My Garden Notebook: October to December

By: Thenie Pearsall

[[ED note:  this is a pseudonym for Caroline Stone, second wife of George Waters.  SFgate obit in link]]…

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Our diarist concludes a year’s worth of excerpts from her garden notebook with observations on the waning months.

October

Last October I came home from a trip and noticed a large golden fruit hanging on my Bartlett pear tree. Several years ago, the original tree began to be crowded with new shoots growing directly from the roots; I knew I should cut them out but did not, because the tree was never robust, and the new growth was healthy and good looking. I called the nursery it came from and asked if the pear might have been grafted onto quince stock, and they told me (reluctantly; perhaps they thought I’d be unhappy) that it was. So, for a good long time, I have been nourishing a quince without knowing it; judging by the number of lovely, large pink blossoms on it in May, it should have a crop in another month that will be worth doing something with. It will also be a fine inspiration for the tree I acquired from the Men’s Garden Club’s sale, a fifty-cent bargain of a few years ago, which has yet to flower. I love quince in all its forms: quince jelly, stewed quince, and membrillo, that beautiful confection in which reduction through long cooking intensifies the flavor and which is such a good companion to cheese on a dessert tray. The quince is thought by some scholars to be a candidate for the fruit that grew on the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; that seems unlikely, unless our biblical ancestors had teeth much stronger than those of modern man. But perhaps, too, quince were softer in ancient times.

November

Blessings on our little fox, who never left but only shifted his base of operations across the driveway, where perhaps he’ll develop a taste for gophers and stop their steady advance through the rest of the garden. I worry that he may be taking some quail, too—but they must fight their own battles.

Common quince (Cydonia oblonga ‘Smyrna’), nearly ready for harvesting. Photograph by Saxon Holt

Common quince (Cydonia oblonga ‘Smyrna’), nearly ready for harvesting. Photograph by Saxon Holt

December

Through this windy and rainy autumn I’ve been picking up leaves when I go for walks, and pressing the best of them to save. Experience tells me that their color will not remain fresh, but that some are better than others. Today, a tray on a nearby table holds an assortment of fir twigs—in observation of the Christmas season—and hawthorn berries, some unknown leaves, sturdy and deeply veined, exactly the same color as the berries, and some puffy seed pods from Clematis tangutica. The best leaf this season is one that blew from somewhere else and landed in my driveway. It’s maple-shaped, three-lobed, seven inches across, probably Acer macrophylum; pale green, with slight rust shadings here and there. The nearest big-leafed maple I can think of is a quarter-mile away, so it was a strong wind that brought it to my driveway. It was so beautiful that I put it in a small empty drawer in the roll-top desk, where it has kept its color and shape nicely. I usually put them between paper towels, and then between sheets of newspaper, and then under a rug somewhere. For those with tacked-down carpets that method isn’t possible, but heavy reference books can be used instead, the problem being that a shower of leaves and petals is apt to fall on the next person looking up something.

Cold December days turn the late roses wonderful pastel colors, reminiscent of the elegant bon-bons that used to be sold in the weeks before Christmas—perhaps still are, but I don’t know where—called crystallized French creams, with creamy centers and crisp, thin, slightly gritty exteriors. There’s a small bouquet of roses in front of me at this moment; two blossoms of ‘Westerland’, its bright coppery apricot subdued to a pleasing peach, and three blossoms of ‘Erfurt’, which has changed from its usual pink and white to an overall pale pink. In fact, they are the exact shades of the peach- and strawberry-flavored confections of long ago.