Mellow frenzy

Elderberries

Autumn has a sadness to it as days grow short and cold and vegetation dies all around us. Yet it has its own energy and pace; the dying plants are reproducing, new life lying in wait for the spring. Fruits and seeds feed us, feed other animals; more life arising out of death.

I have felt a childlike, secretive excitement this year, anticipating the colours and change of autumn, the season Lincolnshire has yet to show me. And as the days shorten, I feel the world racing towards the solstice, into that darkness from which we emerge into the light once more.

‘Mellow fruitfulness,’ said Keats in his Ode to Autumn. Yes, my autumns are full of fruit. But mellow? My autumns are a busy time, when I dream of jars and preserving pans.

Our new garden has just one apple tree, but the hedgerows are dripping with blackberries, elderberries, rowanberries, rosehips. And house after house has a table outside selling excess apples or plums for next to nothing.

Last autumn, sweating over chutneys in our Manchester kitchen, waiting for the house to sell, allotment produce heaped around me, I imagined this next one would be slower, quieter, with a pace like Keat’s lovely poem.

I hadn’t reckoned with the bounty of the English countryside. Once again I have been sweating, chopping, stirring: stuffing summer into bottles while partner makes wine out of everything.

Now we only have to eat it all up.

Sloes and rosehips

Summer is icumen in – at last…

Delicious roses

Well, I’m sorry about the spring we didn’t have, but glad that it’s summer now. Everything feels late and little – given that we are only starting out in this garden, but there are some things to get excited about.

There are delicious strawberries and rhubarb left by our kind predecessors; potatoes thriving on what was more or less a patch of rubble; lettuce improbably large for the tiny seed they come from; swiss chard coming along nicely; beetroot and turnips needing urgent weeding; squash plants romping over the lawn and two tiny courgettes not quite big enough to leave their mother…

And there are the most fragrant, beautiful, sweet roses, piles of which are about to turn into rhubarb and rose petal jam. Already I’m imagining it as dessert on some dreary cold day. That’s the magic we make with preserves, we bottle summer, make ourselves a memory and a promise it will come again, for when we are lost in depths of winter.

The sun was shining when I began to write and now I look out of the window and it is raining – hooray, the garden needs it!

Postscript: if I believed in heaven, it would smell like this jam…

Rose jam