6 Dec 2021

Absolutely Autumn

conjoined red apple
The quirkiness of nature - conjoined apple from my Core Blimey tree 

When I set out to write this post (a few weeks ago!) it was most definitely still autumn ... and now here we are at the start of winter. In fairness, I did take time out at the end of October to climb to the top of a small mountain in the Western fells of the Lake District - a beautiful, challenging, sometimes scary and totally wonderful life changing experience. But time in the garden is certainly marching on. The last apple has fallen, fruit trees are now almost bare of leaves, all potatoes have been lifted, lavender bushes trimmed back and asparagus ferns cut down ready for next year. But before I embrace the winter months, why not join me on a look back over the autumn?

autumn colours on Stag Horn Sumac tree

One visual barometer of the garden getting ready for winter is my little Stag Horn sumac tree (Rhus typhina); in early autumn the soft green leaves gradually become crimson before turning a glowing gold, giving many heart stopping moments as I caught glimpses of the sheer beauty of this show. Now those leaves have all dropped leaving just soft torches of deep red edible berries - the velvety stag horns of its common name. I confess I’ve yet to try drying and sieving the berries to make sumac, the tart spice used in Middle Eastern cooking, but if I find a spare evening soon, it should probably be done. 

Kilner jar of sloes in gin
Ready for christmas?

While my sumac making skills remain untested, I have, however, made my Christmas cake (a couple of weeks ago so there’s time to feed it with more brandy) and a jar of sloe gin. The last bottle of sloe gin (kept since 2012, a very mature and delicious vintage!) was polished off earlier this year so I kept a watch on the hedgerow sloes as they ripened during regular walks on the nearby Heath. Even so, I almost missed out.

A bag of sloe berries
Sloe, sloe, quick, quick, sloe ... 

When the last of the fruits had all but gone, a slow mindful walk in winter sunshine netted me a small bag full, just enough to make a half litre which will be drinkable by Christmas, although (with a bit of restraint) the depth of flavour improves for being left in the bottle for longer. 

Strawberry runners planted out
Next generation Marshmello strawberries

Elsewhere in the garden I’ve been planting out strawberry runners as the original plants have now been growing for three years; Orach seedheads had their Schiaparelli* moment then faded to gold; wolf spiders spun their webs across everything and have now retired; and my little Chilean Guava (Ugni molinae) bush was weighed down with sweet perfumed berries. There's a story told that this autumn fruit tastes of strawberries and was a favourite of Queen Victoria. I can safely say that the former is not strictly true but the latter I can only guess at. The taste is vaguely reminiscent of the woodland strawberries growing in my herb garden but is more unusual and hard to describe.

Chilean Guava pink berries on plant
Chilean Guava (aka Strawberry Myrtle) -
tiny flowers like pink lily of the valley in spring, edible fruit in autumn 

I had a few achocha pods from self-seeded plants this year and those have now been cleared. I wasn't going to bother growing them again but an interesting phenomenon occurred which made me change my mind - I've had a huge number of requests for my achocha recipes! Anyone reading this blog for a while might remember that I was an early adopter of achocha as a replacement crop for small bell peppers and wrote a couple of recipes for using up the autumn glut of the spiny fruit. I would never have known that my recipes were in demand but thanks to a Google security change, I now get an email to ask for my permission to access the files. 

As the garden slowed down, I've had time to catch up with a few books, namely Huw Richards 'Veg in One Bed', Mark Diacono's 'Herb' and Alys Fowler's 'Eat What You Grow'. They've been around for a while but I'm especially impressed with Huw Richards' book and will pop up a little review soon.

So there we are - goodbye autumn, hello winter. As ever, there's still much to do in the garden - bulbs to plant (yep, always late with that one), beds to mulch, leaves to be swept up and stored, and fruit trees to prune ... winter work that always surprises me with how good it feels to be active outside and how warm I can get from moving around. 

Sumac tree just starting its autumn glory

* Orach aka mountain spinach (Atriplex hortensis var rubra): there's reason enough to grow it for its edible (and ornamental) purpley-red young leaves but let the plant grow on into autumn and wait for the seedheads to turn a shocking pink - the signature colour of Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli. A little bit of haute couture for the garden! 

... and to prove my point ... 


  1. What a lovely catch up! Fascinating as always. Respect re your climb! Good luck making the sumac, that should be interesting. What a delightful tree. Those sloes look delicious as does the gin.xxx

  2. Thanks Dina, there was a lot to catch up on! The climb in the Lakes was challenging but so good, I wanted to go back and do it all again. My first visit and I hope not my last. The gin hasn't been decanted yet but will be delicious - a little treat for the winter months! xx


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