Out here, the month of October offers two gifts, the one dubious, the other problematic. Around the 23rd of the month we may expect the first killing frost, the black one, 32 degrees and lower, for several hours, enough for crystals of ice to form and rupture the tender cells of stalk and leafage, to melt the morning following, bringing an unattractive dose of the stricken and dead. On days that follow, if the weather be benignly warm (70, please), we may enter the true, the only, the marvelous time of Indian summer.
So many condign features are necessary that the gracious period (should it arrive at all) may well appear in November. The month more or less writes “finito” to the gardening year. But then we transplant. Then it is bulb time. Garlic as well as tulips, multiplier onions as well as crocus, shallots, and daffodils. I used to think of the time as death but it is closer to the petit mort of lovemaking. Sap is stored. Doesn’t wither.
It is, of course, huge surcease and respite and time for repose. Would that I could hibernate, be less there and out and doing and incessantly nap, be half-aware of chat, go through the hours with dreaming, a yawn the very best smile I might offer. Blood pressure would hardly register, pulse infinitely slow, body temperature sink down and down. No dishes whatever for there would be no eating. Neat would be my den with the telephone unanswered and heating bill near nil. Dormant as a bulb. Claudia Thomas would take Barnsley south with her Norwiches, she being B’s godmother.
Winter, however, is that inescapable time for plotting and pruning. There are, for example, a good 10 magnolias, planted within a circlet of yew how many years ago I can’t recall (was I young then — was I ever young?), now in need of major pruning. All of their lower branches. A new, umbrous walk. A bosquet, if you wish. An idea I’ve had for a magnolia park, many varieties offering months of pleasure. A liliflora blooming until frost. The Omei, royal enough to suspend its blossoms so that one can see them fully even though they hang high. Vulcan is suitably dark. And there is one of the many new yellows. Of course. And of course a stellata so that the little park starts to seduce in early spring.
And then there is the sunken terrace whose paving may become a mix of cobbles, pebbles, and old, old brick on edge. Heavy tarps to keep frost out. It is work that can be done whenever the weather allows.
The quincunx beds are doing far, far too well and must be restrained. It may be the moment for radical elimination, taking out from each of the four random, no longer important, aggressives, and I will not list them for fear of disapproving aficionados, leaving, in each quincunx: black pussywillow, the Seven Brothers tree, hardy orange, the five yews pruned above deer hunger. . . .
Such a problem . . . dozing vs. doing.