I love this time of year. Occasional frosts set the morning sparkling with light. There are still leaves hanging on to the trees and the ones that remain are the most colourful. The field-maple leaves on the ground smell sweet and catch slightly on the back of the throat; sometimes I'm not sure if I like it as it reminds me of the warning scent of sheild bugs. Recently a friend of mine who had grown up in Canada brought round some homemade pumpkin pie he'd been experimenting with the recipe for. It uses up a whole bottle of maple syrup which is the equivalent of 20 litres of maple sap or just under the average harvest from a single tree. He told me that he remembered maple syrup festivals where they pour freshly made syrup onto clean snow which instantly turns it into a toffee-like sweet. I'm hoping for some snow this year so I can try it!
In the garden I have left the stems of some plants standing (Aster novi-belgii, Crocosmia aurea) to add structure to borders and for insect habitat. Others are marvelous foils; the deep green leaves of Helleborus niger and bluish Euphorbia polychroma and the dark green leaves and small daisy-like flowers of Erigeron karvinskianus. The plants I have cut back are just the ones that looked decidedly shabby; Crocosmia 'Lucifer', Peonia and Melisa officionalis; all of which looked great for many weeks after flowering. I have lifted the dahlias and stored them in a wooden box of bone-dry woodchip in a cold garage.
The plants which are currently the stars of the show in my own garden are Cotinus coggeria, Euphorbia griffithii Fireglow, the humble Fuchsia magellanica and Clematis tangutica for the furry seed heads. The hedgerows are full of wild clematis seed heads, or 'old man's beard' (Clematis vitalba) which I like to bring indoors as part of my winter solstice display. (I bring bits of plants home almost every week; cuttings and dead-headings; my partner is often non-plussed..)
After the leaves have all dropped and been tidied away it will be time to excavate the compost heaps and see what I can use to mulch the shrubs and areas of the garden where the soil needs rejuvenating.