Snails, seeds and sodden leaves as the soil waits for frost

It’s a melancholy season, but there’s always something outside to brighten the spirits

Last of the summer leaves: the Treviso chicories gain more colour with each day.
Last of the summer leaves: the Treviso chicories gain more colour with each day. Photograph: Allan Jenkins
Last of the summer leaves: the Treviso chicories gain more colour with each day. Photograph: Allan Jenkins
Allan Jenkins

Last modified on Fri 18 Dec 2020 05.38 EST

Early November morning after another lockdown announcement. Mood: melancholy. My walk is coloured with rust and bronze-aged leaves, near-skeletal trees barely holding fractured orange hues. I crest the hill to the ember red of an acer, stand under it and bathe in its warmer light.

Even the gate seems saddened, dripping from perpetual rain, the sign fallen. The site is still gloomy, the scant hour saved earlier slipping away. The call of the dark and soil more urgent now. A wheelbarrow, near full with rainwater, reflects the Halloween trees shuddering in the slight wind.

It seems to have been wet here for a month or more. The occasional sun lacks drying strength, the wind weak. The plot is pooled; soil that in other years would have soaked it in appears now exhausted.

In search of cheer, I find a handful of late, blue Blauhilde beans. We will add them to our dinner tonight. The small wild Tuscan calendula has come into its own, flashing daisy-sized beacons. I deadhead the last tagetes, saving sodden seed. A few flowers bravely linger.

The plot is under snail siege, late salads limp, though the mizuna and other Japanese leaves are holding on. The chicories are colouring up. There are two styles of green-veined, deep-crimson ‘Treviso’, a flecked ‘Castelfranco’, Radicchio ‘Rosalba’, and some tall, spiked ‘Puntarelle’, all from Franchi seed.

I pick off greener outer leaves, wash them and chew at the bitterness. The American landcress is still small, but pleasingly hot. My eye is taken by the triumphant nasturtiums, in reds, yellows, spotted creams, with dew-dropped lily-pad leaves. Still rampant on pea towers, colonising other areas of the plot.

I yearn, though, for real winter cold, hardening soil, for the touch of frost.

Allan Jenkins’s Plot 29 (4th Estate, £9.99) is out now. Order a copy from guardianbookshop.com

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