November: Light in the dark

I have always thought there is little redeeming about November in the UK. Grey, soggy, dark, mucky, damp and dreary. Ugh. Everything is mushy, everything has a film of dirt over it and by about three o’clock you’re needing to reach for the lights.

Meanwhile, in Australia, my absolute favourite month of the year is occurring. Bright, crisp and warm, yet mild, comfortable and beautiful. Jacaranda blooming along the streets, sunlight bouncing off the ocean and everything feeling full of hope and joy. Oh, the contrast.

And so we’ve (very sensibly, if I do say so myself) taken ourselves off to Australia for the last two Novembers. I’ve had an intoxicatingly wonderful week or two there, catching up with friends and family, reminding myself of the existence of that big yellow thing in the sky and generally feeling ridiculously spoilt to be there having fun, rather than here, wondering why on earth we ever came back.

But there was no trip to Australia on the cards this November. The month has mostly been taken up with conversations asking Paul if we can please, please, please visit again in November 2020!

And no question, however much I try and put my glass half full hat on, it’s not been England at its best these last few weeks.

That hasn’t, though, stopped me trying my best to view November through new eyes, spend time being in and appreciating my November garden for the very first time and searching for the good through the bad.

I discovered what I’ve been doing wrong all these years is looking down. Or even across. What I needed to be doing was looking up. 

Look up into the sky and the colours and patterns are like nothing you will see through the rest of the year. Bright autumnal reds, yellows and even Australian-looking ochres are everywhere you look; the part-dressed trees contrasting with the blue sky above, each and every individual leaf and branch so clearly defined and picked out against the backlight. 

On those rare days when the sun does appear, the light is incomparable. A soft, gentle, misty light which creates a romantic, hazy atmosphere, slowly seeping across the garden.

Even the sunsets seem to take on a more orangey hue than normal, as if every aspect of life has temporarily adopted the autumnal palette.

I was lucky enough to experience that perfect, soft, November light whilst exploring the Constable country site I’m working on, earlier this month. 

New project site on the Essex/Suffolk border on a wonderful November day!

It’s a dream project if ever there was one: passionate clients with ridiculously exquisite taste and a blank canvas framing the bones of natural water courses and stately trees. I even get to talk grass trees and Wollemi pines with my fellow Australian client, who drools at natives in tandem with me.

On days when the sun is hiding beyond the low, grey November fog, I’ve found the animals still inject life into our garden on the dullest of days. 

The deer enormously effective at cutting back the perennials as I gaze out of the window with a cup of tea warming my hands. 

And keeping me company as I collect windfall apples; I suddenly sense someone is watching me and look up to see a stag quietly looking on from behind the orchard gate.

The fox also seems to have decided that now is the time to show off his autumnal coat, showing his face much more regularly this month, as he prowls around, looking ridiculously stereotypically sly, incognito against the burnt autumn leaves.

And the ubiquitous sheep; our ever-present neighbours that welcome us home each day and fill the fields with life, animation and the soundtrack to our life here.

The only animals I have had a bone to pick with are the mosquitoes. Surely, surely it’s not fair game to be bitten on a cold and dreary, grey November day? Apparently, they hadn’t read the rule book and somehow worked their way through my five layers of clothing to continue their devourment of me, just a couple of weeks ago.

But overall, it’s been fun to properly experience our November garden for the very first time. And for once we are on top of the leaves this year, Paul having been out with his new (motorised, obviously) leaf rake, clearing the lawns to help them breathe.

Next year, I will remember to, again, take my eyes off the ground and look up at all the beauty around me. It’s always there in nature; if you want to see it, you will.

But if I’m honest, I’m not sad that tomorrow brings December, with all its twinkly, Christmassy happiness. November here will always be a bit of a struggle for me, but I’ll now go into November 2020 – hopefully around a trip down under – knowing that there is always light and wonder, even in the darkest of English times.

22 thoughts on “November: Light in the dark

  1. Barbara says:

    I am afraid that you will be happy that you missed this years November trip down under Janna. You had beautiful soft light of late autumn not the smoke over Sydney and most of the northeastern coast of NSW, heartache of the hundreds of hectares burnt, hurt animals, lost houses and lives. Hopefully next year it will be better and you will get your jacarandas, now in full bloom here, blue sky and sun in the near zenith. Keep well, enjoy northern winter.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Well, I think that’s well and truly told me! I’d obviously heard about the fires, but clearly I have lost touch with just how much it has affected Australians across the country, and therefore, presumably, just how bad they and the dryness have been. My six years in Australia seem to have been squeezed between two bad droughts, so perhaps I have a rosier view of the weather than I should. And whilst clearly climate change is a worry here, I think you feel it with even more apprehension than we do, which must add to the impact of these terrible events.

