Thursday, 29 September 2011

Fruity Autumn


This month people have been asking me about growing fruit. I've been rather pleased with my soft fruit growing efforts which have been providing breakfast treats and desserts over the summer. The blueberry bushes are still heaving under the weight of the crop and the raspberry bushes are delivering up juicy gorgeousness daily. The strawberries ripen much earlier in the season so we've consumed all of this year's crop already and they were delicious!


 
We generally call ourselves veg gardeners, but it would be a shame to miss out on fruity delights, so here are my top quick tips and tricks for soft fruit growing. Firstly beware critters after your crop! I grow all my fruit in pots and raised troughs - making it more tricky for snugs and snails to enter the fray. Secondly I cover all my fruit carefully with nets to stop all our hungry birdies demolishing the crop before we get to it! I also do a little research on prefered soils - for example blueberries need erichaceous soil - another good reason for growing them in big pots. Fruit crops need feeding and careful attention to watering when they are fruiting, so it pays to be vigilant on that front. Finally fruit bushes need pruning - and this differs according to which type of bushes you have, so again a little research pays off here.


With a little care and attention you'll be enjoying juicy berries in no time!

-- Holly Rowan Hesson

Friday, 23 September 2011

The Nature of Free Food

We all spend hours cultivating our flowers and vegetables, from the sowing of seed in early Spring in the greenhouse, if we are lucky enough to have one, or straight into the warm earth later on in the season. Then we nurture the seedlings giving them water and food to encourage good healthy growth and plant them out, watching over them as if they were our offspring. And then, depending on their type we enjoy the fruits of the harvest be it flower or food.

This is a hugely time consuming hobby and we do it because we love it but it got me thinking that nature does this all on her own, without human intervention and the fruits of her labour are now apparent in the hedgerows, fields, grass verges and in fact any piece of uncultivated land up and down the country. And do you know the good thing about all of this? Free food!

Now I like a bargain as much as the next person, so the thought of all this free food going spare was too much for me this month, so, bowl in hand I ventured out into the country lanes near my house to see what I could find. You don’t have to live in the countryside to find plenty of places where free food is in abundance but you do need to know what you are looking for.



To this end I got myself a book - a shout out for a brilliant book called Hedgerow by John Wright - it’s one of the River Cottage Handbooks - No.7 to be precise and this gives a huge amount of information on all of the edible things you can find just a stones throw from your doorstop (other books are available!)
A word of caution here - please make sure that you don’t trample all over someone else’s land whilst in hot pursuit of the juiciest, plumpest blackberry or damson as there are rules about trespass and theft (hence the reason for buying the book), but you will be totally safe harvesting said blackberries and damsons from the hedgerows in country lanes. Make sure however that you try to visit a less well travelled lane due to pollution of the fruit from car fumes and try to pick the fruit that is higher up rather than at exhaust level. That said there is literally pounds and pounds of blackberries, damsons, plums, edible berries and the like just waiting to be harvested.

So, what to do with all this bountiful treasure when you get home? The obvious candidates for fruit are jams, crumbles, pies, the latter with a large helping of double cream or custard and the great thing about this type of fruit is that you can freeze it really easily and use it throughout the winter months.

One of my favourite ways to use it though is to make fruit liqueur and this is what we have done with the blackberries and damsons we harvested only last weekend. It’s really easy and there are loads of recipes available online but the basics are to prick the fruit (damsons, plus, sloes etc - not necessary for blackberries) and place them in a sterilised container. Add sugar and the alcohol of your choice - I did rum and gin - and then basically stir and leave for three months or longer to turn into the most amazing Christmas tipple. Cheers!

-- Jane Dubinski

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

September Garden Round-up

There’s a lot to do this month in the garden. Take cuttings of your favourite plants and share and swap with friends. It is time to cut hedges. If you do this now for conifer hedges, hornbeam and beech, yew and leylandii, you won’t need to do it again this year.

This month is time for sowing hardy annuals in the garden where they will germinate and overwinter as small plants that will bloom next year. Annual sown in the Autumn are always stronger and flower better than those in spring.  Order your bulbs this month. Enjoy an evening looking through the catalogues and get your order in.


