The naked fleshy flowers for the magnolia have their fur jackets on, grey against the orange streetlights. The radio says minus six or so tonight. The greenhouse is shut down for the first time in nine months. The big fuchsia from Bolivia should have been shoehorned into the greenhouse last week; all this year’s three feet of green growth will have to come off.
It hasn’t rained since the walnut and sycamore that keep us in shade all summer dropped their leaves; they sift around on the dry paving. I’ve stuffed most of them into the Council’s blue bags; the rest are deep on the beds, slowly settling around stems of roses and the ever-taller Fuchsia magellanica from the lower reaches of the Andes, still carrying some little flowers. I’ll be bringing Fuchsia boliviana in from the cold; in fact I should have done it already, but it’s so long since we had serious frost that I’ve lost any sense of danger. There is no problem in moving this little tree; it has been in the same pot for nine years now, a heavy ornate Tuscan one it needs to balance its heavy head of annually lopped branches. For years they reliably carried their long scarlet tube-flowers all summer. Last summer it failed to flower: too long in the same pot? I shall top-dress it with manure in the spring. Meanwhile it just fits on the wall side of the green house where a potted plumbago has spent the summer.
The greenhouse benches are packed with pelargoniums. Its lucky I’m a leaf man, as their flowers have been scant this year. All the space between them is now taken up with little pots of bulbs, irises and crocuses – though I’m never sure if they’d be better left outside for a good soaking and chilling. Gardening is one long experiment: some are in, some out. The most exciting leaves on the benches are the shiny, nay gleaming, straps of Veltheimia capensis. They have hosta quality, in that to me the flowers, in their pink spikes, are of secondary interest. No other plant has such immaculate coachwork presence; you feel the chauffeur is lurking with his duster.