Earlier in October I posted an image of my first autumn snowdrop. Reactions ran high for this apparently out of season anomaly. Surely the snowdrop is an emblem of deep midwinter, a welcome sign of life in a grim February, but out of place for showing its head in the wrong season? Being thoroughly under their spell and wanting the spell to last for as long as it can, I was surprised that people were not as delighted as I am by the first of the season.
I never meant to fall so hook, line and sinker and for years stood by a self-imposed rule that I had to be able to spot the difference between one snowdrop and another from a sensible distance in order to justify acquiring them. To a point this is still true, but the more you go deeper, the more you understand that galanthus are as varied as a room full of people. Some rise early, others with the crowd or fashionably late and their differences in character are as nuanced as anyone on the spectrum of galanthophilia could possibly need them to be.
I am not a collector for collecting’s sake and would say, compared to some, that I am a peripheral galanthophile. However, I do like to get to know my plants and to understand their range and what they have to offer. So it only seemed sensible, when increasing my collection by a dozen or so new plants a year, to do it by extending the season. Not necessarily much beyond their February zenith when you can begin to see the spring taking a hold, but certainly brought forward. As a countermove to the inertia of the winter season when you pine for movement and for the joy they bring on those days when the sky is leaden and daylight hardly gets a hold.
My first to appear here are the autumn flowering Galanthus reginae-olgae from the Peloponnese. Triggered by the first rains and growing ahead of the competition that follows in a Greek spring, I have found them a place of their own in the gravelly edges of the drive and where they get a good day of winter sunshine. I am very much at the getting-to-know stage with my autumn varieties, but five years in and I am beginning to understand their requirements. ‘Cambridge’ is the first to flower, robust in habit and perhaps the strongest. ‘Blanc de Chine’ is refined all in white, without the green on the skirt and ‘Tile Barn Jamie’ profuse in flower, but I do have some weaker forms which are shy to the point of perhaps being reluctant. I am moving them about if they fail to bulk after three years to see if they prefer a different position, because it is usually the gardener’s fault or the fault of the garden rather than the plant. If I fail within another five years, it is fair to move on and work with those that do.
These early treasures are grown through a carpet of protective Erigeron karvinskianus which covers for them in their summer dormancy and is cut back hard in September just before they emerge. Galanthus reginae-olgae are distinctive for throwing flower ahead of foliage and for the silvery mid-rib to the leaf when it follows afterwards. I would not say they are a robust plant and would never consider growing them in grass, but they do provide if you make the time for them. Time to keep them clear of competition whilst they are in leaf and free from slugs, which this year have damaged several of the flowers. A mild autumn, new fresh growth and a last feast before the cold keeps the slugs at bay making them easy targets.
Next into flower, picking up here in the first days of November are the early forms of Galanthus elwesii, an easy species with wide, blue-green foliage. Our most commonly grown galanthus after Galanthus nivalis, this Turkish species is immensely variable as a garden plant and has thrown up many variants. Those in the G. elwesii (Hiemalis Group) usually flower before Christmas and are far less choosy than G. reginae-olgae, being happy to live a snowdrop’s life as you might know it and not in need of such sharp drainage.
Slowly, as they have proven themselves, I have been moving the earlies from my snowdrop stock-bed. The stock-bed sits on the cool side of a hawthorn hedge and allows me the luxury of comparing and contrasting their habits and watching them gently bulk up from a single bulb. The lengthy row of labels points to my little obsession and the length of the hedge is my gauge and limit.
Huddling the earlies up close to the house, we get to see the differences and the concentration of a group is something worth making a special trip into the garden for. So far, the best from the Hiemalis Group are Galanthus ‘Donald Sims Early’ (main image with Crocus sativus foliage), Galanthus ‘Broadleigh Gardens’ and ‘Barnes’. There are several more, believe me, each coming in succession and picking up the season as the winter darkens but, at the risk of falling irretrievably down a snowy white rabbit hole, for now I’d better stop there.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 26 November 2022
Finally there is a chill in the air after weeks of warmth, with grass still growing and meals eaten outside when it really should be time to be in. I have been keeping a close eye on the forecast, but a frost has eluded us so far and the garden has continued on. The nasturtiums, which are the litmus test to freeze, are sprawled further than ever across the paths in the vegetable garden, their growth unchecked and now unseasonally green in contrast to the pull of dark nights and dormancy.