Summer flowering heathers are at their peak now and you can take cuttings. Take small, unflowering sideshoots and trim to 3-4cm long and put them in a gritty compost.

Prune ornamental or fruiting cherries and plums that are getting out of hand.

If you have picked all your summer raspberries, then you can cut down the fruited canes now. Collect herbs so that you have a supply in the winter. Dry herbs in bunches, chop them and mix them with butter and freeze them or pack them into ice cube trays with water and add an ice cube to winter soups. Collect seeds on dry days to avoid them going mouldy. Collects seeds from poppies, columbines and fox gloves.

This month is the time to start preparing your gifts for Christmas. If you plant your hyacinth, narcissi and amaryllis bulbs they will flower in December and make great looking gifts. If you time it right they will just start to open up and begin releasing their fragrant perfume in time for Christmas day. Don’t forget your dead heading and weeding duties this month too!

-- Rob Amey


Thursday, 8 September 2011

In The Night Garden

Like any space in your home, you want your garden to feel warm and welcoming. As Autumn is slowly creeping up on us, people are making the most of Summer by eating outdoors. Eating Al Fresco is my favourite thing to do, especially when the sun is going down and there is a slight chill in the air.
I tend to grab a few blankets, a hot drink and light a few candles to create that warm feeling. Lanterns dotted throughout your garden add some interest aesthetically during the day and serve a great purpose of light in the evening. That cosy glow will fill you with warmth and banish any chills that make you want to run indoors.


Picture from Shoofly Vintage

Reusing jam jars to create your own lanterns is a cheap alternative to shop bought ones. They have the same warm effect and are perfect on a table for social gatherings.


Picture from DIY Network

If you want the ultimate warmth you could always purchase a Chiminea or Fire pit for your garden. They are perfect to huddle around and can be used throughout the year!

-- Gemma Dray

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Pruning Climbing Roses

So we find ourselves in September, the first month of Autumn and a fantastic month for many reasons. The leaves begin to turn, the Michaelmas Daisies and grasses give the garden that last flush of textural colour and let’s not forget the ‘Second or Indian Summer’- which gives plants that final burst of energy before they go into winter slumber. As Rose G. Kingsley says in ‘The Autumn Garden’, 1905 : "In the garden, Autumn is, indeed the crowning glory of the year, bringing us the fruition of months of thought and care and toil. And at no season, safe perhaps in Daffodil time, do we get such superb colour effects as from August to November."

September is also the month for pruning climbing roses - a task I shall find myself repeating for the coming month before leaf duty is under way.
Like shrub roses, certain rules have to be followed.


  1. Wear good gloves. (I thoroughly recommend the Town and Country Ultimax. Excellent gloves with huge versatility and finger protection.)
  2. Make sure your secateurs are sharp. Blunt blades will damage and tear the plant.
  3. Put up the training wire first. This must be at least 2mm wire to be of adequate strength. Try to use vine eyes or ‘screw-in’ eyes, rather than any old nail - when those winter storms come, you will be happy to follow this advice. Tension the wire as best as you can.
  4. Always tie the rose to the wire. Never use the tensioned wire as the tie.
  5. Always work out how you want the rose to grow before beginning to prune.
  6. First cut out the 3 Ds: The dead, diseased and damaged.
  7. Always prune just above a bud. Not too close or too far, about 1cm is adequate.
  8. Try to prune to a bud that is facing the way you want future growth remembering to cut out any stems growing in the direction of the wall.
  9. Do not worry if you think you have pruned too hard. The rose will come back if well fed.
  10. If your rose suffers from Black Spot, sweep up all the old leaves and burn. This is a genetic problem so do not be disheartened by any apparent resilience to treatments in future. It just means your rose has the ‘Persian Yellow’ rose as part of its pedigree.
  11. Feed the rose with a good root feed and mulch with well-rotted manure.

One more tip, if you are worried about cuts to your arms, a wise old head gardener I served under gave me this tip. Find an old pair of wellington boots and cut off the feet, then use the ‘ankles’ as arm guards.

-- Guy Deakins