Of one thing it is certain, John Keats, to whom the title of this piece belongs, may well have been many things – great Romantic poet, prolific letter writer and consumptive – but he was most definitely not a gardener. Had he needed to tend my own humble little patch of England’s Sward, his ‘Ode to Autumn’ would have had a very different feel…
My Dearest Fanny
I have spent the entire morning gently perspiring over my latest ode on account of having to wear thirteen layers of clothing due to the fact that three solid weeks of rain have ensured that I cannot set fire to the kindling in the grate without first dosing it in brandy which, of course, I cannot afford as I am a poor, impoverished poet etc etc and so forth. I am sick of this weather, my shortness of breath and the constant hunger that grips at my very soul. I would sally forth and collect some of the abundance of mother Earth’s autumnal bounty – apples, pears and other assorted seasonal fruits – but due to this incessant bloody fog I keep walking into trees.
Next door’s cat hath not been put off its daily business by the seasonal deluge and has, indeed, left remarkably weather-resistant parcels of the stuff wherever I happen to put my fingers in the flower beds. Mine fingers are designed for the purposes of creating great art and I should not need to keep scraping under the nails each time I settle to write. I do not know what they are feeding the bloody thing, but I note that the mangy dog they used to keep chained by the door has disappeared of late. It is sad, for I oft felt at one with the animal which seemed to be increasingly wearied by its lack of fur, its diet of rat and the fact that it couldn’t raise a paw without wheezing. Had I, myself, owned more than the clothes I cough up in, I would have offered him some solace. As it was, I was instead forced to give him a sharp kick every now and then due to his ceaseless night-time barking and his tendency to seep into neighbouring properties..
Unwell as I am, I have been drawn into the garden owing to the fact that the lawn hath taken on the proportions of pampas plains during this month of rain and may well be harbouring herds of large game animals, or moles of similar size. I tried to mow it but one of the titchy wheels on the mower has seized, so I just went round and round in circles for twenty minutes before falling to the ground, spent and hungry. I was sorely tempted by some of the berries that hang full, ripe and juicy from the bush near the cess-pit, but I remembered the last time I tried them when I woke up naked in a Mexican barber’s chair, next to a man with half a moustache and decided, instead, to avail myself of the mushrooms that grow so readily around the old oak tree stump. In the five days that have since disappeared, the lawn has grown longer and something has eaten my trousers.
Around me, everything that was once green and vibrant is now brown and limp – except for the bits that are spiky. I do not recall it being a feature of my planting scheme that everything within this garden should have such potential to cause harm. There is nothing I must prune that does not have the capacity to pierce me from at least three feet away. Besides, the secateurs are rusted solid, having been left under hedgerow last September, and I have been forced to trim such foliage as I am able with the nail scissors. The rest of it I have taken to battering back with a spade, during the course of which I think I might have located next door’s dog.
My spirits were greatly lifted by a short time spent dead-heading the plants that grow along my garden borders. The colours – a million luscious shades of dead – are so inspiring. I will try to write something about it, as soon as I have thought of a rhyme for mildew. I have attempted to lift a number of precious bulbs and rhizomes that they may be stored safely over the winter, but as most of them have already taken on the appearance and odour of one of the cat’s little piles, I am not holding my breath. (Not with my chest, I’m not!) Besides, the shed in which I would normally over-winter them appears to have been partly digested by a rat colony of such size that I was forced to try and drive it out with sulphur candles. The man next door was most understanding about the consequent conflagration involving his own shed, pig-pen and bedroom and stopped punching me as soon as exhaustion set in. The rats have now taken up residence in the compost heap which, since the rains, occupies approximately four acres and twenty six kitchens.
As usual at this time of year, my gutters have become blocked with falling leaves and as the woodworm have taken out all but three of the rungs on my ladder I have been forced to stand on an upturned bucket and push the foliage out with a broom handle. I am sure that, given the state of it, it will soon decompose and stop blocking the downpipe where it is currently stuck. Mind you, it is at least currently holding the roof tiles up. I will attempt to mend the wall as soon as I get the splint off my leg.
As I compose this letter the sun has started to set over the bright western horizon and my autumnal garden looks truly wonderful. The colours are quite staggering – the bright red stain where my head connected with the window sill being particularly vivid – and the smells issuing forth from the flora that surrounds me produces a lump in my throat – which is just as well, because it keeps the content of my stomach down. I cannot wait for the pitch blackness of autumn night when my garden looks just as good as everybody else’s.
I am yours, as ever