I took half an hour from the time writing my paper this week to sweep some leaves from my neighbour's "miniature" twisted willow tree and drop them into the compost bin. All the gardening books and shows recommend the making of leaf mould, but I have too small a garden to do anything which involves having black plastic bags hanging around getting smelly in a corner. So instead I sweep up the leaves, chuck them in a trug, drop enough in to the compost to provide a brown layer and then scatter the rest on the flowerbeds for the worms, extra thick layers over the softies (a begonia I can't be bothered to dig up, my fancy schmantzy tulips, anything else I can remember) and then usually get bored and dump the rest in a corner (the worms will come out and find the leaves - link to a lovely BBC timelapse video of worms gathering leaves). It's like making leaf mould, but without the stinky black bag stage. Me and the worms take it straight to humus and compost, without the faffing. Repeat as our long, slow autumn drops more and more leaves on the patio, and the garden becomes increasingly brown and ragged.
It's a complicated time of the year for me. On one hand the dead, dull, sere, dead, withering plant is as much the plant as it in full leaf or full flower. But while a slick of frost on blackened foliage and empty seedheads is undeniably pretty, piles of slimy flopped stems (I'm looking at you, geraniums) with the odd evergreen made extra rambunctious by the cosy mess around its roots is a look that's harder to love.
But I am persevering. The satisfying tidiness of a bed cleared down to neat brown rich soil appeals to the tidy human mind that sees seeds, potential, prettiness, order ... but it's not going to appeal to my hibernating ladybirds, busy blackbirds or precious worms. By spring the garden will have absorbed the slime and recycled the stems. The soil will be the richer for the dead things left on it, shedding seeds and nutrients into y improving clay. And in spring the tulips will rise, each one whispering: I am re-begot/Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.
yea plants, yea stones detest, And love - John Donne, A Nocturnal upon St Lucy's Day