I hesitate to use the C-word before the month of December but it has to be said that the colours and shapes now emerging all point to festive decorations. (Actually, it should be the A-word for Advent until the 25th, but let’s not let facts get in the way of good marketing.)
If you look at the berries, buds and the evergreens that are now becoming more dominant in the countryside as well as the garden, you will see the deep reds and clarets beginning to shine out. There are also a huge range of other colours to delight in. Just go to a winter garden at a local park or open garden and you will see the yellows of Mahonia, the slightly unreal purples of Callicarpa, as well as the extraordinary stems of birches and many cherries.
One of the main jobs at this time of year is to clear the leaves off lawns to prevent the grass being damaged by lack of light, oxygen and by mould. There are many different ways of doing this and over the years I have noticed various Hampshire archetypes:
The retired engineer will have his top-of-the-range leaf blower out at full throttle every few days, even when you are trying to have a conversation with his wife three feet away.
The member of the Green party will have superb compost heaps but will have a laissez-faire attitude towards anything too finished. They will get highly excited when they discover worms or hedgehog poo, whereupon they will probably decide that mown lawns are far too bourgeois to bother with and let it all become a ‘wildlife meadow’.
The time-pressured Dad will do a quarter of the job, get distracted then return to the garden to discover the dog and his kids have found a great way of scattering his piles all over the place. He will then just abandon the task and help himself to a beer to sip in front of the rugby highlights.
The climate change denier differs from all of the above because at heart, he really doesn’t care: the lawn takes up good car parking space and without the patience to compost anything he will use a tyre or a car seat to help generate a blazing inferno. Watching coolly as he draws on his fag he will imagine himself in an episode of Top Gear involving fire engines and police helicopters.
I am not sure where I fit into the above but music, a lot of time and the promise of cake are essential for me to complete the job.
Tasks this month that are less laborious include:
· planting out tulip bulbs for next year’s show.
· pruning deciduous trees and shrubs removing dead, diseased and damaged wood to give the plants a good shape.
· finishing up the last of the autumn pruning to get Buddlejas, climbing roses and any other plants that may get very straggly and knocked about by the wind in the winter months into a more compact shape.
· ordering and planting bare-root roses.
· protecting newly planted trees with tree coils: squirrels, rabbits and deer will all be getting hungry and soft bark will be a good source of food for them.
· adding a layer of compost onto and around any of the more tender or exposed plants you may have.
· covering any fragile pots that may be damaged by frost.
· removing pumps from the surface of ponds where they may get damaged by the expanding water when it freezes.
· turning off the water supply to outdoor taps and then opening the taps to let the water drain away.
· cleaning out bird boxes so they can be clean for winter nesting.
Finally, please check that your bonfire piles don’t have any hibernating hedgehogs or toads buried in them: you will not only have to live with yourself if you commit an infernal crime but you may also have to deal with the neighbour who is a member of the Green party.
If you really can’t face burning the pile or even the upcoming festivities, then just join the hedgehogs and the toads: if you add a few layers of soil as you would do in a conventional compost heap, then cover it with a rug, the pile will soon be generating its own heat. There are there are worse places to sit and eat your cake and sip your tea.
You wouldn’t be the first to do that either.