Enjoy the colour in nature’s own garden

AT this time of year when there is so little colour in most people’s gardens, it is always a good time to get out and about and look at some of the colour in nature’s own garden.

AT this time of year when there is so little colour in most people’s gardens, it is always a good time to get out and about and look at some of the colour in nature’s own garden - the leaves which have turned the colour of burnished gold, are there for us all to enjoy. The orange and golds of the beautiful leaves are echoed in another plant, or rather vegetable at this time of year - the pumpkin!

I have always loved pumpkins - for me, they signal the run up to Christmas, and all things good. My sister and I always liked to carve pumpkins as children, and our parents still do one every year, which is lovely to see when you walk down their path on a dark night at the end of October.

Of course, this is all the more satisfying if you have managed to grow your own pumpkins, like my parents do, but I haven’t grown any this year - mainly due to not having been organised enough earlier in the year! So, when I saw the Pumpkin and Apple gala advertised at The Luton Hoo Walled Garden, I was very excited, and knew exactly where I would be going to buy my pumpkin! Due to living on a high street, it’s not really possible for me to keep a carved pumpkin outside the house over the last week of October, so instead I bring the colour inside, and create a display of colourful squashes and gourds on my window sill - that way, I get to enjoy their bright autumnal colours whilst also making a pretty display for those walking past my cottage.

My friends and I all piled into the car and headed to the Luton Hoo Walled Garden, which I had never visited before. I was hugely impressed with the Walled Garden itself - in general they are something which I have always coveted. I have always dreamed of having a beautiful Victorian walled garden, in which to grow rows upon rows of cutting flowers as well as growing enough fruit and vegetables to be self-sustainable. For now, or at least until I win the lottery - I will have to be content with enjoying other people’s! I certainly wasn’t disappointed - huge, beautiful greenhouses, which we unfortunately couldn’t go inside, but which tantalised me from the outside, and rows of vegetables, with further empty rows from that which had already gone to the kitchen.

The gala itself was great fun - we filled our bellies with toffee apples, and warm apple and cinnamon drinks, whilst walking around the displays of local children’s decorated pumpkins and gourds. The atmosphere was fantastic, and the lady organising the event told me that it only started six years ago, and has grown every year. There were lovely food stalls, and of course a stall of plants, and pumpkins. Stupidly, I decided to buy my pumpkin on the way out, by which time, they had all gone... so the hunt for the pumpkin continued.

My next idea was to look for a local farm shop, and just entirely by chance, I was driving towards Potten End - about 10 minutes outside of St Albans, when I decided to turn into Rumblers Farm Shop - somewhere that I have driven past hundreds of times, but never been into... the sign outside, promising “Pumpkins of all sizes” was enough to tempt me in! It was amazing!

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I was hit by a wall of orange - the most vibrant and cheerful collection of pumpkins I had ever seen! There is something quite different about a huge pile of pumpkins which are shined brightly with fresh rain, than the pile of slightly sad and sorry looking specimens that you sometimes find in supermarkets.

They had pumpkins of all different sizes - along with wonderful local produce and plants which I had to steer myself away from (but I’ll definitely be going back for). Some of the pumpkins were huge, others just the right size for my window display, and as I stood looking at them, mesmerized by the colour - such a welcome sight on what had become quite a dank and dreary day, the farmer came over and asked me whether I would like to take a walk out into the field to see what was left of the crop. He looked slightly dubiously at my footwear - a brand new pair of leather boots (well, I did say I had come in on a whim!!) After I had assured him that I was a thoroughbred country girl, and that if I didn’t get some mud on the new boots soon, I’d be bound to get a teasing from my dad, we headed off to look at the pumpkins in the field. There weren’t many left, and he told me that this is due to the weather. Apparently they would normally expect to get a crop of around 500, but that this year the crop had been much reduced due to the amount of rain - it would seem that the weather has been wreaking havoc with lots of our native crops - not just the apples. There they were though, nestling amongst the green like shining orbs.

My dad tells me that my great uncle - who was a farmer, as well as a keen gardener, always said that in order to get pumpkins to grow big, you made a small hole in the stem, and fed them sugar! I’m not sure whether this works, but it’s something that I plan to try next year - I always think it’s worth listening to old tips from people who have gardened for years - tried and tested methods are often the best!

Tips for the month:

*Prune your rose bushes

*Pick up leaves - be careful to make sure that you keep an eye out for small plants which might be underneath them - like cyclamen (pictured), and of course if you are making piles of leaves for a bonfire, make sure to check underneath the bonfire for hedgehogs which might have scuttled underneath for hibernation.

* Pick those brussel sprouts and freeze them ready for Christmas dinner!

* You can use the leaves that you have picked up to make leaf mulch - this will take a year or two - but now is a good time to empty your compost/leaf mulch from a couple of years ago, and get it into the garden.

*Protect outside taps - you can do this by tying bubblewrap around them - this will protect them from the cold weather

* Prune clematis - a good rule of thumb for this is: If it’s flowered AFTER June - prune.

* Get your heavy digging done in vegetable gardens - deep dig with a fork (pictured) and then add manure if you want. If you dig it in now, it should be rotted down by the time you want to plant in the spring. Frost will break down the clods, so no need to fine tilth it.

Sweet Chestnuts:

One of my favourite things at this time of year, is the arrival of sweet chestnuts. Although as a child, it was the horse chestnut that had me captivated, we would always go out with our parents looking for sweet chestnuts. This job obviously requires a good pair of gloves, as the sweet chestnut has a much trickier, and pricklier shell than the horse chestnut! We used to collect bags of them, and take them back to my granny’s house, she would boil them, and we would peel their hot shells with quick fingers, and gobble them down, dipped in salt. The thought of it makes my mouth water, even now. When I went away to university, my mum used to go and find chestnuts, package them up in a jiffy bag, and post them to me - sometimes they went mouldy waiting for me to cook them, but other times they would be gratefully enjoyed, in the small student sitting room; memories of home. Over the next few weeks, I will definitely be out with my gloves on, and a bag for chestnuts!