Autumn in the garden

Happiness cannot be travelled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.

— Denis Waitley

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When the starry white blossoms of Sweet Autumn clematis appear I know that Thanksgiving is not far away.

There are other signs too; pumpkins turning orange, sparrows feeding on the sunflowers, bins full of apples and shops full of potted chrysanthemums. I used to grow a hedge of white chrysanthemums that became tinged with rose after the first frost and they were stunning in my autumn bouquets.

Sadly they got a blight and had to be removed but I still have some daisy-like pink ones and they are just about to bloom. Iím hoping they will be open in time for me to include them in my Thanksgiving decorations.

There are many preparations to be made for Thanksgiving but the most important one for me is to slow myself way down from the wild busyness of summer so that I can fully experience this most joyous celebration. I can feel myself reaching towards quiet while my mind continues to insist on making more lists.

I must ignore it if autumn is not to race by as quickly as summer did. There were wonderful moments and times of relaxation this summer but not nearly enough. No, not nearly enough and now summer’s gone and I am determined to “drag my feet to slow those circles down”.

Fortunately autumn is a tranquil time that encourages slowing down. When the light begins to fade well before suppertime I feel inclined to brew a pot of tea and take to my chair in the sunroom.

And in the cool mornings when the sun rises late and the birds are still sleeping I’m of a mind to stay in bed a little while longer and write in my journal. Even the plants in my garden have paused, as though they are holding their breath between the deep inhale of summer and the inevitable exhale towards winter.

I love that Thanksgiving is tucked into this season of ripeness and repose. It is a perfect time to fill the house with mellow scents of cinnamon, nutmeg and pumpkin sizzling in a shortcrust pastry and sage, onions, and roasting turkey.

Some of the traditions that are part of my Thanksgiving celebration have been passed to me from mother to daughter for many generations, which is common I think in many cultures. Certainly in my family it has been the women who cook the feasts, prepare the homes, and tell the stories to their children.

My grandmother, with whom I spent much of my childhood, emigrated from England in 1913 and brought with her the customs of her homeland plus the memories of her agrarian childhood in Suffolk.

She grew up in a tiny cottage in the equally tiny village of Uggeshall surrounded by acres of farmland.

Every year after the harvest was safely gathered in she would walk down the lane with her family and neighbours to attend the Harvest Home service in the 13th century church of St. Mary’s, as villagers had done for hundreds of years. And afterwards she would return home to help her mother prepare a sumptuous lunch of roast goose.

I substitute a turkey for her goose but follow her example of gathering from the garden and the countryside for my Thanksgiving festivities.

For the table-centre I would like a small bouquet of flowers so today I’ve come out to the garden in search of possibilities. There are lots of blue asters still blooming so I cut several stems and set them in the bucket of water I’ve brought with me.

The tiny white blossoms of clematis look wonderful next to the asters but I’m not sure whether they will last indoors. Optimistically I snip a few branches and add them to the bucket.

Next I find several small pale-yellow sunflowers which will need dipping in boiling water if they’re to last but I’ll make the extra effort for them as they will look fabulous in the bouquet.

Next I find some orange rose-hips dangling on the tips of the wild-rose bushes and decide they would make a lovely addition.

Finally I pick the few remaining marigolds from the row that edged the kitchen garden all summer.

I hold one up to my nose and breathe in it’s spicy musky scent then look closely at its complex beauty.

The ruffled petals are red, but not a pure apple red, rather maroon infused with gold and edged in gold with the underside and base of each petal a deep golden yellow. They grow in concentric circles with the centre a cluster of tiny golden petals that feel like velvet. They are miraculous.

Now as I set my grandmothers “Rosemary” china around my dining room table I remember all the Thanksgiving dinners of my childhood and whisper a prayer of love and gratitude.

I treasure the stories she told me of her more simplified time, of customs, values and community that have all but disappeared now.

I’m very grateful for that history to hold onto in this time of world-changing technological and social evolution that humanity has not experienced since the Renaissance.

I suspect that those who lived at the time of the Renaissance felt as exhausted by the endless change as I often do but I am blessed to live surrounded by the healing beauty of nature. When the world looks to be spinning completely out of control I can go out into my beloved garden and turn my focus towards what is within my realm of influence.

I can create a home that is welcoming to my family and friends. I can grow my own food so as to lighten my footprint on the earth. I can continue to believe that human inventiveness can produce solutions as well as problems.

I need not despair that the worst will happen because everything is possible. And living with possibilities allows me to have hope while facing deeply disturbing truths about the state of the world I find myself living in today.

At this season of giving thanks I am profoundly grateful to live where I do and here within the walls of my privet and yew hedges;

“I try to hold the courage of my ways

In that which might endure,

Daring to find a world in a lost world,

A little world, a little perfect world

With owlet vision in a blinding time.”

— Vita Sackville-West

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Audrey Anderson is an gardener, painter and author who resides in Naramata. This column appears periodically in The Herald.

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