The autumn garden

25 October 2017

Nearly all the apples and pears have now been picked and used or stored. The timing of this was just about right as they were starting to fall as we picked them, if they had been left much longer they would have hit the ground with a big thump as the result of the high winds that were the tail end of ex-hurricane Ophelia. It’s always best to try to select your apples for storage before they drop onto the ground as it’s only worth saving the very best unblemished fruits as they will continue to ripen after being picked anyway. The best way to store apples and pears is to keep them as cool as possible if they can be laid out flat in a mesh tray preferably not touching each other with good air movement around them the trays can then be stacked up, usually a frost free shed or an outbuilding is the best place to keep them.

Apple varieties
A couple of varieties are still very firmly stuck on the trees and we will not pick them until November: these are our russets, Ashmeads Kernel and Wheelers Russet. The latter is a real gem – you won’t be able to use it until December for cooking initially and it isn’t usually until the New Year when it is sweet enough to eat, but the good news is that it will keep right through to March. Another variety that we have already picked, which will also store into the New Year, is Ribston Pippin reputed to be one of the parents of Cox Orange Pippin – with a similar flavour it is a much easier tree to grow.

Pear varieties
Doyenne du Comice pears are also still on the trees and very firm, but they are becoming sweet now and should keep until December. The last fruit to stay on the trees is the Medlars – these are literally as hard as bullets now and they don’t usually start to ripen until December. Although they will ripen on the tree eventually it’s usually best to remove them first, just before they are ripe, and store them cool, bringing them into the warm in batches to fully ripen them; once they have been ripened they can be stored frozen. The ripening of Medlars is usually called bletting, and it should not be confused with rotting – they do go brown and mushy, but the flavour is superb and they are a real delicacy, particularly if you close your eyes while eating them. The fruits resemble a large brown rose hip and the tree is a really good choice for a small to medium-sized garden; it usually has an irregular shape and twisted or contorted branches and displays good autumn colour as well.

Autumn colour
It’s now late October and there is still lots of colour in the gardens: the parterre is showing no sign of easing off its display yet, the only thing we have had to do is remove the sweet peas as they had become so top heavy they were blowing over in the wind and that was before Ophelia! Now in full bloom in the long border are two colours of Shizostylis coccinea: red and white. These late-flowering gems are in the iris family and are often called Kaffir lillies sa they usually start to flower in August and carry on until December – great for extending the flowering season. Shizostylis is a bit of a mouthful, but our dear friends ‘the plant namers’ have decided that we must now call them Hesperantha coccinea – not much better to say, but still great plants.

Another real gem of a plant and the longest flowering hardy Geranium is Rozanne: it started flowering way back in June and it is still going strong, it’s a fantastic bright steely blue and seen here in the garden in combination with some blue foliage plants Melianthus major and Sanguisorba obtusa.

Well we got away lightly with ex-hurricane Ophelia let’s hope that this winter won’t throw to many severe gales at us.

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