September: Autumn draws in

In this new world of all things Instagram, I’ve become a little jaded with photography. I feel we’ve had photography overload: everyone taking the same style of photo of the same types of things, all designed to make something look better than it really is: more beautiful, more fun, more adventurous than reality. It’s all a bit fake, a bit stylised and really somewhat clichéd.

Rudbeckia bring autumn cheer

But I’ve also realised that the act of taking photographs is an enormously powerful thing. As I’ve focussed this year on capturing the garden in pictures, I find it very hard to believe I would have been able to see and understand it in the same light and to the same depth without a lens in front of me.

The spiders are having a field day right now, with cobwebs seemingly springing up between every available surface. And with your eyes, you can see the beautiful, intricate pattern of spun thread and think what a marvellous feat of wonder it is. But I seem to find it hard to really slow myself down and take the time to truly appreciate a cobweb, if I don’t have something holding my feet to the ground.

Without a camera, it’s all too easy to be distracted; to see something beyond or to feel pressure to ‘get on’ and pick up that fallen stick or freshly germinated weed. Once you are behind that lens, everything else disappears. It’s just you and the cobweb. You look at it from every angle, you look at it in different lights, you focus the lens on the very centre and then bring it back out to its full glory.

The camera means you spend time with your cobweb. You see a whole other level of detail, almost forming a bond with it, and then you capture it and take it away with you to keep forever, comforted by the fact it’s still there, unharmed and continuing its precious, short life.

With my camera I try to capture the Stipa and Agastache in the top border; both beautiful, healthy, perfectly complementary specimens. But I can’t quite find the right composition for the frame. They need to mingle more, there needs to be more height on either side of both plants. I make a mental note of how to tweak the planting once the wetter weather arrives.

Calamagrostis brachytricha flowers

At the end of September, it certainly feels as though autumn has arrived: all the muted, beige tones developing in the garden. And whilst I’m a fresh, lush, spring girl through and through, I seem to be gaining a new love for autumn that I’ve not experienced before. 

Rosa ‘Buff Beauty’ still flowering: one of my favourites

Autumn has always been a time of dread for me. Of short, cold, dark days drawing in and of bare silhouettes: so much in decline whilst we wait out the long old winter for some signs of life again.

Everything’s a bit messy now…
…but look closely and it’s still as beautiful as ever

My camera has helped me connect spring to autumn. To see the graceful decline of that lush growth as all part of its cycle, of its well-deserved rest after putting its life and soul into blossoming all season. I’m not looking out with critical eyes this autumn; I see those same leaves, that I loved in spring and that have given so much, mellowing with age, preparing to sleep after an exuberant summer, getting ready to burst forth again with even more vigour than ever.

Whilst the plants are receding back into their warm roots, the wildlife seems to be stepping up a gear. Feeding, feeding, feeding, in readiness for the sparseness of winter. 

I’ve had a few moments when I’ve been close to getting cross with the badgers, moles and deer, but they have a funny old way of redeeming themselves just as they approach that very fine line between love and hate.

Rabbits don’t necessarily show great reverence for a fine lawn, either!

The realisation that the moles are creating wonderful seed beds amongst the strong grass in the meadow, within which new flowers will thrive with reduced competition. 

Each year, we get just one pear to share: always very tasty though!

The badger may be digging up the lawn as he munches through the beautiful crocus bulbs I diligently planted last year, but with even more singlemindedness, I find him digging out the dandelion roots that were on my ‘must do, don’t want to do’ gardening list.

We missed all sorts in the garden whilst in beautiful Tuscany for a few days this month
Although we did manage to visit the incredible La Foce garden, whilst there!

And our graceful family of roe deer, who so enliven the garden, whilst eating every last flower of Lythrum whilst we were away, have also developed a very keen palette for ground elder. Yes, ground elder. They are eating me out of house and home.

Colchicum happily spring from the lawn, just when you least expect it

When we moved in, we had so much ground elder I didn’t notice if it was nibbled. But now I’ve cleared the vast majority, it’s a different story. I recently went out to remove one last section of it in the orchard, only to find no ground elder. Not one leaf. I might have thought I was losing it, but no, there were the stumps, all neatly nibbled and leaf-free. 

Nothing else around the ground elder had been touched. Geraniums, ferns and Sarcococca, all completely intact. Ground elder is clearly the delicacy of delicacies. And if I can just keep it to a manageable level, it seems they’ll help finish the job off. I know from experience, that if they nibble regularly enough, just like a lawn mower, it will eventually kill the plant off. 

