Welcome to the fourth edition of our garden blog “Through the Willow Arch” so called because the willow arch forms the entrance to our lovely community gardens. Regularly through the year I will be using the blog to talk about the plants in our gardens, the food we grow for our café and the tasks we’re working on. I want to celebrate and share this beautiful urban oasis. Hope you enjoy.
Susan Barker, Community Gardens Manager
Through the Willow arch this autumn…. the change of season came early and stayed put! By the start of September all the blackberries were finished, the leaves were starting to fall and mushrooms were sprouting their shaggy caps under the willow arch. Gluts of beans, courgettes and cucumbers came abruptly to an end. The cold temperatures arrived and dug in with no extra burst of summer as there sometimes is. As always we have been loving the colours of the autumn…. sunflowers, sedum, asters, echinacea, crab apples and rowan berries have all been glowing. The colours (and flavours) of the squash have been fantastic: this year we have grown Green Hokkaido, Blue Ballet, Uchiki Kuri and Turks Turban, which all keep well and have a rich dense taste which is a far cry from the watery pumpkins grown just for carving.
|The sunflower seed heads prove to be popular bird feeders||Rudbekia fulgida and Sedum spectabile glow in the front garden!||Echinecea purpurea flowers bloom bright in the medicinal herb garden|
|Turks Turban squash ripens in the sun||Just harvested Green Hokkaido, Turks Turban, Blue Ballet and Uchiki Kuri squash on their way to the cafe kitchen|
Meanwhile, in the greenhouse, our chilli plants have been enormously productive and are still growing now. We have covered them with fleece in the hope of successfully overwintering them as we have done in the past. Our favourite, without a doubt, is Numex Twilight with chillies starting purple and progressing through orange to red, with all colours on the plant at the same time. All stages of ripening pack a real heat punch. The café will be cooking up their popular chilli jam and harissa paste. Harissa is a hot, aromatic paste made from chilli and other spices. It’s used in North African and Middle Eastern cooking as a condiment, or to flavour stews, soups or couscous. A real winter warmer and very easy to make:
- 20 red chillies, deseeded and roughly chopped
- 5 tbsp each of coriander, cumin and fennel seeds
- 22 garlic cloves
- 1 red onion
- 1 large red pepper, roughly chopped
- 2 tsp salt
Roast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds in a dry pan for a couple of minutes until fragrant. Tip spice mix into a blender and grind to a fine powder, then transfer to a bowl.
Add the garlic, onion, chillies, red pepper and olive oil to the blender and blitz to a paste.
Tip paste into a shallow pan and cook for 15 mins until it reaches a jammy consistency, stirring constantly towards the end.
Stir in the spices and 2 tsp salt, then remove from heat.
Will keep in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for 2 months.
|On Numex Twilight an abundance of purple chillies is the first stage before the colours change||Numex Twilight with all the colours together||A selection of chillies for sale at the autumn fair|
The café has also been cooking up the slightly more unusual medlar compote. One of the plants in the garden we are frequently asked about through the year, and especially in the autumn is our Medlar tree, Mespilus germanica. It has wonderful large white blossom in spring and then starts to form its unusually shaped fruits, which by the autumn cover the tree. Opinion is divided about medlar fruit but fans say it has a sweet, slightly citrus flavour, a bit like stewed apple. There is a myth that you need to let the fruit rot before eating – not true! There is a difference between rotting and “bletting”, when cold temperatures soften the medlar’s tartness to sugars. The flesh becomes a brown puree which can be eaten raw, mixed with cream and sugar or stewed and sieved to make compote.
|Our Medlar tree covered in fruit||Medlar fruit|
Even as the autumn progresses we are planning for spring. Tasks in the gardens this autumn included…..
|First verse from Keats' 'Ode to Autumn' - part of the mural painted in the revamped Old Dairy|
If you would like to view larger versions of the photos featured in this blog, please click on a thumbnail below: