Now the Victoria plums have finished with the last wasp-damaged remains rotting into the soil and the blackbirds have feasted on the grapes, there’s just the autumn raspberries left to harvest. This year I haven’t netted the raspberries, the bees have had easier access and the pollination rate has been better than usual. The weather has been gentle and I’ve had the best crop of Autumn Bliss in years. And, the strangest thing is despite the unprotected canes the birds have left them alone!
It is strange how in our 24 hours a day wired and connected world we can not truly escape nature’s deep, slow rhythms. This November I’ve been working on some scarves in a range of colours I thought I’d chosen as I’d seen this pleasing combination from the Canadian Interior Designer Jane Hall of Jane Hall Designs.
As I have mentioned before, when I’m painting I often listen to an audiobook and for a couple of weeks I’ve been listening to ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel. She has a superb historical imagination and a descriptive writing style that evokes a sense of place without being overdone. As I was busy preparing my autumn colours I heard this phrase from Wolf Hall
“wearing their fallen fruit silks of mulberry, gold and plum”
Reflecting on the natural colours of fallen fruit retrieved from the fading garden and looking at the colours I’d mixed up, I realised how unconsciously I’d absorbed and then responded to the changing scene. I’ve had a few peaches, figs, apples, pears and plums filling the kitchen fruit bowl from this year’s domestic harvest. It’s been the best year so far for the fan pear, though I have lost all the cobnuts to the squirrels, again. But what a bonus – the muted colours of fallen fruit.
November, often relentlessly grey and misty here in East Anglia, is the time of year I put together my first dried flower arrangement for the winter mantlepiece. This past summer was warm and sunny enough for the acanthus to send up spiky flower stalks above their architectural leaves, and, along with some beautiful pale blue mophead hydrangeas, I’ve managed to create an understated floral arrangement to suit the coming winter light.
It looks low-key, ripened nature gently fading away, but as the central heating comes on in the evening and the room warms up the seed pods on the acanthus burst with a cracking sound like a fairground rifle and I jump out of my skin. The very first time it happened I even dived for cover. The seeds are forcefully propelled out across the room – none have hit me yet – hence ‘Russian Roulette’ springs to mind. Now, each time it happens it makes me laugh as I crawl round the floor picking up the bits.
It has been a very mild autumnal day here in East Anglia with the thermometer on my sheltered terrace reading 22°C (72°F) at lunchtime. This mild spell has saved my sunflowers (they were planted out too late – my fault, I forgot them) and they are only now just in full bloom. But what inspiration? We can all see why a certain amazing Dutchman worked so hard to capture their intense yet fleeting vibrancy.
I lived in Holland for a short while and when friends and relatives came to stay I used to love to take them to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. I was so inspired I even had a go at copying his sunflowers and made a summer top from the finished silk.
Recently, I found the old top in a box in the loft and was struck by the change in my own style of working. But, I was also reminded of the admiration I had felt for Van Gogh as when you settle to copy a great work of art, even in a very small insignificant way, you notice more of the choices the master has made in creating the original work. Copying is a valuable tool for teaching.
Sometimes we witness a brief moment when there is an abundance of brilliant, ripened berries decorating the hedgerows before they are stripped by the birds preparing for winter.
Strumpshaw Fen is an RSPB Reserve just east of Norwich on the River Yare. This morning it was quite windy, but we still saw herons, ducks, swans, a couple of lazy pheasants and some dragonflies. I have seen a marsh harrier before on the Broads, but nothing so exciting this time.
Meanwhile, back at home, down the garden there are some autumn berries almost ripe enough for me to eat – my raspberries, Autumn Bliss, and safely behind some netting.
So few words capture such a melancholic sentiment – I bow to the brilliance of Robert Browning using autumn to deepen the overall sense of forlorn disappointment running through his poem, ‘Andrea del Sarto’. As for us mere mortals we can only observe nature’s steady familiar preparations for the coming winter and hopefully record tiny slices with our cameras.
It is also time to collect seeds. Salvia sclarea turkestanica will self-seed, but just in case we have a hard winter it always worth having some seeds to sow next spring and they are ready to collect now here in East Anglia.
Poppy seedlings pop up all over newly turned earth, but there’s no harm in helping nature along. So a gentle shake of the heads into a brown paper envelope or bag and you’ve got some seed for next year.