‘Margaret, are you grieving Over Goldengrove unleaving? Leaves, like the things of man, you With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?’
These are the first lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ 1880 poem, ‘Spring and Fall’. Margaret, a young girl, is sad because the leaves are falling from the trees. The title uses the US word ‘Fall’ instead of ‘Autumn’ to emphasise the fate of the leaves. I sympathise with Margaret. All those thousands of leaves, growing all summer long, just thrown away, leaving us bare, naked trees. How can nature be so callous? But that’s me, not Hopkins who was a Catholic priest and wouldn’t allow such things to be said about God’s seasons.
Hopkins was born in Stratford in 1844. There’s a Hopkins room in the library there, and outside the library a memorial stone, unveiled by Seamus Heaney in 1989 at the 100th anniversary of Hopkins’ death. And across the road, there’s the Goldengrove pub, its name taken from this poem.
But no matter what me or Margaret feel about it, the leaves of our deciduous trees have fallen. Even the silver birch, whose small leaves went from green to yellow, and finally brown before giving up. We have swept up most of the leaves, and picked out those hiding in the beds. Some have gone in the compost bin and some in a cubic yard bag, as we don’t want too many leaves in the compost as they are slow to break down.
Not all trees and shrubs lose their leaves in autumn. Most conifers don’t, though there are a few that do like the ginkgo and larch. The common larch has the species name Larix decidua, telling us in the name that it is deciduous. The needles turn yellow in autumn and then fall. If you happen to see a stand of conifers in winter, and some are bare – they will be the larch. We don’t have many conifers in the garden, though there’s a couple of dwarf ones near the container, a fir and a cypress, the latter with its characteristic scaly leaves.
Holly, another evergreen, is popular this time of year for wreaths and other decorations because of its shiny leaves and bright red berries. We associate it around Christmas with ivy which we have on the fence between us and the new estate. We often associate it with old houses and vicarages. Ivy does little harm to walls it grows up, as it doesn’t penetrate the brickwork. The tendrils stick to the surface to support the plant. If you follow the branches you’ll find it rooted in the ground.
We have quite a bit of privet in the garden; left over from when there was a house here. I find privet quite boring, but it is reliable because it’s an evergreen and can be pruned hard and still come back. It has white flowers and black berries, easy to miss. The name has the same root as privacy, as privet hedges historically, and still, make a garden, or part of it, private.
Another shrub which retains its leaves, which we have is Viburnum tinus. It has deep green leaves and blooms in winter with sprays of tiny white flowers at a time when we are short of flowers. There’s a couple of eleagnus at the back of the garden, another evergreen. It looks a little like privet but it has variegated leaves of yellow and green. It comes into its own these short days when most of the flowers are gone, and coloured foliage stands out.