days will soon trigger the decline of anything tender or tropical. Decay will be followed by the lugging of soggy pots into any sheltered place I can find, and accompanied by the realisation that I have too many plants for the protected space at my disposal. The greenhouse, workshop, garden room, bathrooms and windowsills will become home to hundreds of refugee plants, waiting for the storms of winter to pass. Away in the distance all I can think about is having to do it all again, and better.

I am neither pessimistic nor negative, so I prefer to remain in denial rather than face reality. Hence at The Beau’s first utterance of the A word he was cautioned not to do so within earshot again. Naturally this spurred him on to mention it as frequently as possible and to point out anything that might be a suggestion of the A word’s imminent approach – ‘look at that yellowing leaf!’, ‘is that a cob nut up there in the tree?’, ‘we really should have placed our bulb order by now’ – you get the gist. Meanwhile I took the opposite tack, looking for any sign that summer is still going strong – ‘look at all the buds on X’, ‘I think Y is going to be bigger than ever this year’, ‘I remember the year it was hotter in Broadstairs during October than it was in Delhi’ (this last fact was true). And so we go on, one of us in denial, the other revelling in the opportunity to bait his partner. It’s a kind of sport most couples enjoy from time to time.

This week I’m on business in the Czech Republic and Poland where I can glean no evidence of the A word, save for a preponderance of golden rod, rose hips and Himalayan balsalm lining the railway embankments. (There is Japanese knotweed here too, by the bucket load.) The forests are green, the birches are white, the fields neatly ploughed and the gardens full of zinnias, asters, helichrysum, gladioli, sunflowers and geraniums. They remind me of my first attempts at gardening and confirm it’s definitely summer – 100%, full on, undiluted – just for a little while longer. TFG.