A good thing to do

Saturday August 27, 2005

My neighbour tells me I’m a little early for it but I have an urge now, after weeks of high summer, to be out in the garden, snipping, pruning, cutting back and weeding out. We’ve had some rain this past couple of weeks but even so the earth is dry and parched still, inclined to ring like a hollow log as the hoe works.

There’s a distinct bite to the air now, most noticeable in the early morning and in the late afternoon. Vegetable gardens are laden with produce and you can’t walk up the lane of a weekend without some good soul coming out to press runner beans and good English plums on you, more of both than are needed to feed a family of four. I bring them home, pick out the best, and enjoy them, greatly. The remainder goes off for composting, neatly wrapped in newspaper so as to respect the honour of the producer and the small consumer.

It’ll not be long now before trays of slightly bruised apples and pears appear outside front gates, with a cardboard notice pinned to the front, along the lines of: ‘Windfalls — help yourself!’

We used to bottle surplus plums, and pears, dry apple rings on baking trays in a very slow oven, and layer runner beans in salt, putting them all up on the shelf to gleam in the autumn and winter lamplight. And, on the floor beneath, hidden in the cool, a large white enamel bucket filled with isinglass, storing the surplus eggs of summer to be retreived when the darker days depressed the industry of the hens in their coop at the bottom of the garden. Each egg was carefully marked, in pencil, with the date of laying so, when the rubbery shelled orbs were extracted, a memory of summer days was present.

Well, I have neither plums nor runner beans in my garden, and there are very few domestic hens about now, even here in the countryside. And, instead of storage jars and pails, I have a freezer, and a row of selected cans, all bought from the supermarket, sterile, and with little of the garden about them.

Even so. As the weather cools, I like to be out in the garden, cutting back and tidying, sweeping along the edges of the pavement that’ve been obscured by the rampant growth of summer. It’s a matter of getting in tune with the season, I suppose. Whatever. It’s a good thing to do.


In my garden
In the last days of August
the ivy needed to be cut back.
Underneath, on the pavement,
a drift of spring blossom,
dry and brown.
John Bailey
Lincolnshire, August 2005



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