Autumn has arrived heavy and wet this past week.
September is traditionally a time of harvest and preserving the bountiful summer gluts, but the rain and wind has fast forwarded some our garden plans, as plants that are still producing need to be protected, and there’s a strong chance of fungal disease and blight as autumn arrives.
This means we are busily harvesting throughout the day a steady glut of tomatoes, including the green unripe tomatoes, aubergines and chillis, while in the evening we're in a steamy kitchen with pots of bubbling vegetables and fruits on the stove for bottling and jarring. The scent of brown sugar, cloves, cinnamon, and spice is warming and welcome, after a soggy day in the garden.
Towards the end of the month, we will also see signs of the first pumpkin and squash being ready to harvest; the leaves start to die back unveiling the fruit beneath, but most of these can wait until October. In this wet weather though, we’re protecting the fruits, by placing dry straw beneath them to protect them from wet soil.
The first of the squash is an invitation to make Autumn Caponata. On our restaurant menu since almost the first service, this delicious vegetable stew is inspired by the Sicilian summer classic, melding sweet and sour agrodolce flavours together. It will happily sit at room temperature for several hours before eating, in fact, it's better left a day or two in the fridge. Freshen each serving with chopped mint and celery heart leaves, and perhaps a handful of toasted pine nuts, if you have them. Little more is needed, except maybe a grilled lamb chop or torn burrata and some baguette. Find the recipe here.
Jobs in the vegetable garden
- Keep harvesting - Beans, Peas, Beetroot, carrots, potatoes, Cauliflower, Radish, Salad leaves, Aubergine, Courgettes, Cucumbers, Peppers and Tomatoes
- Keep an eye on outdoor tomatoes and protect from cold nights with fleece or the like
- Watch the weather forecasts and keep greenhouse vents closed on cooler nights
- Now is the time to sow seeds for late autumn and some crops to see you over winter, including lettuces and salad leaves. You can probably squeeze in one last crop of radish now too
- Prepare beds for autumn plantings of onions and shallots
In the cutting garden
Similarly in the cutting garden, summer still clings on, with many of the flowers performing better in slightly cooler temperatures. Now is a key time to start thinking about next year - drawing up lists and plans of what you want to grow and where to grow them. As the month progresses, it will be time to start saving seeds and starting to clear annual beds and making room for June sown biennials, such as Wallflowers, Sweet William and Fox gloves, which can be planted out now. Sow hardy annuals for early flowering next Spring and Summer. Sow now and put into beds before the frosts come to allow the plants to establish, and with a bit of luck they’ll survive the winter and give you early blooms and colour in the garden.
The dahlias are throwing a party in the garden. These beautiful showgirls of the floral world are spectacular; you can often hear the oohs and ahhs from visitors to Water Lane, wandering up and down the dahlia beds. The colours, form and texture of dahlias are showstopping, the pollinators love the single varieties as much as we love cutting the long, thick stems for floral arrangements for the house and to sell.
Jobs in the cutting garden
- Take both hardwood and soft wood cuttings to increase your plant stock. Overwinter them under protection during the winter ready to pot them on in the spring
- Save seeds from your garden. Let some of your plants go to seed; collect when dry, storing in a small brown bag or labled envelope, and sow in Spring. Seeds collected from your own garden often are much more successful in germinating, probably because the seed is fresher.
- Order Spring-flowering bulbs and start to plant daffodil bulbs (not tulips, these should wait until November)
- Tie in rambling and climbing roses to help protect them from wind and start planting new perennials