Watching closely, I have been gently preparing for the winter. To be ready for it when it finally comes. Some of the tasks have felt premature and preparing the gunnera to tent their crowns with their own leaves is usually a task that happens immediately after a frost in early November. By then they are wilted enough to have lost their presence, but this year I waded in to dismember them whilst they were still entire. Working amongst their vast canopies, cutting through stems heavy with sap and the rasp of leaves not yet diminished in power by a freeze. It was a good day, but one that felt out of kilter with what we expect of November.
The pelargoniums have been moved down to the veranda, as a first step towards frost free shelter. I feel sorry for them once they are brought into the captivity of the Milking Barn and encouraged into semi-dormancy with diminished water. Leaves dropping to the floor in protest, but resilient to an imposed and necessary order. Next weekend, because I would not risk losing the brugmansia to the inevitable freeze, it will be given more drastic treatment. Cut back hard to its woody frame, this elderly companion will be hauled into the potting shed to go the winter without fear of freezing. The plant has undergone such drastic action for the last thirty years and its sturdy root system can cope and regenerates every spring, but if we had a greenhouse (and one day we will), my tender perennials will be allowed to live out the winter in leaf, and happier for the comparative luxury.
Ambitious as we are to keep a practical garden, I am prepared to bend the rules to grow a number of tender perennials. The species dahlias, for instance, are left in the ground and mulched with a deep layer of compost to save the labour of lifting them. The agapanthus and Jasminum grandiflorum, that are not entirely hardy, are decamped into the open barn and kept on the dry side to avoid the lethal combination of wet and cold together. If it does freeze hard, I throw sacking over the pots, but am mindful to check them regularly in case mice set up home there and decide to start feasting.
In a garden that is mostly left now for its winter skeletons and natural cycles of decay, we make exception for the wintergreen bulbs, clearing around them to assist their photosynthesis or finding a place where they can take in the light without competition. Their countermovement to the gathering tide of winter is worth making room for, for the months ahead when we simply need to see growth and fresh green. The glossy foliage of colchicum in winter sunshine and Arum creticum and Anemone pavonina, which do their growing in winter in preparation for early flower. We find them a home somewhere close to a path, where they get the light they need and we the optimism of their push against a landscape preparing itself for sleep.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 19 November 2022
We’ve been clearing the beds in the vegetable garden over the past few weekends, with the aim of getting as many of them manured this side of Christmas as possible. The withered climbing beans have been slipped from their hazel supports, the last dried beans in their parchment pods saved for sowing next year. The spiny skeletons of courgettes pulled from the ground with gloved hands, their almost non-existent root systems making me wonder how on earth they get so huge and produce such an endless succession of water-swollen fruits. And the ghostly grove of rustling sweetcorn, which was left standing for as long as possible, because its coarse whisper brought such a strong Halloween atmosphere to the fading kitchen garden, was finally felled. All were thrown onto the compost heap to complete their life cycles. No longer providing food for us, but now offering shelter and sustenance to a slew of other creatures, both visible and invisible. In the coming year the resulting compost will be spread on the beds to improve and feed the soil producing next season’s harvest and so it will feed us once more in another chain of the cycle.
Along with the spent crops there have also been roots to lift and store. Primarily beetroots and carrots, although most years we also have turnips. We lift these now and store them in the barn in paper sacks alongside the potatoes. If left in the ground we have found that the beets are damaged by slugs which then invites rot, while the carrots are prey to wireworm, which renders them inedible.
Both beets and carrots are unassuming vegetables that go quite unremarked when in growth, quietly getting on with it, needing very little attention and dependably there when needed. I sow both successionally from late March or early April, with the carrots benefitting from cloches or a layer of fleece to aid germination. These first carrot sowings are of the early, sweet varieties ‘Chantenay’ and ‘Paris Market’. The former is the small, conical variety well known for its flavour, best boiled and served with lashings of butter and finely chopped chervil or mint. The latter, also well flavoured, forms spherical roots about the size of a ping pong ball and are good for heavy soil, which doesn’t favour the long-rooted varieties. These are followed by larger main crop varieties sown at intervals of about a month, in April, May and June. I like to have a good mix of coloured carrots, both because they look good on the plate and also because each has a slightly different flavour. Orange ‘Lisse de Meaux’, a particularly good keeper, yellow ‘Jaune Obtuse de Doubs’ with a blunt tip that means they don’t snap off when being dug, the deep red ‘Mr. James’ Scarlet Intermediate’ and ‘Pastenaga Negra’, which is purple with an orange centre. The seed comes from either The Real Seed Company or Thomas Etty. I also usually sow a couple of rows of ‘Rainbow Mix’ which adds white and saffron carrots to the combination. As with beetroot you should cook the darker coloured red and purple varieties separately from the paler ones as the colour bleeds.
