Even though the most beautiful days of the year are the first eight in November, October is pretty splendid itself, and the gardener should enjoy it. Should enjoy every month, every week, for that matter, and not pay any attention to those "helpful" folk who say that now you must do this, now you must do that.
There's no point doing anything at all if the garden is not the most agreeable and fulfilling thing in life. If it's not a daily wonder (to the gardener alone, of course) why bother?
Recently I installed a new screen door, mortising for the hinges and so on, and it fits like a dream. This project, begun in May, has naturally taken most of my time, along with painting the porch floor. So a few things have perhaps gone undone.
But just this morning I peered out the bedroom window and saw things in my own poor cat-run of a garden that struck me as pretty glorious. Often, as you may know, the gardener may need to climb to the roof or hunch beneath a holly bush or assume some other unusual point of view in order to see the greatest beauty of his garden.
I saw, just today, the pyramidal top of my home-built summer house, clothed with that wild Japanese clematis that blooms in our alleys -- now in seed, and as ornamental as when in September bloom. Beyond it, running into it on one side, is the 100-square-foot raised pool, with eight large blue tropical waterlilies open, along with a few pink and yellow miniature hardy kinds, and scarlet fish moving lazily among them.
To one side of the pool are a couple of horse troughs, iron painted black and covered solid with vines (clipped to keep them from sprawling into the tanks), and a few pale yellow waterlilies in them, and just beyond is the brick walk I laid almost the day I moved into the place. Along this walk you see a half-rotting whiskey barrel overflowing with a gray artemisia or dusty miller, touched here and there with bright blooms of the cardinal creeper, then after a space another tub, meant to hold purple-leaf cannas (but they froze to death) filled with what is supposed to be wild nasturtiums from the Andes, but which look like regular nasturtiums to me.
Just beyond this is a double metal arch about eight feet high, sufaced in dull light green. On one side is a big old magenta rugosa rose, kept clipped back to keep it from intruding through the wall of the arch, which is covered with Clematis venosa violacea, a spring-blooming modest vine with small lavender blooms with big white centers. On the other side is an old white rambler rose, 'Seagull,' which nobody ever dreamed of planting except me. (And now I am much gratified to see this old bird is coming up in the world and is to be found in some very fancy gardens, indeed.)
Flinging over the arch (because I did not get out there to whack it back in July) is a mass of the fleece vine (Polygonum aubertii) now in full flower, and on a stout wooden post (formerly stout, now leaning somewhat) a particularly fine form of what I think is Actinidia arguta. This vine does nothing much but have five-inch leaves, every 12th one being snow white. In the several years since I rooted it from a very soft cutting, it has grown steadily, but it is only after a few years that the spectacular white leaves appear. Next year they will be better and the year after, better still. Or so it says, here in my head.
Opposite this vine and just behind the arch with the roses is an upright yew that I moved there 14 years ago. A wild grape has flung an arm over it, the grape not having been discouraged at my earlier efforts to kill it. It must be got out, but at the moment is pretty enough.
That's about all you see, except beyond my fence in the distance you see a tremendous old star magnolia, as fine as I have ever seen and about 20 feet high and wide, and a splendid old Japanese maple, and in the distance (where I can enjoy them without their roots bothering me) the old oaks and locusts and black walnuts of my neighbors.
The garden walk goes on for another hundred feet or so, but you can't see it from the angle I have been speaking of. The walk really looks splendid when you aren't too close to it, though a good bit of donkey work is involved keeping it clear of dog ordure. They have been so terrified about voiding in the garden among the plants they have taken to the walk. For some reason they do not like to go 120 feet to the back as I mean for them to do. I do not want to be clinical here but may say that many of the gardener's sensible arrangements are not followed either by dogs or by the plants. They have their own ways.
Gerard Hopkins once spoke of there being "the dearest freshness, deep down things," and that is true, but it can be put another way, that dogs and plants are equally pigheaded in resisting the gardener's wise and elegant schemes.
The critical thing in this view is simply variation in texture, in height, in mass and open mirror of the water, and most of all the way in which the light hits the various things. Without lifting a finger to help, the gardener is rewarded by the difference in light on the yew, on the water, on the rose brick, on all the modest plants.
It is true, to an extent no beginning gardener will believe, that the beautiful effects of the garden are those of light falling on wonderful masses and details that come by luck, just in the nature of things. How often in great gardens of England and Wales I have heard people marvel at various incredible beauties -- plants placed precisely right. When I know for a fact the plants were stuck in any which way, and over the years other things were chopped down until at last the result seems to have been planned by a god.
All you do is plant wonderful things -- not necessarily rare things -- and wait awhile and see what grows and what doesn't, and then just let the light fall, and it will be perfect. Though of course you have to look out the window just so, in just a certain direction, at just the right time of da