SEVEN weeks after the great sawing began, the beech hedge has been slimmed down. This is not because of any slowness on the gardener’s part, but because he can only find time at weekends. But now, the emperor’s army of sacks stuffed with branches, that had been mustering at our back wall as if awaiting orders to march, has finally been carted off.

Piling them into his trailer for the last of several trips to the recycling depot, the gardener tied them on securely. As he drove off, he looked like the sort of person who, when they go on holiday, can’t decide what to leave behind.

The birds have quickly got used to their leafless abode, and carry on their business without worrying that we can see straight into their living rooms.

It’s fascinating to realise how many species jostle for space, finches with tits, sparrows with blackbirds. Only the woodpigeons are too fat to squeeze in. One who won’t be pleased is the sparrowhawk, who can no longer swoop from her camouflaged hide.

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In theory, there should be fewer leaves for us to gather this autumn. Normally, from October to December, leaf fires smoulder in nearby gardens, sending up a delicious fragrance which, if it could be bottled, would be my signature scent.

As the days turn autumnal, I probably smell of woodsmoke anyway, since I spend countless hours raking up leaves, or leaning on the gate, watching the woods turn to ochre. When Alan gets the log-fire burning indoors, smoke drifts across the garden, reminding me it will soon be time for tea.

But as the whitebeam begins to shed, the garden is dotted with fat grey leaves. It won’t be long before the other beech hedge follows. When I went to fill the watering can a few days ago, something rustled, and I found a glistening brown toad, hugging the wall.

When it saw me, it hopped under the hose reel. It was one of the last hot days of the year – 27 degrees – and I suspect the toad had made for the garden tap, where it was cool and damp. By morning it was gone, but when the gardener came to drag off his sacks, he found it cowering behind them. He left it undisturbed, but I put an upturned bucket nearby, propped up by a stone, and it quickly took shelter. Its bright eye met mine as I peered underneath, to make sure it was safe.

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Other than picking apples, raking leaves is the best part of autumn: the smell of the grass and trees, the chill in the air, the tangible evidence of the year turning, as we head into the colder months. Last summer, Alan knocked up a leaf mould box, big enough for a baby rhino, and this is where they all go.

Until lately, we had two leaf rakes, neither of them up to the job. I spent more time tightening screws than clearing beneath the trees. Buying a sturdier one in a Peebles hardware store was a summer highlight. I’ve noticed that where in the past I’d look for a café or bookshop wherever I went, these days it’s purveyors of spades and twine. So now, armed with our robust green rake, we feel ready for what lies ahead. There will still be a lot to handle.

Autumn used to be my favourite season; these days I’m not so sure. Its mists and dankness make me pause, a warning of the coming days when we’ll spend too much time indoors. The year’s passage is also a reminder of our own ticking clock.

Thomas Hardy captured its melancholy, and solace, in his poem, Autumn in King’s Hintock Park. An old woman rakes up leaves, observed by passers-by: “Just as my shape you see/Raking up leaves,/ I saw, when fresh and free,/Those memory weaves/Into grey ghosts by me,/Raking up leaves./ Yet, Dear, though one may sigh,/ Raking up leaves,/ New leaves will dance on high – / Earth never grieves! – /Will not, when missed am I/ Raking up leaves.”

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The slowing of nature, as it prepares to hunker down, has often caught poets’ attention. Easier to name one who hasn’t written something about the season of mellow fruitfulness than those who have. But like all wild creatures that have good reason to wonder if they will make it through to spring, the rest of us are also alert its message. It’s impossible to watch leaves falling over the village green, or blowing down the street, without a shiver.

Luckily or unluckily, depending on your view, it takes months before trees are finally bare. The never-ending chore of clearing up is my idea of fun, but it sends some folk crazy. I remember my father being exasperated over drifts that were no sooner cleared than returned, the day after, just as deep as before. Sisyphus should be designated the patron saint of gardeners.

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A few of us, though, are clinging onto the last remnants of summer while we can, enjoying barbecues, where braziers and firepits keep us warm, or putting on scarves, to sit in the garden sipping coffee. The sense of slowing is welcome, an antidote to the rush of summer, when you feel obliged to make the most of the warmth and light, yet still never manage to get everything done. I suspect that in the north we are more attuned to darker days and dismal weather than southern neighbours. It’s not that we are resigned, precisely, but that perhaps we expect nothing less.

One of our night-time visitors, however, has found a tasty reminder of the high days of June and July, when bees flitted from flower to flower, buzzing like machines. I was clearing leaves near the shed, when I discovered a huge hole that had been dug by the fence. The badger that took our underground honeycomb last year had repeated his theft.

All summer the bees in this corner have warned me off, making it hard to deadhead and weed. I suspected they had a hive nearby, but didn’t like to explore. Only the badger had the nose to find it, and the hide to cope with the consequences. Now, the bees are gone, and the honey with them. As Robert Frost wrote of autumn, “Nothing gold can stay.”

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