23 Oct 2014

Days Like These

I'm so fickle.  When snowdrops and daffodils burst into life, I declare that I love springtime. But I like to move with the times so, as the weather gets warmer and flowers and veg grow strongly, summer is my new favourite.  Autumn will always win my heart over with vibrant displays of colour.  Truth is, I just love everything about being outdoors in nature and its moments of beauty.

Walking round the 'hood in the aftermath of gale force winds and sporadic lashing rain, this is what I've been spotting this week:

Looking up ...

Big London skies above Parliament Hill Fields

And  looking down:

Who's spotting who?
I only saw the squirrel in the long grass when his bushy tail appeared as he moved. He was oblivious to people passing by as he rummaged around almost undetected but popped up to face me when he heard the camera on my phone. It was one of those moments.

Still looking down, I saw autumn in puddles … which made me think of the beauty of fallen leaves.

Every autumn I'm completely obsessed with colours and patterns as leaves turn from green through all the yellows to red. There are some great leaf shapes falling and now is a good time to go leaf collecting with children - either for making leaf mould in sacks for the garden or to collect colours and shapes for creative work.

(They call me) Mellow Yellow

(I've started my collection already … )

Ready for pressing between heavy books...

I'm totally energised by blustery and bright weather and just have to be walking outdoors - and that's when colours really start popping out at me. Even after years of knowing about the beauty berry plant (Callicarpa bodinieri), I'm still awestruck by the vivid purple of its autumn berries (bottom left).

These photos were taken over several days out but even after all this awesome loveliness, it was still thrilling to see the mind-blowing colours of the nasturtiums in the garden and one of the poppies is about to flower for the third time this year! 

I have some time off work next week so I'm hoping to get to RHS Wisley. The autumn colour there should be amazing - I'm looking forward to seeing the spindle (Euonymous europaeus) and liquidambar trees. I'd better take a bag for collecting some fallen leaves, I've a feeling there will be more days like these.

18 Oct 2014

No more pretending

That's it then. The garden and I have been firmly tipped into autumn this past week. Ten days ago, I enjoyed a lovely warm sunny afternoon and then, the very next day, got soaked tying up some garden waste bags. The sky went from drizzle to deluge in minutes and, despite a showerproof coat, I was literally soaked to the skin (and feet) in minutes. Hence the filthy cold that has dogged me for the past few days. Cough, sniffle, sneeze - evenings spent heading off early to a cozy bed with a stack of books and a hot drink.  I love those clouds with silver linings.

Ferocious wind and rain last weekend flattened so many plants in the garden.  There was more torrential rain on Monday morning but I took advantage of a break in the clouds to get outdoors. The air in the garden smelled of crushed lovage (a bit like spicy celery and a lovely herb to add to soups and stocks) and several of the brassicas will need staking up but, on the plus side, everything sparkled with a dusting of raindrops.

The biggest of my courgette plants has been toppled by the storms.  I'd picked the monster courgette/marrow the night before (luckily) with a handful of tomatoes and some spring onions. I've been putting together a new Pinterest board of seasonal recipes which I call 'Autumn in the Kitchen' (See? over there on the right!) and rather liked the look of a stuffed courgette creation that I came across. I cooked this last night, sharing half the giant courgette with my gardening neighbour, and tweaked the recipe to use up a few pre-weekend-shopping fridge ends - a bit of chopped red pepper, a few mushrooms, a shallot, the spring onions from the garden, chopped garlic, some bacon, half a small pot of yogurt. The giant courgette was gutted and it's innards chopped and added to the mix which was then piled back into the shell. Popped in the oven for 20 minutes with cheese on top, it was delicious and made more so by the smug feeling of having eaten really healthily. I love adaptable recipes and will make this one again, maybe next time using breadcrumbs or rice in the stuffing. It was a bit dark to take a photo of the finished result - sorry.

Trawling through the internet for culinary inspiration using seasonal fruit and veg is a really fun way to anticipate the pleasures of autumn. Once the evenings get darker, I'm happy to be found in the kitchen cooking up sturdier, warming food - stews, casseroles, pies and cakes.  I've found some tempting recipes (butternut squash pancakes with sage butter, pear and damson breakfast muffins, plum pudding cake),  mm-mmm, sounds good! For now I'm still eating at least one salad each day with homemade coleslaw, (love that crunch!) but am adding bookmarks to two wonderful books that I've borrowed from my local library.  Serious slimmers should avert their eyes now.

Excitingly (for me), I have "first fingers" (as my son would say) on these books; childishly, it gives me huge pleasure to be the very first person to open the pages of a new addition to the library and these two are a couple of corkers for the autumn recipe hunter. I've already got my eye on blueberry bread and butter pudding from Rachel Allen and will definitely be making sweet beetroot pie (in the tradition of an American pumpkin pie) from Paul "Great British Bake-Off" Hollywood.  And there was me thinking that, with my son at uni, now would be a good time to try and lose a few pounds.  

