It probably feels a little weird to you that I would say I’m currently preparing for Spring.
It’s true though.
I’ve got a few winter crops in, but other than that, I’m just doing nothing from now until next February that doesn’t involve preparation. It’s the best kind of paying-it-forward that I know. A little elbow grease now pays dividends next year. I’ve been digging over the used patches which are a little weed-infested, a little dry, a little uncared-for.
Digging is a very focused activity. You spend all your time focused on the ground in front of you, looking for weeds or seeds or vine weevils, volunteer potatoes and tomatoes, accidental peas. You could be anywhere.
Pruning is a little different. You’re not quite so focused. It’s not quite so labour-intensive. It gives much more time for contemplation. Then I can get my zen on. Digging’s just hard labour. Pruning, well, that’s much more uplifting.
Ironically, for these last days in August, it’s already autumn in my garden. The aspens are first to throw down their leaves. It’s funny to me that I get so attached to trees. I’m not sure why. I love my trees. I’d be a tree-hugger. Cutting them down, well, that’s tantamount to killing someone, in my little brain. Sometimes you need to do it – like tree euthanasia. Sometimes that tree is like a tyrant that’s taken over. Sometimes, it’s just past its best.
I don’t have a particular favourite. I have aspens, which I love because their leaves are just so divine. There’s nothing nicer than the wind through aspens – maybe the sea breaking on rocks, I guess (and the favourite sound of the nation, apparently) and I love that they’re called ‘shivers’ in France. Les Trembles. They’re the first to throw down their leaves and the floor is now littered with their detritus.
Then there’s the Indian Bean tree, which is the last to get leaves and among the first to throw them down. I love this because of its flowers, which are kind of orchid-y. The leaves are huge and heart-shaped, which I also love, and the tree is huge and high up.
Of course, blossom trees are my favourite, but they’re just all sitting quietly this year. It’s been a terrible year for fruit. The apples are non-existent, the cherries – well, there weren’t any. I have some peaches, but they’re small and I don’t know if they got enough water in August to make them grow. I have no plums. I’ve picked 3 kg pears today, and that’s it. Last year, I had 20 kg. I have some small quinces. No walnuts. The hazelnuts are okay, but the nut weevils have been doing a roaring trade. They just have to chalk the year up to a bad year and I hope that next year’s harvest is a better one! The cold winter, the quick warm-up, then the cold March-May meant that it was just about as bad as it could be for fruit production. Glad I don’t rely on fruit for a living!
But today, I’ve been hacking back the shrubs. If I learned anything from my mother, it’s that a hard prune never hurt anyone. In fact, you’ve got to cut away the dead wood if you want to see flowers next year. And you’ve got to cut back right to brown, bare branches, even if that means cutting off the remaining leaves. I could leave it until the leaves fall, but then it’s harder to tell where the dead wood is. I realised that there’s something been nesting at the bottom of one of my hedges – a great big flat spot. Whether it’s wild boar or just cats, I can’t tell. It’s too small to be César, but too big for cats, really. Judging by all the wild boar trails and poo around on our walks, there are an awful lot of wild boar about right now. Anyway, something’s got underneath the hedge and made a very nice floor nest behind all the branches. If it is a wild boar, it’s not very clever, because I have the dogs and the cat, so it can’t be a very restful place to spend the day.
But pruning is a lot like minimalist advice and de-clutter advice. Both kind of do the same thing. When you get down to it, you take back all the dead wood and all the branches that have gone off in the wrong direction, all the crooked, unhealthy and diseased wood. You cut back anything that’s stopping the healthy growth of other branches. You neaten it up. Sometimes, it’s a bit brutal and you wonder if it’s ever going to grow back, but it does, and it does so in abundance. Life is like that, and so is cutting out the dead wood from your life, whether it be jobs or habits or clutter. A simple life is never a bad one. Perhaps that’s why cleaning and pruning can be so therapeutic?