I’m a spring person. I love it when the first snowdrops appear, followed by primroses and daffodils – especially the small wild daffodils which are a whole world away from the large, blowsy cultivated varieties. I cant’ wait, after the long winter nights for when the clocks go forward and doesn’t get dark at four in the afternoon. But there is one part of autumn that I do look forward to, and that is choosing the tulip bulbs for our many garden pots. We have only small back garden and the focal point is a huge walnut tree, more than 150 years old. When in full leaf its canopy overshadows at least half of the garden but we’re always grateful for the leaf cover and the shade they produce as it allows us to sit in the garden in summer without being scorched.
But before the leaves come – around the last week in May – we are able to have pots of tulips dotted around the lawn, some outside the summerhouse, and some on low steps outside the patio doors from our study to the garden.
My problem is really a rather pleasant one: it’s simply, which bulbs, which collections, shall I choose? The pastel shades this year or sumptuous rich colours which remind me of the paintings of Vermeer? Perhaps instead the clashing colours if burgundy and flame, or dark peony-style tulips in dazzling jewel shade, or even a collection of ivory and primrose blooms – I am informed by my favourite bulb supplier’s catalogue that “yellow it THE colour in 2016” . No, perhaps not yellow. There is yellow everywhere in spring, I want something just a little different.
Indeed, planting tulips is one of my favourite autumn tasks. The planting occurs as we put the garden ‘to bed’ for the winter, husband sweeping up the leaves from the walnut tree – they will begin to fall soon – and gathering the walnuts to dry indoors on sheets of paper on the window sills if there are any left after the squirrels have had their fill, some of which they’ve gorged happily on for several weeks, some of which they’ve buried, their winter larder. Sweeping up the leaves is good exercise and the aroma of walnut leaves is, for me, one of the wonderful natural scents of autumn.
Our back garden is small, just 50ft by 30ft, and therefore it doesn’t take long to give it a tidy up. Once the sweeping up is done, the walnuts have been gathered (taking them indoors we take great care not to allow any part of the walnuts, the nuts or their husks to touch any surfaces, especially the carpets, as they leave an indelible yellow stain), and the tulips planted, we reward ourselves with mugs of hot Bovril and anchovy toast (Gentleman’s Relish spread on toast), which we eat in the autumn air or inside the summerhouse before going indoors, thinking about the bulbs which are our ‘promise of spring’.
Do you love autumn? What are the best aspects of autumn for you?