Hartley Magazine

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Garden Planning for Fall: it’s an old refrain.

What does planning ahead for work in the autumn garden mean for you? Outdoors or in a conservatory does it amount to a quick tidy up? A bit of dead-heading, leaf-raking and winterizing the irrigation system? At the Clarke household, the Head Gardener (me) wracks her brain and wrecks her back to improvise and execute plans that’ve been shaping up since midsummer.

Victoria Robert’s cartoon for the New Yorker magazine expresses perfectly my relationship to my garden. She has a way of capturing the quiet humanity in so many of life’s situations.

Example: If I once again had my now longed-for greenhouse, I’d be giving it a good clean, clearing the decks for next season’s seed-sowing, and scrambling to stow the geraniums in its frost-proof shelter. As it is, they’ve been hauled indoors to live behind the south-facing patio cum conservatory windows, on newly installed metal shelving – an impromptu arrangement, at best. But, why save geraniums, you wonder? Because they are at last good-sized plants that finally came into huge, lurid “geranibubble” blooms, precisely two weeks before the first frost arrived on 14 October – on time, according to my almanac (and trusty forward-planning tool). So that’s the plant-winterizing part sorted. In the rest of the garden, it’s been a lot more strenuous, planting the first 100 or so bulbs ordered in a burst of enthusiasm last spring – and there’s more on the way. But before that can be executed, much must be done to clear some ground.

The safe way to dig mandrake is to take a dog and have it pull up the root, as advised in the Tacuinum Sanitas (Maintenance of Health), a medical treatise compiled by the 11th-century Baghadi scholar, Ibn Butlan. Wikimedia

I do wonder what the plants think when they see me approach, spade in hand — is that a collective “oh-no, here she comes AGAIN!” I hear? Thank goodness I don’t grow mandrake, an esteemed herb for physic in medieval times: the bifurcated root, with its human form, was believed to scream so horribly as it was dug up it would drive a man insane, so the plan was to use a dog to do the dirty business. Poor hound. John Parkinson, reporting on mandrake in his herbal Paradisi in Sole, Paradisus Terrestris of 1629, debunked this claim: “…many idle tales have beene set downe in writing, and delivered, also by report, of much danger to happen to such as should digge them up or breake them…”.  And we all know what idle tales can mean.

One old chestnut I routinely ignore is, “never buy a plant unless you have a place to put it.” Phooey. What dyed-in-the-wool plantaholic could ever resist adding something choice to their collection? Figure it out later where it will live but be prepared to make adjustments as it grows. Inevitably, this lack of forward planning results in overcrowding, with thugs taking over from gentler souls, sunbathers wasting away in shade and so forth. At least I can plan for the danse en mouvement des plantes – the annual autumn quadrille of shifting things around. At least it means the garden always has a new look. Remember what I told you last month? about having plants on wheels to make life easier?  I must give it some thought for my future planning.

Have wheels, will travel.

©Ethne Clarke, 2021

To learn more about Victoria Roberts’s creative output — and it is wonderfully varied–go to her website. A catalogue of all Victoria Roberts’s work for the New Yorker can be found here.

For information about moving mature trees, visit Greer Brothers website here. Otherwise, take a strong back and sturdy spade into the garden. My choice is Fiskars Pro D-handle Digging Shovel–heavy enough to do the work for you, with instep protection.