Being so commonplace I had expected them to be a doddle to grow, but I haven’t found carrots to be the easiest of crops here. Through trial, error and reading I have learned to be fastidious about providing the fine tilth the small seeds require and to sow close to the surface. However, germination is still extremely patchy. Because they are so slow to germinate, this often does not become apparent for several weeks, by which time it is too late to resow to fill the gaps so you end up with infuriatingly partial rows. I have tried broadcasting the seed in panels as recommended by Joy Larkcom, but this has made no difference. So now I sow in shallow drills much more heavily than is recommended, since the patchy germination acts a form of self-thinning. Although there is still the chance of bad performance or risk of overcrowding our carrot harvests are becoming more dependable. We have not yet, fingers crossed, been subject to awful carrot root fly and so once sown they need very little attention. Thinning is done once, when the roots are small but worth eating. The roots left in the ground are heavily watered afterwards to settle the soil and encourage rapid growth. Over the years, as the beds have been annually conditioned with manure and compost, the soil has also become more friable and whereas in the early days here the roots were often short, forked or deformed, they now grow more deeply and straighter with ease.
I seldom consider a carrot alone. With onions and celery they are one of the mainstays of the kitchen here, forming a soffritto most days which is the basis of soups, stews, casseroles and curries, but unless simply boiled in summer or made into soup in winter, they are seldom the main ingredient. When freshly dug though they demand to be appreciated, particularly on these shortening days and lengthening nights, when their inherent sweetness, savoury depth and orange glow bring warmth and zing to the autumn table. I lifted the last bulb of fennel today to make way for the garlic. It’s aniseed sweetness goes so well with carrots, both raw and cooked, that this tart came together as a way of using them both, before the remaining carrots are tucked up in their sack and put away in the barn until needed. Making pastry from scratch may seem like a faff, but this rough puff comes together in around fifteen minutes, including the time required for rolling and folding and repays the small effort in flavour and good feeling. Wrapped, it will keep in the fridge overnight, if required. However, if you don’t have the time, use a 300g pack of all-butter puff pastry.
400g carrots, topped and peeled
150g fennel, finely chopped
150g shallots, finely chopped
4 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon fennel seed, coarsely crushed
1 tablespoon white miso (optional)
250g plain flour
250g block of salted butter, frozen
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
175ml iced water
You will need a heavy-bottomed cast iron skillet or frying pan around 30cm in diameter.
To make the pastry sift the flour into a large bowl. Coarsely grate the butter into the flour using the coarse side of a box grater. Use a sharp knife to quickly mix the two together so that the butter is coated in flour. Sprinkle over the vinegar and six teaspoons of water. Use the knife to quickly incorporate the liquid. Keep adding the water two tablespoons at a time until the mixture becomes shaggy and starts to come together of its own accord. You may not need all of the water. Lightly bring the dough together with your fingers.
Lightly flour a work surface. Rolling in only one direction, quickly roll the dough out into a rectangle approximately 30cm by 20cm with the short side towards you. Between rolls use the edges of your hands to keep the edges roughly square. Fold the top third of the dough over and then fold the bottom third up over this to form a neat parcel. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and roll out again to a rectangle the same size. Repeat the folding by thirds. Rotate once more. Roll out again and repeat the folding. Wrap the dough in a tea towel and put into the fridge for at least thirty minutes.
Put the honey and vinegar into a small pan over a high heat and bring to the boil. It will foam madly for a minute, but will then subside and start to caramelise. Boil for around two to three minutes until darker in colour and thickened. Take off the heat and add the crushed fennel seeds and miso, if using. Stir well. Immediately pour the mixture into the cast iron skillet. Use the back of a metal spoon dipped in cold water to spread it evenly over the base of the pan. Work quickly as it will thicken as it cools.