  2. Catherine says:

    Yes, Barbara describes the worry and despair of this Australian spring very well. Even on the usually lush South Coast of NSW our large trees are wilting, the paddocks are brown and the deep, nutrient-rich soils are cracking apart. The howling westerlies spread the fires and dry everything out even more. It’s heart-breaking.
    One good thing from the big dry is that our bird population has exploded with refugee flocks from the even drier interior. I just hope all these parrots can find something to eat and enough water in the chain of puddles that used to be our local creek.
    Interestingly the jacarandas flowered at the normal time but the Illawarra flame trees were several weeks early, so we lost that incredible zing of the purple and scarlet together.
    So, Janna, I’m envying your moist November darkness!

    • jannaschreier says:

      I don’t think I can quite imagine how it feels there at the moment. I think I was born to crave light and you were born to crave water. I know I enjoyed rain for the first time when I was in Canberra, but looking on from afar it feels like it’s a case of planting the right things for our drier soils, whereas clearly in the middle of it, it feels much, much, much bigger than that. Whilst I can relate to your desperation for rain, the idea of envying our ‘moist November darkness’ is still a little difficult to comprehend. So hard to get your head around the fact that we are both living on the same planet at the same time and yet it’s like a totally different universe.

  3. Adriana says:

    I was thinking along the lines of Barbara (above) too Janna. And oddly down here in the lovely Dandenong Ranges we are just emerging from the longest winter that ran all the way through spring, with the odd day of warmth here and there and months of lovely rain. First day of summer here and it’s still raining on and off. Haven’t had this much rain in decades. Wonderful for the garden and the opposite of our friends up north and also in the far east of Victoria. Years ago I made a general observation that women look down in the garden and men (usually) up (also the reason they don’t ‘see’ the weeds!). Ian sees things (up) and points them out to me, whilst I am busy looking at my lovely ground hugging plants. I also love that autumn (and often early spring) light – it casts such warm and sometimes quite surreal hues across the landscape, within the trees and on the ground. Now our house sits looking at the top of the trees in the garden, I appreciate it all the more. I hope you remember to look up, even as winter draws in Janna. Good luck with the new project too.

    • jannaschreier says:

      How strange that it is so wet there, whilst so much of Australia is in drought. But if there was one thing I did learn about the Australian weather, it’s that it is nothing if not extreme. Even in the milder years that I lived there, records seem to be broken each and every month. I’m happy for your garden being so well stocked up on water in preparation for the summer though. I hadn’t thought about the looking up thing as you articulate so well, but yes, we females of the species do tend to love the colour and flowers and men often like the greenery and vastness of shrubs and trees. Thank goodness we all have so many differences so that we complement each other so well. But yes, I will try and remember to keep looking up!!

      • Adriana says:

        Yes we have always suffered extremes in Australia – there is nothing new about it. I did some research recently into droughts and their length and which were the ‘worst’ and we still haven’t reached the impact of the worst droughts which were those in the early 1900s. The thing I also discovered, though, is that they are coming closer together, which gives country little chance to recover in between drought episodes. As a contrast our first day of summer yesterday (in southern Victoria) was 11 degrees and with near torrential rain – today I woke up to 8 degrees, grey skies and more rain. However with just two weeks of dry weather and the extreme rate of water evaporation from the soil (we encounter) in our summer heat, and it will be as if we never had rain at all.

        • jannaschreier says:

          Well, that is very interesting. I was just asking Paul last night whether extreme Australian weather was a new thing or not. He said it was! So I’ve put him straight. Although the happening closer together is probably what we notice more than anything, so he’s probably not completely wrong! It doesn’t sound very summery at the moment for you though. It’s so hard to analyse changes in weather, isn’t it, as averages mean very little and there are always lots of peaks and troughs which are the things we notice. And we are all so much more aware of it, given the heightened concern now, that it’s very hard to be completely objective.

  4. Deirdre says:

    As Barbara and Catherine have described so well, this November was an awful one. There is still no sign of any significant rain on the horizon and we are stepping up water restrictions in Sydney this month. Very hard, sad times here.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Sorry to hear that Deirdre. So hard, especially in Sydney, I think, where the climate is so in between for so many plant types and a bit of deviation from the norm can have huge impact. I hope you are managing to keep most things alive and that proper rains come soon.

  5. Louise says:

    I agree with the above about the dryness and fire prone Australia. It certainly has been warmer than usual in Canberra. We are told that next week will likely see above 40 on consecutive days. Can’t imagine what the middle of summer will bring. I struggle to keep the garden alive and feel somewhat guilty doing it. It has been devastating to hear about the communities suffering through fires. My son continues to work hard to protect communities in his role. I wander through my garden and give thanks for the plants that continually surprise me with their ability to adapt, even without significant rainfall. A good reminder to look up and not just down. Hope your new project brings you joy. Stay warm and hopeful.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Oh gosh, Louise. 40 is no fun at all. I don’t think I’d be coping very well in Canberra, either. And you must feel very close to the devastation, with Nick bringing home horrifying stories of the fires. Thank goodness for brave people like him. The only words of optimism I can share (bearing in mind what I said above about not really understanding what you are going through) is that the worry of plants not surviving always seems to be worse than the reality. They are such tough things and the odd losses often bring a silver lining of a new opening, viewpoint or opportunity to plant something better suited. I’ll try and stay warm and hopeful; if you promise to do cool and hopeful!!

