Mists and mellow fruitfulness

Autumn leaves

Autumn leaves - Credit: Archant

It doesn’t seem to have landed on us in its fullness yet, but autumn is coming. Sneaking around the corner, there is a distinct smell of the changing season in the air.

Driving home from work the other day I noticed a man out with his dog, and a basket over one arm - he looked to be on a mission for blackberries! He’s not the only one who has been out picking blackberries recently - lots of my friends have been doing it - for making into pies, and jams and lovely autumn desserts, or for preserving for the winter months. I got to thinking about what it is about autumn that so many people love.

The summer is a season that everyone seems to look forward to - summer holidays, lazy days in the sun, and for the children - time off school... but for me, autumn is a far more promising month. It might have something to do with the fact that I can’t spend much time outside without getting burnt, but I think for me, having grown up in the countryside, autumn has always signalled a time of great bounty.

Conkers were one thing which always brought great fun for us at school - there was a huge horse chestnut tree which stood in the far reaches of the playground, and we would spend hours throwing sticks up into the branches to scatter the treasure that lurked beneath the leaves - health and safety would have had a field day! I remember on one particular occasion, there had been a deluge of rain, and I was the first into the playground - the rain had dragged almost every single conker from the tree, and the ground beneath it was absolutely covered in shining jewel like conkers! Pure treasure! I still can’t help but smile when I see a conker now - there is something about them which so perfectly sums up childhood.

Another wonderful thing about this time of year is the crafts and household activities which are taking place - I went along to my village autumn show yesterday, where a man was making corn dolllies. This tradition which has surely been forgotten by many, is obviously still taking place in some villages, and the man was expertly putting together all different varieties of these beautiful decorations from corn. I asked if they were for sale, and when he told me that they weren’t, I was really disappointed. He quickly followed it up with “You can just have one though”, I haven’t stopped looking at it since, and now it hangs above my writing desk! Traditional crafts like these seem to have been forgotten by many, but I am always pleasantly surprised to find that there are still people dedicated to rural crafts.

Of course the main thing that most people love about autumn are the colours of the leaves on the trees. As I write this, the leaves have not quite turned. They are very much on the cusp of changing. There are some leaves which just have one or two which have already changed colour, and all of the others are teetering on the edge. They will all be changing within the next few weeks, and although it has been quite a warm day today, there is a definite smell of autumn in the air, and the mornings are starting to feel quite chilled. Although it is not quite time to get your scarves out, there is a real sense of the seasons changing, and before we know it, it will be bonfire night.

Focus on: apples

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This year has been a really good year for apples. Unlike last year, when the growing conditions weren’t favourable for apples, this year has seen a bumper crop. Apple days are becoming a great fixture in the horticultural calendar, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for Apple Days which are being held locally - they are normally a celebration of native apple varieties and a great place to buy all different kinds of apple products, from locally produced apple juice, to good old fashioned apple pies!

As we all know, there are various different types of apple - some of which are good for cooking, and not eating raw, and some which are quite the reverse. If you are picking up fallen apples from your garden - be sure to be careful that they are not hiding a drowsy “drunken” bee or wasp! Fallen fruit is often bruised, and will not store, and in general, some varieties of apple are better for storing than others. If you want to plant an apple tree in your garden, and are unsure of the best type for what you want, ask at your local nursery or garden centre. If you have a small garden, but like the idea of growing your own apples, you can consider a “step-over” tree, which takes up much less space, but should still bear fruit. Another possibility, is the “Family Tree”, where you can get several varieties on the same root stock.

Things to do this month:

* Pick up the leaves as they fall - it might seem like an endless job, but it’s easier to do a bit at a time, than having to collect them all when the trees are bare!

* Cut back shrubs and herbaceous perennials, to tidy up the garden for the winter months - this will also help to prevent slugs

* Harvest those pumpkins if you’ve been growing them - great for Halloween, and don’t waste the flesh - it’s great for soup!

* You can plant new raspberry canes for next year

* By the end of this month, you should have all of your spring bulbs in the ground - either in the garden, in containers, or baskets

* Start to plant up any pots that you might want to give as Christmas gifts - depending on what bulbs you are using - remember that paperwhite narcissi (a popular choice for Christmas) only take around six weeks from planting to flowering!

* Get out and enjoy an autumn leaf walk - soak up the colours of the season!

* If you are having a bonfire, either for Guy Fawkes Night, or to burn up excess garden waste, be sure to check for hedgehogs before lighting it!