It’s Michaelmas today (September 29th), traditionally marking the end of harvest. At this time the number of animals kept over winter (and fodder needed to feed them) was worked out. It is also a day associated with the beginning of autumn.
It is with a touch of melancholy I must report, that, as I type this, the life-giving rain is gently falling from a leaden sky onto the garden.
I’m missing being out there. In years past, when recovering from bouts of a chronic illness, the garden has acted as a kind of decompression chamber between the bedroom and the outside world. The light and sunshine seem blissful after confinement indoors.
The earliest English gardens were planted by the occupying Romans. The Anglo-Saxons weren’t keen. After world war two a lawn with flowerbeds became a popular part of home ownership. Even the humblest surburban gardens can have a beauty, gentility and wisdom we could learn from. They cherish us as much as we cherish them..
The human love of gardens, the Encyclopedia Britannica claims, originates in “a primitive response to nature.” The first enclosure of outdoor spaces began in 10,000 BC in West Asia. Later, the healing nature of gardens was recognised by ancient Egyptians, who cultivated gardens from prehistoric times. They grew flowers as well as food. 16th century BC Egyptian tomb paintings depict lotus ponds surrounded by acacias and palm trees, suggesting shade from the intense heat.
This time of year is all about shade, though less welcome. It can feel like a winding down, a loss. In Greek mythology, autumn began when Persephone was kidnapped by Hades to be the Queen of the Underworld. Persephone’s mother, Demeter ( goddess of the harvest), caused all the crops on Earth to die until her daughter was allowed to return, marking spring.
Still, leaves ripen into extraordinary colours before they die and fall, and wild mushrooms flourish.
And the garden will flower again.
[In British folklore Old Michaelmas Day, 10th October, is the last day blackberries should be picked. It was on this day Lucifer was cast out of Heaven and fell into a blackberry bush, and stamped and spat on them, making them unfit for consumption.]
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