Through the Willow Arch: Autumn

Susan Barker, Community Gardens ManagerWelcome 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

Autumn 2017

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.

Close-up of sunflower seed headYellow Rudbekia and pink Sedum in bloomEchinecea purpurea in bloom
The sunflower seed heads prove to be popular bird feedersRudbekia fulgida and Sedum spectabile glow in the front garden!Echinecea purpurea flowers bloom bright in the medicinal herb garden
Colourful Turks Turban squashCollection of squash in all shapes and sizes
Turks Turban squash ripens in the sunJust 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:

Harissa Paste

  • 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.

Download the recipe (pdf)

Chilli plants with purple fruitRed, orange and purple chillies on the same plantBaskets of farm grown chillies for sale
On Numex Twilight an abundance of purple chillies is the first stage before the colours changeNumex Twilight with all the colours togetherA 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.

Medlar tree covered in fruitClose-up of medlar fruit
Our Medlar tree covered in fruitMedlar fruit

Even as the autumn progresses we are planning for spring. Tasks in the gardens this autumn included…..

  • Planting our spinach (Giant Winter), chard (Five Colours), spring cabbage (Durham Early and Pixie) and broad beans (Superaquadulce) for overwintering and spring crops.
  • Planting winter salad under cover including winter lettuce, mizuna, corn salad, winter purslane, tatsoi, parsley and rocket.
  • Planting garlic cloves and onion sets. This allows the cold temperatures over winter to trigger the onions to bulb up nicely next summer and the garlic to divide into cloves.
  • Mulching beds with last year’s leaf mould and gathering up this year’s leaves from the paths and lawns to make more for next year. We leave the leaves that fall onto the perennial borders and let nature do its own mulching there.
  • Saving seed from many of our flowers. We cut the seed heads on a dry day and save in labelled envelopes– these are so easy to do and we don’t mind if the flowers don’t come true – it is lovely to see the variations on the flowers next year.
Verse from Keats' Ode to Autumn painted on wall
First verse from Keats' 'Ode to Autumn' - part of the mural painted in the revamped Old Dairy


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