Oh god, 1 September is coming. In France, they give it an elegant name, la rentrée, signifying the moment when we all come home from summer holiday and can start talking about what we’d like to eat for Christmas dinner.
For the less elegant British, it appears in shop windows as Back to School and an excuse for flogging Moshi Monsters pencil cases and grey V-neck sweaters a-plenty. But I’m pretty sure 1 September has been in my life as a landmark date over many years in which school failed to feature in any way at all.
“Landmark date,” you say? Well, it’s just that, in my funny little mind, the first day of September has always been the year’s best day for new beginnings. Old school habits die hard, or something like that.
September offers a much more enticing prospect of a true fresh start, for me, anyway, than January when, in any case, most people are ruthlessly preoccupied in engaging in stringent economy drives/crazy unrealistic fitness regimes/enforced personal Ramadans. (And if you did want to start a crazily unrealistic fitness regime, why not start on the first of the ninth, while you still have a beach body and a suntan?)
A fresh September start in the garden can take all kinds of forms: running out with a camera to use its ruthless digital eye to record and analyse what’s working, and what really isn’t; feeding everything properly, for the first time this year; finally scrubbing down the patio furniture (it’s certainly been used in 2014, that’s for sure); reading up once more on correct rose-pruning – then getting out there and getting the job done.
It’s a pleasant time to garden, too. The evenings are still relatively long, the air’s still warm, but best of all (and this is going to sound a bit paradoxical, but bear with me), things have mostly stopped growing. We’re well past the longest day and on our way to the autumn equinox, and garden plants have halted that insane midsummer growth spurt which renders every bit of weeding or pruning essentially meaningless within about a week of your doing it. Now you cut back climbers and they stay put. Ah, what a sigh of satisfaction (from me, at least).
This sense of pause is full of possibility. Perhaps next year, you think, my garden will actually, really be finished. It will genuinely work. Now, list-making and prioritising come into their own. I will definitely, finally eradicate the bindweed, the biggest scourge of late summer in this particular plot. And I can lay the groundwork for 2015 now, if I just pull out the ladder and finally hack back that ridiculous hedge that’s been annoying me since January at least.
It’s certainly a good point at which to think about where stuff will die back properly in winter, so that there will be gaps that could be filled with tulips and daffs (ordered now, and planted when it gets a bit colder). If you don’t have any such gaps, having already stuffed your flower beds to overflowing with sturdy evergreens, think about planting up a few pots with bulbs – because, come April, you will be thanking yourself very kindly when the penetrating spring sun comes shining through fresh new petals.
Good catalogues come from many sources, but I return again and again to Avon Bulbs, who are careful and small and lovely; and Sarah Raven, who tries out a lot of varieties and offers excellent tried-and-trusted planted combinations, very much to her personal taste.
Yep, the first of September. Looking back and looking forward, in equal measure, and feeling quietly optimistic, for once.
Four more autumnal jobs
Pots more time
If pots and baskets are starting to look patchy, do a feed-and-water bonanza: bring them back to life and save inane winter pansies for the desperation of December.
Feed the lawn
While it’s still green and growing, give it the best chance for winter, sorting scrappy patches. Make holes with a fork, so that Bertha & Co don’t leave you waterlogged.
Put in a bulb order
If you pick only one, pick the best: White Triumphator (pictured above), a ridiculously elegant white lily-flowered tulip. 25 bulbs for £13.50, avonbulbs.co.uk
Mind the gaps
Get out with the camera now so that you can do your winter thinking with some useful images to help you remember what it all looked like mid-season.