How quickly autumn leaps upon us. Just a few weeks ago, I was suggesting ways to stay cool and now here I am advocating a blanket on every chair and – like your dad – telling you to put on another sweater before you fiddle with the heating.
There’s lots of research to indicate that women feel the cold more than men, and there is only so much an extra sweater can do. For years, my husband and I debated when the correct time was to turn on the heating and we (he) settled on Nov 1, which happens to be our wedding anniversary, and don’t say he never gives me anything nice. Now I am smashing the patriarchy simply by turning it on when I’m cold and turning it off when I’m not. We don’t need a special day or a parade. She who controls the thermostat controls the world.
I love this time of year. It’s normally when I hunker down after a busy summer, and sharpen my pencils and my wits on all the holiday reading I never got around to because of lunches that went on too long, segueing into over-cocktailed evenings. But this year is different – no recovery from a frenzied summer required – though perhaps we need cosseting more than ever.
Let’s get a bit of housekeeping out of the way. Now is a good time to check gutters, get boilers serviced and have chimneys swept. Better to do it now before it gets really cold and any accidents are more costly and aggravating. Take all the obvious precautions with guttering, including getting someone to do it for you if you are physically or temperamentally ladder-averse. With boilers, make sure the engineer is on the Gas Safe Register, and check your chimney sweep is a member of the National Association of Chimney Sweeps. This is also a good time to test smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, treat them to fresh batteries and replace them if they’re more than 10 years old.
Make some time to go through your wardrobe and weed out anything that has seen its last summer. Clothes that are in good condition but you no longer love can go to the charity shop; the rest can go in textile recycling bins – check first, as some are still closed because of to Covid. Move your winter clothes to the front of the wardrobe (unless you are one of those lucky people who has room to put your summer clothes away). Check them for any necessary repairs so they are ready to wear at the first brisk wind.
Make sure, when all this is done, you make time to sit. Fatten a cushion, drape yourself in a soft blanket, light a candle (this time of year, I allow myself the luxe of Diptyque Feu de Bois – remind me to tell you soon how to eke out a posh candle for ages), and allow yourself to look forward. After months of intense anxiety, I can think of no more important act. For me, the simplest and most powerful way to do this is to plant something.
Right now is the perfect time to order bulbs for next spring. An evening spent with online or paper gardening catalogues is pure pleasure, and the kind of reading I can delight in even with my recently blunted concentration. I like Blom’s Bulbs and Farmer Gracy for tulips, hyacinths and daffodils, and WS Warmenhoven for alliums and amaryllis. Don’t forget to buy extra to grow in pots inside. In a few weeks, they will fill the house with beauty and scent, which is the very least we all deserve.
The garden chores you should do before the weather turns grim
I am not a big autumn garden tidier-upper. Now that we understand that leaving fallen leaves and seed heads in situ is kinder to wildlife, I am taking that excuse and sitting with it. But while we have fine days, it’s a good idea to do some of the garden maintenance that gets harder and more unpleasant as the days shorten and cool.
Clean spades, forks and other tools. I follow the idiot-proof instructions on rhs.org.uk. Or get someone to do it for you – try asking at your garden centre.
Clean the lawnmower and have it serviced if necessary.
Clean garden furniture, cushions and parasols, and make any repairs and titivations. This is so kind to your future self, who will not want to spend the first warm spring day of 2021 busy with wire brush and wood stain.
When all hope of an Indian summer is past, store furniture inside. If you can’t, cover them outside as best you can.
Do you have a question for Debora or a domestic tip to share? Email [email protected]