Peel the carrots and slice with a very sharp knife or mandolin into rounds about 2mm thick. Put into a saucepan and pour over a kettle of boiling water. Put the lid on the pan and leave to stand for 5 minutes. Drain the carrots – the carrot water can be retained for stock – and shake the pan to allow any remaining water to evaporate as steam.
Once the carrots are cool, arrange them slightly overlapping on top of the honey caramel. There should be enough carrot for two layers. Put the skillet on a medium heat and cook for two to three minutes until bubbling and starting to colour at the edges. Remove from the heat.
Set the oven to 200° C.
Over a medium heat melt the butter in the pan you made the caramel in. Add the onions with a large pinch of salt and sauté with the lid on for about five minutes. Stir from time to time. Add the fennel and continue to sweat with the lid on for another ten to fifteen minutes until both are soft and fragrant. Spread this mixture evenly over the carrots.
Remove the pastry from the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a circle just larger than the skillet or pan. Dust any excess flour from the back of the dough and then lay it over the carrots and fennel, gently pressing it into the corners of the pan. Make several small slits in the pastry and then put the skillet immediately into the hot oven.
Cook for thirty to forty minutes, until the pastry in nicely browned and the juices around the edges of the pan are bubbling and brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to stand for a couple of minutes. Then very carefully invert the hot pan over a serving plate and turn out the tart. Rescue and rearrange any pieces of carrot that have become stuck to the pan.
The sweetness of the carrots is balanced particularly well by the contrast of bitter greens. A crisp salad of trevisse or radicchio, oven roasted or braised chicory. It pairs very well with a crumbly white cheese like Caerphilly, Wensleydale or Cheshire.
Recipe and photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 12 November 2022
The Amicia zygomeris are eking out the good weather in this last mild chapter before the inevitable frost. They have taken this long to all but come to fruition with a flurry of pea flowers which are surprisingly opulent in their appearance at this closing moment of the growing season. Tilting outward and down from a yoke-like ruff of ink-stained bracts and glowing a warm, golden yellow in low sunshine.
My first plants originally came from Great Dixter when I was a teenager, but I do not remember where Christopher Lloyd grew them before he replaced the old Rose Garden with the Exotic Garden. This is where you will find them today, juxtaposed with other exotics and reaching boldly skyward. Hailing from Mexico, best advice in this country is to provide this sturdy perennial with a winter mulch, as you might a dahlia that you intend to leave in the ground. I followed these rules with my first plant, growing it against the only warm wall where the light fell into our woodland garden in Hampshire. I remember this plant with the same delight I feel about the ones here at Hillside all these years later, but I have grown in confidence about their hardiness and now grow them in the open with just a little shelter from the wind. Out of habit I mulched the plants here in their first few years but, now they are fully established, have found them to be perfectly hardy on our free-draining slopes and indeed they are reputed to be hardy to -10°C .
In the last weeks of the growing season anyone with a good eye will gravitate to amicia and enquire what it is, but in the first part of the summer it can easily go unnoticed. Rising latish in spring from a sturdy basal clump, its foliage is quite unlike anything else that we have in the garden. Quietly exotic and obviously a legume, the leaves appear in pairs and neatly as if they have been designed by a pattern cutter who enjoys a fold and an overlap. The leaves are blue-green with a distinctive indentation at the ends and a collar-like sheath where the leaves meet the stem. These stipules are stained reddish-purple and cluster more definitely at the apex of the stems where, toward the end of the season, they shelter flowers.
Amicia makes itself known in the garden sometime in August, when it gathers quite a presence. The tailored foliage is smart and always in good condition and if you visit it as dusk descends you will witness the leaves folding up for the night. By now the plant is shoulder high and continues to become bolder and more sculptural. However, it isn’t until October that the brew of buds become visible and then, as the evenings cool, a weighting of the stems and first flowers. It is just about the time you are beginning to fret about how many days you have left before the dahlias are wilted by frost, but they take this fortnight or as long as they have left to grace you with flower.
