Reap What You Sow

Autumn is the time to reap your harvest. It’s the time when your hard work is paid off – and you can make a start for next season, no matter how lax you’ve been.

This year, the garden has offered up rosemary, chives, thyme, marjoram and and bay in abundance – most still flourishing. The twice-fruiting raspberries gave two generous crops, which seemed to run concurrently from July until this week. Only now are  the fruit starting to look bedraggled on the vine, either over-ripe or marauded by slugs and snails. The wild strawberries are offering up a second, unexpected fruiting. And all of this has happened after a summer of neglect – one of the advantages of choosing low-maintenance fruit and herbs.

Sometimes, life gets in the way of gardening: in this case, my health kept me indoors – hence the lack of photos. But now, as the nights draw in, my energy levels are allowing me to tend it again. It is mostly a case of cutting back old leaves, getting rid of anything that looks diseased, and weeding.

Weeding at this time of year offers more satisfaction than summer weeding, bringing with it a greater chance that the weeds will not return.  Dandelions are a problem, their thick roots making them prone to survive against all odds. Daily returns to the place of the worst culprits help ensure nothing is left growing: boiling water will be my next step, once I’ve removed all I can see.

I have bolstered my meagre harvest with blackberries from countryside walks, but have only spotted the occasional mushroom. As a relatively new forager, I would be unlikely to collect them unless I was with someone who knew their stuff, but have fond memories of an afternoon spent mushroom-hunting with someone who did.

Now is a great time to tend your compost heap, checking its progress and balancing it with woody twigs, paper or kitchen scraps as required.  It’s a good idea to dig over your soil before it gets too wet as otherwise you can damage its structure, and affect drainage. It’s also a good time to improve your soil: simply spread compost or manure over your soil (after weeding and digging over as appropriate) and the worms will do the rest.

Protecting your plants from the frost will help keep them safe as winter creeps in. After removing any dead leaves, simply pile straw around them. This will help protect them from slugs and snails too, and will also rot into the soil over the winter. You can use other mulches including wood chippings and seaweed, or simply compost, depending on what you have easy access to.

Cutting things back offers a great mindful escape – and the garden always looks refreshed after an autumnal tending. Better yet, it will help keep any herbs thriving and encourage new growth in the Spring.

Top ten accessories for gardening in the rain

As Sir Rannulph Fiennes said, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.” And so it is with gardening in the rain. You just need to be prepared.

Eschew jeans in favour of looser fitting trousers,  easily peelable leggings, or best of all, waterproof ski-wear (charity shops often have day-glo or otherwise hideous ski-wear at bargain prices). Go for lots of layers on top so you can strip off as the exertion warms you up or, if it’s not too cold, wear the bare minimum (on the basis that sopping clothes are much more uncomfortable than wet skin).

Add in a few home comforts and there’s no reason that gardening in the rain should be any less fun than gardening in the sunshine.

Accessory #1: Wellies

A good pair of wellies will protect your feet and your floors in equal measure: few things indicate a keen gardener more than the state of the kitchen floor. By keeping a pair of boots next to the back door you can ensure your feet stay dry, and they can easily be slipped off so that you don’t traipse mud around the house. Life’s too short for daily floor cleaning, after all.

Accesory #2: Welly warmers

Cold feet are one of the major banes of gardening in the rain, but these fab fake fur topped welly warmers slip inside your boots to add an extra level of warmth between your socks and your wellies. They’re also available in chinchilla or leopard print fake fur, or in plain green or pink should you shun the fluff. Great for festivals too, and only £16.95.

Accessory #3: Waterproof brimmed hatRain in the eyes can make it hard to tell your weeds from your plants, but a waterproof hat will keep the rain at bay – and there’s no need for the hat to be boring, either.

Accessory #4: A nice cup of tea

Keeping warm is so much easier if you’ve got a cup of tea (or brandy-laced hot chocolate) to hand. These fantastically kitsch thermos flasks will ensure you have access to a cuppa no matter how extended a gardening session is required.

Accessory #5: Rain catchers

While it’s raining, take advantage of all that free (and eco-friendly) water. You can simply put out buckets or invest in a water butt. However, if you’d rather have a quirkier approach to water collection, these petal tops that funnel rainwater into recycled water bottles may appeal. Positioning a group of them together in an area of the garden that’s unfit for growing will make an interesting feature.

Accessory#6: Garden kneeler

You don’t want your knees getting wet and muddy so a waterproof garden kneeler is essential for extended weeding sessions. I’m in two minds about this tomato-shaped kneeler but it’s certainly original, and at £5.50, the only cheaper kneeler would be a cushion inside a binbag (which is a free alternative, should you object to unnecessary spending.)
Accessory #7: Garden doormat

OK, so I’m obsessed with avoiding getting mud on the floor but only because cleaning the floor is such a chore. A mat inside the door to the garden will help protect your floors. Hoover it regularly, particularly if you have any asthmatics in the house, as otherwise it’ll be a hellish dust trap.