It looks like we may have plenty more dragonflies in the garden next year too

And so, despite the odd moments of despair and destruction, we continue to live in relative balance and harmony with the animals. We’re glad they choose to call this their home too.

For the time, at least. Having visited Tom Stuart Smith’s garden earlier this month, my Plants-I-want list has got considerably longer and now the rains have commenced, I’m going to be planting like mad for the next few weeks. 

Our house has been full of billowing Cosmos and our salads of Nasturtium all summer, thanks to Paul’s new cutting garden efforts

There will surely be more words to be had with the animals, but my goodness, they’ve worked out how to handle me.

And in the meantime, I’ll keep clicking, both the plants and the animals. I may not be overly fond of Instagram, but it’s true to say that the basis for it can certainly bring enormous joy.

And just perhaps, focusing on the most beautiful, most fun and most adventurous aspects of our lives is no bad thing. If it brings us pleasure, educates us and leaves us feeling uplifted, how on earth can that be something not to embrace?

I’ll leave you with some photos of Tom Stuart Smith’s garden. Firstly, I definitely need a prairie now!
Tom’s original garden around the house is pretty special too
As are the newest plantings…it’s all just unbelievably exquisite
I almost lost Mum in the Verbena there – so lovely to spend a morning in our element together!

6 thoughts on “September: Autumn draws in

  1. Pat Webster says:

    Janna, I’ve very glad to read your thoughts on the value of cameras in gardens. I give a talk about garden visiting — how to see what’s really there — and one section of the talk emphasizes how helpful cameras can be. Not only do cameras slow you down and force (allow?) you to see more carefully, the resulting photographs can help you to identify large and small problems that need to be corrected. I sometimes view my photos in black and white, or even flip them horizontally to see things with fresher eyes.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Hi Pat. Your talk sounds fascinating: how interesting to look at different ways to really ‘look’ at a garden. I, too, am always amazed at how a 2D photo makes you see things differently, compared to the 3D version. Usually in a horrifying way, when it’s your own garden! But a camera is definitely a good educational tool, amongst other merits, isn’t it? And us gardeners are always on a quest to learn more.

  2. Adriana Fraser says:

    I love autum, in spite of the ‘long dry’ autumn now brings to us here. The garden usually looks a bit tatty and the grass has long succumbed to the summer heat, but the long autumn shadows, the brilliancy of the leaves and the milder, yet still warm weather, makes up for it. The roses are more colourful and have fewer pests, weeds have long given up the ghost and all in all life is pretty good in autumn. You do need talent though, to take photos as good as yours Janna, they capture the very essence of nature. I try but mine are never that great, Ian aims his phone at something and it turns out wonderful! What a gift your garden is to you.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Paul thinks our garden looks very Australian for much of the year – each year the grass turns straw-coloured, which isn’t something you normally associate with the UK. But very sandy soil and a few hot summers and it doesn’t take much. But isn’t grass amazing, how it greens up again? Ours has transformed itself in just the last week. It must be hard if you are waiting longer and longer for the rains to come each autumn/winter, though. I so love rain now. We’ve still got the leaf colour to look forward to, although most of our roses are the old-fashioned type that only flower once, but you might need to have a talking to our weeds, which never stop! Thanks for the very kind comments on my photos – still lots to learn but hopefully practice will make perfect eventually!

  3. Louise says:

    Lovely to read of your garden while sitting with my mum while she is in hospital. I always love looking at your photos. Yes I agree we often don’t really take the time to look intricately at the beauty before us. In my garden, I am watching the peonies rise from the soil. So much excitement remembering what lies beneath the surface. I also enjoy the transformation from season to season. Although I am not looking forward to hot dry summer ahead here in Australia. By the way, Nick has secured himself a job as a Rural Fire fighter, so proud! Looks as though he will be extremely busy this fire season.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Oh, gosh, I completely missed this message. Sorry, Louise. What a lot is going on in your world. Firstly, I do hope your mum is OK and out of hospital now. And yes, quite right that you should be feeling extremely proud of Nick. How wonderful that he is following in his father’s footsteps by carrying out another absolutely essential role in the community. I hope he gets to spend plenty of time out in nature whilst he trains. Back in your garden, peonies rising from the soil has to be one of the biggest wonders of all, doesn’t it? There’s just something about them. Do hope your summer isn’t too fierce this year such that you and your plants can enjoy it without too much stress.

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