I have never seen amicia set seed, because the frost strips everything back to the base and so they never complete their life cycle. That said, they are reliably clump-forming, have a long life span and do not cry out for division. I suspect I will only need to move them if they become overshadowed by the company of the neighbouring heptacodium, which provides wind shelter. Before this happens, I will take cuttings to futureproof against potential failure. Basal cuttings at the beginning of spring, internodal cuttings in July or semi-ripe cuttings in October provide ample opportunity to keep them going. A handful of plants is always a good thing to have on stand-by, I find. For the simple joy of making your own plants or to give to the friends who discover amicia late in the growing season, inquisitive about this curiosity and its quiet but very definite identity.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 5 November 2022
Twelve years ago this weekend we dropped the keys through the letterbox of our house in Peckham and headed west to the prospect of Hillside. The first few days and the quality of this last weekend in October are imprinted very clearly for being so new and suddenly in such a different environment. Where the skies were huge and not narrowed by buildings and where the season was manifest in everything and all around us. In the dew-heavy grass, the hedges beginning to show their winter bones and the apples pecked into cups by the birds that flocked to gorge on the windfalls in the old orchard.
The wind that moves with such ease down the valley and which we have grown to love on our faces had all but torn the last of the foliage from the poplars, their silhouettes clear against the flanks of the rise behind them. The newness allowed us to look deeply into every detail, more intently than you do when you come to know your environment. We combed the land, walking the line of the stream and noted where the farmer before us had pushed the fields as far as they could go to the very quick of the hedge-lines.
Friends who came to stay not long after we moved found the openness and pared back feeling of the land bleak, but we were besotted with our place in the landscape and loved everything about it. We could see the need for the starkness to be relaxed, for the hedges to be repaired where they were gappy from neglect and for the feeling of plenty to return to the land. In berries spilling from the hedgerows, in a new orchard I planted to come up alongside the grandparent trees that were the clue that long before these pastures there had once been a market garden.
The crab apples and walnuts that now help to nestle us back into the hill provide a stopping place for the eye and for the birds that we noted had nowhere but the hedges as respite. Fruiting trees and hedgerow trees felt appropriate and I began by planting a black mulberry in an area where I knew the land would not be changed when the time came to make the garden. Then, when the bone structure of paths were put in six years ago, the first plants to go in were a stand of the American Crataegus coccinea with its über-sized berries and a medlar.
Medlars and black mulberries have an ancient feeling about them, imbuing a garden with a feeling of age and cultivation. A lived-in quality which our land did not possess when we arrived here. Hailing originally from Asia Minor, the medlar has been in cultivation for as long as 3000 years. It was introduced to Greece around 700 BC and Rome five hundred years later. In Elizabethan gardens they were prized for fruiting late and for their keeping qualities. The practice of ‘bletting’ the fruit, to leave it on the tree to be frosted, or picking it when it is still firm and letting it ripen like a pear inside, turns the fruit so that you are essentially scooping the fermented flesh from the leathery skin. A curious paste with an acquired but interesting taste, not so unlike a Medjool date. Just sweet and overly ripe, but delicious once you remind yourself to retrain your thinking.
As a fruit that was seen as being rotten before it was ripe, the medlar was used figuratively in literature as a symbol of premature destitution or prostitution. Chaucer and Shakespeare both referred to it bawdily as ‘open-arses’ on account of its distinct calyx and humorous association. The fruits were not only a delicacy in times past, but all parts of the tree were the source of herbal remedies to treat many ailments, particularly of the stomach. Their high iron content also meant that they were used for tanning leather. More recently the kernel oil has been used to produce biodiesel. It is surprising, therefore, when looking into things more deeply that today they are rarely considered for anything other than their ornamental value.
Wild medlars are a thorny, bushy tree from Asia Minor, originally thought to be closely related to hawthorn and listed sometimes as Crataegus germanica. Cultivated forms of Mespilus germanica are thornless, with distinctive long-limbed growth and an arch in the branching which can often result in a tree that is wider than it is tall. Up to 10m wide and 6m tall in an established plant, but easily half that on good behaviour. Being relatively short-lived, a thirty year old tree at the height of its maturity can also feel much older.
We have two trees here which have both been given space to reach. The variety ‘Nottingham’, which is a large-fruited form selected for almost seedless flesh is rangy in nature so it has been given a place all of its own above the plum orchard and makes a nice segue into the blossom wood above it, which at this time of year is fruiting as prolifically. The second tree was a gift from Huw’s mother and is planted at the entrance to the garden just above the tool shed. It is an unnamed variety, selected for its multi-stemmed form, which I like here in the winter. Its fruits are smaller than ‘Nottingham’ by about half and they are as much seed as flesh, so not the best eating, but the tree has something special about it and already this corner of the garden feels held.