Accessory #8: Crumpets

No rainy afternoon in the garden is complete without rewarding yourself with a plate of toasted buttery crumpets once you’re done. yes, it’s an indulgence, but after all that hard work, it’s the least you deserve.

Accessory #9: Muscle relief bath oil

Chances are, you’ll be much more achy after a rainy garden session, but Tisserand’s muscle relief bath oil is a fantastic way to ease away the pains. The ginger, rosemary and lemongrass oils smell amazing, and should help you warm up in no time.

Accessory #10: Slanket

Finally, curl up underneath a slanket – a blanket with sleeves, leaving your hands free to flick through your favourite gardening book. Lazy? Yes. But you have been in the garden in the rain…

Grow your own cocktails #9: Golden Adam and Eve

As summer turns into autumn, this makes a delicious seasonal alternative to  G&T that apparently costs a mere £1.30 per glass to make.

OK, it’s not quite as cheap as the elderflower champagne we made earlier this year: sugar + lemon + 500 elderflower heads + boiling water = 40 litres of elderflower champagne (enough for a friend’s wedding toasts at the princely sum of around £40, of which £20 was set up costs, buying a big plastic tub.) However, it’s a long time until elderflower season (though elderberry port is still feasible – and delicious – as are blackberry vodka and gin). In  the meantime, enjoy supping this delicate but suitably alcoholic drink – and try garnishing it with fresh mint or borage from the garden, which should hopefully still be thriving, to add a homegrown edge.

Ingredients

35ml Russian Standard Gold vodka
100ml Premium fresh apple juice, e.g. Aspall
Slice of green apple and a fresh cinnamon stick to garnish

Method

Pour the ingredients into a long glass over cubed ice and stir. Garnish with a slice of green apple and a cinnamon stick.

Enjoy.

Garden loves #10: Sandcastle planter

Bring a touch of summer into your home and fight off the Autumn blahs with herbs in a bucket. At £19 apiece, these ceramic sandcastle planters are a tad pricey but they’re rather beautiful too. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from using sandcastle buckets instead, as long as you put drainage holes in them, should you be looking for a shabby chic alternative – and better yet, you can usually pick them up from pound stores. However, if you’re after a classy gift for a seaside-dwelling gardener, these will add a touch of style to any abode.

Garden loves #9: Cloud outdoor lighting

I freely admit to being a bit of a dreamer. These gorgeous outdoor lights are a great excuse to have your head in the clouds. Sadly, given that the cheapest one is £499, it will have to remain a fantasy but, as Captain Sensible sang, “You’ve got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?”

Grow your own cocktails #8: Basil me up

OK, so there are more pressing matters in the world than finding an alternative summer drink to gin and tonic or the ubiquitous Pimms and lemonade. However, it’s a wonderful frippery to entertain your mind with, and Bloom gin has come up with a worthy competitor, albeit one with a rather odd name that brings to mind Star Trek and double entendres in equal measure.

By now, your basil should be thriving (assuming the slugs haven’t got to it – in which case use copper tape. You can also try spraying it with a few cloves in garlic crushed in water as a natural way to fend them off but garlic probably won’t enhance the flavour of this drink). As my tomatoes are still mostly at the flowering/green stage at the moment, this cocktail is a good way to use home grown  basil. Remember, the more frequently you cut herbs, the more they’ll grow, so this cocktail will help you get a basil glut with any luck.

Ingredients

40 ml Bloom Gin
40 ml apple juice
20 ml grapefruit juice
10 ml lime juice
15 ml sugar syrup
4-6 basil leaves

Method

Shake all the ingredients together then pour into highball glass full of crushed ice and garnish with lemon zest. (If you’d rather have the cocktail made for you, pop along to Bar 190 in London’s Gore Hotel. But that’s not going to help your garden grow, is it?)

Food porn #1: A Taste of the Sun by Elizabeth David

Elizabeth David was one of the first people to bring Mediterranean food to the UK, back in 1950, long before the River Cafe or Jamie Oliver ever graced our TV screens. As part of their new Great Food series, Penguin has reprinted a collection of her writing, giving a satisfying  taste of  David’s unique style.

Her writing is clear, creative and packed with insights into the stories behind different foods, from the origins of pasta to the creation of melba toast. Ideal as a primer for new cooks, but with enough more complex recipes to satisfy a gourmet, it’s a worthy addition to any cookbook shelf. Better yet, it has plenty of homegrown produce recipes, from Courgette, Tomato and Egg Gratin to Sweet Green Pepper Salad, along with a wonderfully chapter about the perfect picnic. A cookbook that’s a good enough read to enjoy in bed too.

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