The Why and the Wherefore: Autumn

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"In my end is my beginning." A perfect epitaph for summer, and the real epitaph of TS Eliot, whose words made their first appearance at the end of his poem ‘East Coker’. With the shortening of days there is a feeling of loss but really, autumn is not the end, or even the beginning of the end. For some people it is the most glorious time of the whole year.

I love the blowsy abundance of vegetables from hotter places, like beans and corn and curcubits. Marrows and gourds are mammoth.

The hedgerows are heaving with good free things and the pinkest, purplest, orangest flowers wait until the end to give us their best. It looks as though the garden is relaxing. But is it? Organised gardeners follow TS Eliot's line of thought as they focus on beginnings, ie next spring. They think ahead and collect seed. They sow now, for bigger, earlier plants. Tomatoes and cucumbers may be nice and juicy but they are also full of seeds. A few must be kept back.

And by the way, the garden isn't relaxing. The diminishing temperature and light levels are signals for plants to die back but they do not do it without a fight. My scientific friend Peter explains: "When it begins to die a plant produces the chemical hormone ethylene." He finds an old-ish banana to illustrate this.

“The ethylene gas emitted from bananas is particularly strong." The gas is tangible. If you move a plant and forget to water it, desperate-looking flowers may quickly follow. This is because the plant is under stress and it is emitting ethylene, while preparing itself for the worst. Seed production is absolutely key, particularly when a plant begins the process of dying.

"As plants madly produce fruit they are trying to save genetic material for their progeny," concludes Peter. In my end is my beginning. Or, if you start at the beginning of the poem, "In my beginning is my end." And so it goes, ad infinitum.

Thanks for reading!