. . . . . . .perhaps the chiefest attraction of a garden is that occupation can always be found there. No idle people are happy, but with mind and fingers busy cares are soonest forgotten.
Alicia Amherst, 1902
September is a quiet month in my gardening year. After the frantic efforts of spring, the high maintenance work of summer, the delicious pleasures of a hot August spent entertaining in the garden - ok, rewind that last bit and amend to read: the misery of staring out at a chilly, rain sodden mess from inside the safety of my home - comes September; often drier than the whole of an English summer, this month rewards us with the fruits of nature's labour and our's too; man and beast and birds all profit from the bounty before the onset of winter.
There is still plenty of colour in the garden. In September late-flowering clematis come into their own, tumbling over stonework and climbing high into trees left standing particularly for this purpose.
Shrubs like fuchsias and the many varieties of smoke bush (cotinus) are at their best now.
I look about me in the garden and see the first signs of decay, leaves on flowers and trees alike are beginning to assume their autumn plumage. Still, the secateurs will have to stay in my pocket for a while longer, and the dividing fork and spade remain hanging on their hooks on the wall in the garage. For now, at least, I must curb my impatience to put the garden to bed, it is too early to snip and prune and tidy up. Once the lavender flowers have been cut back, the rose bushes dead headed for yet another flush of buds opening to the last warming rays of autumn sun, overlooked stems of hosta flowers have finally been removed, I have little to do except study each bed carefully and make decisions about future layout and planting. Clumps of overgrown herbaceous perennials are earmarked for digging up and dividing; plants that have not earned their keep so far this year are given a very last chance to make me change my mind about discarding them altogether.
If we can do nothing about the flower beds, and little about shrubs, we must turn our attention to trees, fruit trees in particular. We only grow apples and Victoria plums. Gardener has been quite brutal about the plum trees, taking out whole canopies and even Beloved is roped in to chop up branches and help us get them ready for the bonfire or chipper.
Gardener is, of course, busy turning the compost heaps. We operate a three-bin-system. fresh greenery from the garden (avoiding the roots and seeds of all perennials weeds), shredded newspaper and dampened cardboard, small twigs and kitchen refuse are layered alternately, with a juicy layer of grass clippings added once a week during summer to create the necessary heat to cook the whole stew nicely. It takes anything from six months to a year, depending on the frequency of turning, to earn the final reward of black gold, which is then shovelled into huge builders' bags and left in an out-of-the-way corner to await distribution next spring.
Here we have the finished article, ready to be bagged up, barrow load after barrow load of well-rotted compost, crumbly and soft, and absolutely essential to induce our stony soil to produce an abundance of new life next spring. Gardener has two other gardens to look after and he tells each of their owners that nothing compares to the stuff he - and he alone, mind you - manages to coax out of the previous year's leavings at Mrs. Friko's. I am magnanimous enough never to remind him that I taught him everything he knows about compost - and no, we are not in competition with each other in the matter, Not At All!