As the Autumn mists begin and the leaves whither and fall, a great sense of the end of the year begins to descend. I have been gently cutting back and clearing beds ready for their winter rest, letting many of my native plants seed and leaving areas to grow wild in their own way. The veg beds I want to become 'No Dig' beds and so have been laying down cardboard with layers of compost on top or just compost and horse manure fetched from a local farm. I am as always experimenting with different methods to see what works best for me but I am determined to try to dig the beds as little as possible and build the soil goodness from the top downwards as nature intended. See www.charlesdowding.co.uk
Through out this warm wild and windy month I have been passionate about making compost, adding layers of different plant matter and collecting piles of autumn leaves and vegetation. I had so much leaf compost from the trees that I have experimented with piling them into black plastic bags and leaving them to rot down separately... We shall see what we get in the bags this time next year!
All this compost making has been inspired by a trip to the Weleda gardens a few months back, and where compost making is taken very seriously. They had a dedicated clearing for the compost heaps, so that they would have plenty of light and sun, not shoved in an out of the way corner as often happens.
They encourage a good crop of Nettles, Yarrow and other native plants to grow in the clearing and these are layered in with the compost. They also add specific composts made with single plants, made especially for this purpose. The whole thing is covered with straw and turned from time to time until the end result is a dark rich compost.
Follow the gardening Year at Weleda Gardens near Ilkeston Derbyshire. Head gardener Claire also runs fabulous courses there including plant spirit medicine days.
October as always sees me making copious amounts of Elderberry tincture in readiness for winter colds. This is due to the viburnic acid contained in the berries which induces perspiration and helps bring the cold out.
All my family use Elderberry tincture, and no one else seems to get round to making it! Me? I absolutely love the whole process from having a quiet moment with these very special trees, to collecting the Elderberries and then bringing home the bounty and finally making the tincture .
This is so easy to make, simply strip off the Elderberries and fill a dark jar. (If you haven't a dark jar then simply put a clear jam jar in a clean black sock). Fill the jar with brandy or vodka. This preserves the Elderberries. If you don't want to use alcohol then use a quality vinegar.
Use a chop stick to gently poke everything well down and then give the jar a good shake. Shake every few days for the next month or so, then strain off the Elderberries through a sieve, pressing out all the juice. You can then strain again through filter paper if you want a really clear solution, but not essential. Bottle in a dark bottle and take 1 teaspoon x3 a day to ward off a cold or sore throat, or any chesty congestion. It works a treat!
Try adding in other flavours and supportive ingredients.
See September for the Elderberry Syrup recipe.
An old cure for colds, coughs and bronchitis, was to make a rob (a juice thickened by heat) of Elderberries. Use five pounds of fresh ripe berries plucking them off the stalks with a fork. Crush with one pound of sugar and boil until it is the thickness of honey. One or two tablespoons mixed with hot water at night will act as a demulcent to the chest and throat.
Elderberry wine has curative powers of established repute. Taken hot at night, it will help in the early stages of a cold or flu and is excellent for sore throats and catarrh.
See August for Fruit Wine Making
Planting Native Bulbs
Planting bulbs that will come up in the spring is a great pleasure of autumn gardening. Many native bulbs have all but disappeared from the wild, but they are suited to our damp climate and once established should thrive. There are many beautiful native bulbs worth growing in the garden and as always if you want to plant bulbs in the wild, only plant native ones.
NB: Most of these plants are not edible and some are poisonous.
Babington's Leek (Allium babingtonii) - A native bulb which grows to 2 meters high. Looks good en masse in a border. Rare in the wild but sometimes found growing in rocky clefts and sandy places along the coasts of Cornwall, Dorset and West Ireland. Flowers July to August.
Bluebell or Wild Hyacinth (Endymion non-scriptus) - A native of woodlands, they grow best in undisturbed soil and will grow in the shade. It is a protected plant in the wild although they are not considered to be under immediate threat. The biggest concern is the cross-pollination with numerous hybrids and imported species such as the more robust Spanish Bluebell (H. hispanica). It is important that we plant the native variety, especially when considering planting them out. It can also be grown from seed although it takes four years to develop into a flowering bulb but worth doing if you want to replant a large area. Highly poisonous. Flowers April to June.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) - the flowers of this native bulb look wonderful in the flowerbed, and you can eat them too. Considered to be a 'nurse' plant, this will help any plant it is planted alongside. They can be grown from seed or large clumps can be split in the autumn. They prefer full sun. Flowers June to July.
Loddon Lily or Summer Snowflake (Leucojum aestivum) - Protected in the wild this native bulb grows along riverbanks, in damp soil beneath Alders and Willows, and in damp meadows and woodland. The beautiful white flowers with green tips grow to about 18 inches high and resemble a snowdrop in appearance. Flowers April to May.