I've spent a lot of catching up time in the kitchen this past week, bottling tomatoes and making plum jam and fruit roll-ups (recipes will be forthcoming) but there is a tiny glimpse of blue between grey clouds today so I think a bit more garden tidying is in order … especially as for tea I have a Plum and Cinnamon crumble cake whose recipe I've rediscovered having used it to bookmark a recipe for a spicy carrot and tomato relish.  I definitely need to get out more, if only for the sake of my waistline!

Ma-hoo-sive marrow (courgette); the last of my homegrown tomatoes on toast (Yellow Pear and Cherriettes of Fire);
Plum and Cinnamon Crumble cake with Elixir of Sage, recently bottled; Plum cake being assembled.

5 Oct 2014

It's Autumn, but not as we know it.

The late Christopher Lloyd, renowned for his fabulous borders at Great Dixter, adopted a practise of taking a morning stroll around the gardens each day with his head gardener to discuss the plan of action for the day. It's a great habit to get into as often the garden itself will suggest what needs to be prioritised.

A few days ago, I went to the garden here intending to take photos for the blog. Three happy hours later I'd got photos, staked up some flopping raspberry canes, lifted (chucked) piles of overgrown nasturtiums that were shading herbs, pruned some lavender that was becoming a tripping hazard on the path, dug out some horseradish, weeded around the broccoli and cut off some old courgette leaves to make the space more manageable. I also cut back leaves to allow the tomatoes to put energy into ripening the remaining trusses and found that one of the Sungold plants had gone rotten half way up the stem so I was able to cut the plant down and save those tomatoes to make a green tomato chutney.

I'm wondering what possessed me to put rhubarb, courgettes, globe artichoke and nasturtiums in this tiny space! Lush, though, isn't it?

That still left me with a bit of a jungle down one end of the veg patch - and the realisation that with Linaria (the plant edging the path, above) you most definitely can have too much of a good thing. (It's self seeded into every crack and corner in the veg patch but the bees love it.)  I was also then able to look at the garden with a fresh eye this morning when I took another walk round with my neighbour Karen who helps out and also gardens the border under her window. Friday is our community gardening day, when time permits.

What we saw was new spring growth all around: new raspberry canes, poppies flowering having completely regenerated in the past month, same with the globe artichoke, the rhubarb leaves are now as big as a gunnera with no sign of dying off, the nasturtiums have formed a river of flowers down the path and even the cowslip is in flower (usually not seen until March).  Karen reports that her daffodil bulbs are starting to sprout. While this is all utterly delightful, it shows that we can't rely on the plants knowing which season they're in; it would seem their seasonal clocks have been thrown off the beat by the chillier weather of a few weeks back, now replaced by warm t-shirt weather in early October.  Better make sure to have some horticultural fleece ready when the frosts do come!

In other news, I'm still harvesting a few raspberries, courgettes, tomatoes, radishes, salad onions, salad leaves, spinach and a few beans. The bean leaves are looking very tired so some of the beans have been cut down (roots left in the soil so the nitrogen fixing nodules can return nutrients to the soil) and any remaining pods on the others will be allowed to grow into seed beans for next year.  These are the Canadian Wonder beans that I really didn't think would amount to much this year but have done wonderfully well once protected with anti-slug wool pellets.

Sugar snap peas sown at the end of summer are now flowering so pods won't be far behind. The yellow sunflowers are finished and I'll harvest some of the seeds to shell and add to salads.  The others will be left for the birds.

Yellow Pear tomatoes, Sugar snap peas, Cherriettes of Fire tomatoes
Polka raspberries, physalis, courgettes

The brassicas (broccoli, kale, romanesco cauliflowers) are growing really well, as are the chard and beetroot. I wonder if this is due to the wool pellets around them - they help keep the slugs at bay but also leech nutrients into the soil when it rains and as they decompose. Hopefully this bodes well for early and late winter veg. The photo above reminds me that this lovely extended summer encouraged the physalis to reflower in early September; providing the pods ripen, I can greedily anticipate another two dozen Cape Gooseberries before the year ends! Oh, okay, I'll share.

Thanks to the warm, and sometimes wet, weather, there's still a rainbow of colour throughout the York Rise gardens. I particularly love the chinese plumbago (Ceratostigma willmottianum) - I'm drawn to its startling blue flowers every time I pass, especially as it sits next to the salmon coloured pelargonium 'Pink Needles', an amazing colour contrast.

Sunflower, Impatiens giganteum, pineapple sage
Blackcurrant sage, scabious, pelargonium 'Pink Needles'
Verbena bonariensis, calendula, violet
Anemone, borage, plumbago
And let's not forget the roses; there are so many more than this but you get the idea ;)

I honestly didn't think I'd have anything to write about this month but, actually, it's all come right and been rather special. Heavy rain is forecast for the next few days but, for now, me and my garden are in a good, good place.

May October be kind to us all.  Caro xx

Jobs for October:
Keep on top of weeding
Clear plants as they die off
Sow seeds in pots for early spring flowers
Get ready to fleece on cold nights!

Linking up with the Garden Share Collective over in Australia.  If you want to see what's growing on in other parts of the world, pop over to Lizzie's blog for all the links.
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