"Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower,” wrote the French philosopher Albert Camus.
And there spoke a man who lived in Bordeaux rather than Bilston.
Maybe in the winding roads around the vineyards of Gascony, autumn is indeed a refreshing, idyllic period on the calendar. But on a rain-lashed afternoon in Wolverhampton, it does tend to lose some of its appeal.
Autumn, which officially began this week with the September equinox, is a truly dismal time of year. It marks the start of a slow but steady period of decline, where every morning gets colder, every day gets shorter, and all there is to look forward to is the icy chill of the forthcoming winter. Autumn sucks, save for one redeeming feature. It marks the start of the time of year when I can confidently give up any pretence of competence at gardening. I hate gardening.
Michael Pollan once observed that ‘a lawn is nature under totalitarian rule’. If that really were true, I would be Kim Jong Un. But sadly, all my attempts at horticultural Stalinism are met with popular uprising, usually from representatives of the dissident dandelion and blackberry communities.
Now, if ever there were a prize at the Chelsea Flower Show for the best display of blackberries, it would be a different story entirely. Or buttercups. Or those strange, spindly purple flowers that keep springing up in the border.
Blackberries are the real bain, though. You can pull them out by the roots, dig deep around where they have grown, turning over the flowerbed to eradicate any trace of their being. And then two weeks later, the blighters are back, raising their ugly heads through the soil. How does that happen? The things are flipping invincible. When Darwin wrote about his theory of natural selection, the survival of the fittest and all that, little did he know that it would be in the form of an unsightly species of vegetation with hideous bottle-green leaves and thorns like razor blades.
Of course, to be an effective totalitarian leader, the old adage of knowing your enemy comes in handy, and therein lies another problem.
If you can’t tell a Japanese knotweed from a juniper, how do you know which species to nurture, and which ones to obliterate? Imagine my dismay when I discovered that the flower I had lovingly watered for weeks on end turned out to be one of the garden’s parasites.
It doesn’t help, of course, when the flowers that you plant in the spring end up looking like weeds the moment the sun puts in an appearance. The purple, daisy-like flowers I carefully cultivated from seeds in a tray on the windowledge now look like something from the Day of the Triffids, all stalky and rangey, and intent on world domination.
Then, a few weeks ago in a shop I thought I saw the answer. Artificial turf. Imagine that, a perfect lawn all year round. Never having to worry about moss, buttercups or dandelions again, never needing to mow the grass. Just yard after yard of vibrant, lush green plastic.
If only. The thing is, in order to lay artificial turf, you need a nice level base. Ideally with a layer of crushed stone, to improve drainage, and then an inch of sand, compressed with a whacker plate to ensure no unsightly bulges. Lumps, bumps and eight-inch tree roots? Forget it. In order to create a foolproof, maintenance-free garden, it seems you actually need to be half decent at gardening in the first place. Which kind of defeats the object. And besides, I’m not convinced those silk begonias are going to survive the winter.
Still let’s look on the bright side. There is at least one horticultural triumph in the garden at the moment.
Albert Camus’s ‘autumn flowers’ are coming on a treat.