Round-headed Leek (Allium sphaerocephalon) - similar to the Babington's Leek, rare in the wild now. Flowers June to August
Snake's Head or Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) - Occurs naturally in damp meadows in southern England but now rare in the wild. Handle the delicate bulbs carefully when planting out and plant them 10 cms deep. They like damp conditions but full sun. Absolutely fine to plant under turf as this was once a plant of grasslands. Flowers April to May.
Snow Drop (Galanthus nivalis) - Native of Wales and the West, found in damp valleys, in woods and along streams. Flowers January to March.
Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) - Native only in the East of England but found all over northern Europe and was once eaten as a survival food by those on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It will grow on most soils and prefers to grow through grass. Flowers April - May.
Wild Leek (Allium ampeloprasum) - A native bulb, now rare in the wild but can be found growing along the coast in Cornwall, Somerset and South Wales. Flowers July to August.
Wild Daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) - The native daffodil has a small pale head, and once filled our damp meadows and woodlands in the spring. Flowers February to April.
Most native bulbs will push up through grass. Lift the turf in the autumn, Loosen the soil, plant them and put the turf back. They will grow through the grass in the spring.
Native Plant Seeds and Bulb Suppliers
Guerrilla Gardening - Native Bulbs
Native bulbs can be quickly planted out by the guerrilla gardener, using a sharp bulb trowel. They will remain hidden until the spring when their appearance will lift the spirits and bring delight. As many of them originated in woodland, they are ideal for shady and forgotten corners. Plant them under trees, by springs and wells and along the edges of walls and footpaths. They will happily grow through grass so gently lift the turf, dig a hole and pop them in, putting the turf back with as little disturbance as possible. If they remain undisturbed for many years they will spread.
The weather is very changeable now, the days shorten and the sun is low in the sky. In between the many beautiful sunny autumn days filled with the bright colours of the turning leaves, there are dark, wet, cold days, when the mists come down and we follow our own need to withdraw, rest and reflect.
While you are out walking, keep an eye out for the Blackthorn bushes and their ripening fruit, the sloes. They are found along the edges of fields and make thick impenetrable thickets, much loved by the birds and wildlife. A scratch from their thorns can easily turn septic so be careful when gathering their sloes, which are traditionally picked after the first frosts have softened them. In the past they were rendered sweeter by burying them in straw-lined pots (with lids) and kept in the ground for several months. Sloes can be added to other hedgerow fruit to make hedgerow jam and also used for making wine and everyone's favourite - Sloe Gin.
Traditionally wait until after the first frost have softened the sloes. You can also pick them before and put them in the freezer to mimic nature.
1. Fill one-third of a wide-necked jar with sloes that have been pricked with a clean pin.
2. Make it up to half full with organic sugar and then fill to the top with a good quality gin.
3. Shake daily for three months and watch the gin turn deep red.
4. Strain off the fruit, but do not squeeze. Rebottle, keeping some for the Solstice and some to save for one year for an improved flavour.
5. Rather than throw the gin soaked fruit away, cut the flesh from the stones and add to melted chocolate or chocolate cake!
1.2 kg (3lbs) Sloes
1kg (2.2lbs) Sugar
4 litres (1 gallon) water
1 teaspoon yeast
1. Boil the sloes in half the water for 30 minutes, crushing them with a wooden spoon to break the skins and release the juice.
2. Pour to a clean bucket with the rest of the boiled water, the peel and juice of the oranges, cover and leave for 3 days, stirring every day.
3. Strain and bring to the boil with the sugar until the sugar is dissolved.
4. Let the liquid cool to lukewarm, stir in the yeast and then pour into a demijohn.
5. Fit an air lock and leave in a warm place until it stops fermenting.
6. Siphon off into wine bottles, cork and label. Wait for year before drinking.
Hawthorn ~ Crataegus monogyna
A native shrub found in woods and hedgerows. Known as the May Tree or White Thorn.
There are still plenty of Haw berries to be found at this time of year. Gather them while out walking, and sort through them when you get home, discarding any that look bad or are soft. Dry them in clean brown paper bags on top of the radiators or by the fire. Shake the bags every day or two.
The dried berries can be made into a cold infusion:
A Decoction or 'Cold Infusion'
Soak the Haws in spring water over night. Strain them off in the morning and drink. A strained brew will keep in the fridge for 3 days. Discard as soon as it looks cloudy.
Alternatively make them into Haw Tincture (see May's entry for Tincture Making)
Or make into Haw Brandy by the same method as Sloe Gin (above) but using Haws instead of Sloes and brandy instead of gin.
Hawthorn's Herbal Uses
Haw berries are a safe and primary remedy for the heart, relieving palpitations, angina, hardening of the arteries, water retention and poor circulation. It has the ability to regulate high or low blood pressure depending on the need and will gently bring the heart to normal function. Use for any nervous conditions including stress and insomnia. A poultice of the pulped berries or leaves has strong drawing powers, and has long been used for embedded thorns, splinters and whitlows.
Metaphysical Uses: The Hawthorn has the ability on the subtle level to release blocked energy and to open the heart to giving and receiving love. By releasing stress it enhances the person's ability to let go and trust.
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