September is a month of beginnings and endings. The beginning of the academic year, of both meteorological and astrological autumn and the end of summer; the equinox on 22nd of the month marking the second date in the year when the day and night are of equal length. From now, our daylight hours get shorter and the lines from a favourite poem by Emily Bronte are brought to life in my garden:
Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
The start of autumn is a reminder to pick the blackberries that grow in the hedgerows nearby. Folklore says that they must be picked before Michaelmas day, which in the modern calendar is 29th September. After this day they have been cursed by the devil, who was expelled from heaven on this date and landed in a blackberry bush. Anyone who has been “brambling” will know first-hand how thorny they are!
Blackberries or brambles? Growing up we always called them brambles and the connection between the activity and the name of the fruit evokes happy childhood memories of picking them on holiday in Cornwall. This was a dangerous activity on the narrow Cornwall roads, but worth it for the pie served later that day with clotted cream — both homemade by our family friend, farmer’s wife, Lily Colwill. These days, along with the damsons, I turn them into jam or gin. If I have any left after that I pop them into the freezer to make apple and blackberry cake later in the year. All are fragrant reminders of summer’s bounty. (see the recipe section)
Living in the countryside, I am lucky to have so much to forage for just a short walk from my doorstep — so no need to pick from the roadside and risk life and limb. Plus there is no traffic pollution, though it’s always advisable to pick above the height of a dog’s hind leg! As I walk down the track to my favourite bramble patch, the glowing chestnut conkers stipple the verges and a multitude of acorns crunch crisply underfoot. The squirrels squat nearby, waiting patiently for me to pass, so they can live up to their names and continue the accumulation of their winter hoards.
For them and me, there is a sense of urgency and time running out; for daylight, warmth and good gardening days. The harvest is almost over; the apples are gently plucked from the trees and the final picking of carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes is completed. Wrapping the green beans and courgettes in fleece will get me a few more weeks from them, though they make a strange apparition in the early evening light. The ghostly glimmer of the gossamer threads making it seem as though a spirit watches over the vegetable garden.
It’s almost time for the autumn “tidy-up” but I will wait until October. The annuals are still in bloom and the insects appreciate their presence as do I. Time enough in the short, darker days ahead to bring order before the winter slumber.