Derek – Thursday 18th October

I am surprised how busy we are this afternoon as it’s on the chilly side, 16ºC. pleasant in the sun but parky when the sun is in the clouds, which it is about half the time. We have a visit by eight medical students from QMC. They are very young, like six formers, which is what they were very recently as they have just begun their course. Steve tells them about the garden and how it’s good for mental health, which we, as volunteers, appreciate. Loneliness is on the increase, and is a major factor in mental illness. Ways of getting getting out of the house and meeting people are so important, better still working with others. Cuts in Council services means fewer possibilities which is why we hope the garden can continue for a few years yet. It is an oasis in what can be a lonely city.

Later on, mothers and toddlers came in spite of the chill. The mothers are obviously pleased to see each other, and the kids have a good run around, while we make sure the child gates are securely closed. And keep an eye on them as people leaves, to make sure they are closed after them.

Purple toadflax is in flower in the middle of the garden in a raised bed, a long stayer, alongside gorgeous rosettes of deep red chrysanthemums. A flurry of them, showing off on this late October day. There are bees amongst them. They must be getting desperate for nectar, travelling further and further afield. There must come a point when it is simply not worth the energy expended.

There’s not much else in flower. The michaelmas daisies have mostly withered, though in the small wild flower bed there’s hedge mustard with its tiny yellow flowers, and Californian poppies which last so much longer than our red ones, which only flower for a day or two, but they do leave you with attractive seed heads, full of poppyseeds.

We’ve had a lot of rain in the last week, it has topped up the pond. There’s little movement in it, cold blooded creatures are sluggish in autumn. Near the back of the pond, honeysuckle flowers on somewhat raggedly, but the Japanese anemone is tougher, somewhat like the toddlers running about without complaint on this less than warm afternoon.

Last year, we had lots of honey fungus growing out of the foot of the posts round the back stage. This year there are none. That puzzles me as you would think they would have released plenty of spores, all set to go in autumn. In fact, I see few fungi about the garden.

The leaves are falling from the trees. We will be sweeping them up for next month. The one I almost miss is the cherry trees at the front of garden by the fence. Its leaves are falling quickly which makes them less noticeable. It is on the ground that I see the phenomenal colour of individual leaves. On one, there’s red, yellow, green and brown. I marvel at such a gorgeous abstract.

The leaf in the summer is packed with green chlorophyll, necessary for photosynthesis. It is continually produced over these months. In autumn, a corky layer in the leaf stem builds up which blocks off nutrients from the tree. The chlorophyll cells, chloroplasts, die, the green colour goes and out comes the yellow which has always been there but has been blocked by the green. At the same time, in some trees, anthocyanin pigments form which gives the red colouration.

There are several theories given for autumn colour. One is that the colour helps the tree absorb the nutrients from the leaves before they fall. Another is that the colour detracts predators, such as aphids, from wintering in the tree. We can be sure it is not done for us, but let’s enjoy the autumn palette while it’s with us.

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