      • Louise says:

        Yes Janna it is truly devastating for all involved. I give thanks for those who help in whatever way they can. The stories are heartbreaking but then I also hear such remarkable stories. Kindness towards others & teamwork & bravery. If this wind would just settle somewhat & give the fire fighters a chance to control some of the fires. I’d love to do cool (afraid this is only the beginning of a hot summer) but hopeful I always am.

  6. Barbara says:

    Oh dear, I am sorry I started on a Down under theme. I gues we are all a bit envious of the low light, gorgeous autumn colours in Janna’s award winning pictures. We all want what the other side of the world has but only the best not the floods, rain, snow blizzards and whatever winter brings. I just love Janna’s reports from her garden so keep them coming, please.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Don’t apologise; if you hadn’t started the theme, the next person would have! And I like being reminded about Australia, warts and all. I don’t want to grow too far apart from it, so am grateful to you all for keeping me in touch with my other wondrous land. I’m very touched by your compliments about my photos and your desire to keep reading; thank you! And you are so right, we all want what we can not have.

  7. Suzanne says:

    Gosh Janna, what a contrast of November reflections this post contains; I guess this is what climate change looks like! Like the Eastern States, our weather has been extreme, nothing like your reminiscences of Australian Novembers. Perth has just recorded our hottest ever November and our hottest spring – and relatively dry. We had a 40 degree day several weeks ago and Wednesday is forecast for 39.

    However, several years ago, after reading your blogs for the Marrakech Jardines, I decided no more complaining about my growing conditions. Extreme heat and limited water doesn’t mean I have to have a dry crispy garden: this gardener just has to get smarter…and I am! Certainly I don’t have any of your beautiful autumn colour, nothing to compare with your stunningly beautiful orchard and the garden certainly isn’t lush (although it has it’s occasional soggy moments) but it does have an Australian vibe which I find very satisfying. My eremophilas look fabulous as do the bougainvilleas and bignonia. Just before reading this post I was outside…looking up (so I don’t look at see carpets of dry eucalyptus leaves and bark that strong easterlies have strewn all over paths and plants) at solid blobs of pink and green, orangey-pink, pinky-orange, grey-blues, blue blue sky plus so many birds. None of your lovely tracery of leaves against pale blue or soft light, here it’s bold, brash and bright (glaringly). But this is what Perth is, it’s my little place in the world and I love it. Bring on December, I’m ready for it (although this could change very quickly)!

    Have a wonderful ‘twinkley’ Christmas Janna and think of us Down Under in sweltering heat, it may make you thankful for your English winter.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Oh Suzanne, you are an inspiration. I just love your ‘this gardener just has to get smarter’! What a fantastic attitude. It’s funny, I was watching a programme about gardens in Mexico last night and I absolutely adored all the cacti and succulents and just couldn’t imagine anything nicer. I hope you don’t quite end up there, but it just goes to show that what is lovely in one country isn’t really lovely in another. Greenness works so well here (Paul is quite indignant that having moved to the other side of the world, it’s really not on when our lawns brown off) and yet that emerald green palette looks so out of place in the drier parts of Australia. I guess climate does affect us psychologically in many ways and it certainly affects our plants, but perhaps if we are all smart like Suzanne we can actually use plants to boost our mental well-being and all survive whatever the weather brings! Stay safe everyone, keeping looking for those positives, up or down, and remember that however much stress our gardens bring us, the joy is so so so much greater!

  8. rusty duck says:

    It’s sobering isn’t it, reading the comments to your post. There will be no Australia for us this year either.. we seem to have spent any budget that might have been available on lime plaster and a greenhouse! I have been so saddened to read about the country I’ve come to love so much going up in flames.
    You’re so right, we always want the conditions we can’t have. But to have come through this November in England and still find some positives is quite something. It’s been the wettest and dreariest one for a good many years.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Oh, thank goodness for you, Jessica! Sobering, indeed, but at least you have come to my rescue to back me up on the fact that it isn’t a beautiful, calm, fertile utopia here either! We’ll both be a bit Australia-sick this winter then, but I think your incredible greenhouse is worth it. Is it finished now? I don’t think I’ve seen more than the brickwork. Perhaps I need to check my junk mail box? I do have serious greenhouse envy. Think how much dry gardening you’ll be able to do in there!!

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