The large, creamy flowers come late in May and the tree goes on to provide a quiet presence in summer as its fruits swell. In early autumn you notice it again as the fruits weight the branches and begin to russet. The foliage then colours richly, orange and tan like a field maple, in the last of days of October. This distinctive time that has me back in the house on our first days here. Autumn giving way to winter and the smell of someone else’s damp carpets, but all the excitement of having arrived at the beginning of a new chapter.
In a week our tree will be bare and the fruits will hang on until they are bletted by the frost. They turn a rusty brown and hang long enough on the naked limbs to hold your attention. We let the birds and mice have the majority when they drop and enjoy their perfume as they moulder into November. A basketful of ‘Nottingham’, however, will make its way to the kitchen to be made into something wintry and with a taste of another time.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 29 October 2022
This time last week the garden was at its autumn peak and it coincided with the gentle best of October. The Dahlia australis reaching tall, but now on borrowed time with clear bright nights and a chill in the air. Asters at their most floriferous and still buoyant in a garden flush with colouring foliage and yet to be dashed by rain. The zenith of brilliant nerine and bright but autumn-soft sunlight shimmering in the miscanthus.
A run of clear mornings kept us spellbound at breakfast time when the light broke over The Tump. One ray grazing the dome of brilliant green where the meadow has replenished itself and then subsequent fingers reaching their way into the garden. The first threw a bolt into a gap in the hedge that passed in a direct line through the silvery seed heads of the tabletop asters to fall full-stop upon the last of the Kniphofia thompsonii var. thompsonii. It was as if the pokers were waiting for the light and for a full three minutes they flared like candles. When it was over we looked up to find the garden awash, the ultramarine of the Salvia patens and the burning seed heads of the switch grass suddenly illuminated. And then the moment had passed. It was simply morning.
What a difference a week makes. Returning from a few days working away, the garden was weighted by rain and the tear of weather. The Anemone hupehensis had lost their petals and I had to retrain my eye where I’d grown used to their glow amongst the berries of the Scarlet Hawthorn. You have to embrace the change and its gathering pace once you feel the tilt, so earlier this morning we took another hour at breakfast time to follow the autumn colour. To trees that we have now encouraged for the best part of ten years and are providing the weight and bulk to make a show.
The Yoshino cherry (main image) is every bit as good at the end of its year and before it drops as it is fresh and alive with blossom at the beginning of the growing season. I like that it stands alone in the yard and becomes the point of crimson focus. Bigger and better than last year’s display and a marker to think about time before it falls back to winter twiggery. Perhaps your attention has been elsewhere in the activity of gardening whilst they have been quietly bulking during the summer, but it is a good feeling to stand back and take in the presence of trees you have nurtured and which, after a decade of growth, now feel substantial.
A young tree moving from youth into the beginnings of maturity can make you feel at scale with time and place. You have to stand back to survey their stature and to take in the time that in one way feels like it has passed all too quickly, but is also mapped so very definitely in growth. The vase-shaped forms of the Chequer trees now colouring so vividly at the bottom of the ditch are a good example. They were planted as feathered maidens no taller than my shoulder a decade ago and now we walk amongst them. The cloud of sweet smelling perfume that holds the hollow now that the cercidiphyllum have presence is also testament to them having the heft to make this place their own and we can now legitimately call it the Katsura Grove.
On a journey of their own making the stand of young hawthorn that has regenerated around the old pollard on the flanks of The Tump has changed this place entirely. When we arrived the pollard stood in splendid isolation and marked one of the last things the farmer did here before he died. The tree, as if to mark the end of that era, never regenerated successfully from his final lopping but, with a change of regime and lighter grazing, it is now all but eclipsed by a young spinney of Crataegus. Sown there, no doubt, by birds which would have rested in the limbs of the pollard, we have allowed the seedlings to come to something with a lighter touch on the land.
The wilder feeling in the land is good to see for its abundance in the autumn, with the Cornus mas now suddenly having weight along the ditch. We didn’t take in their russet colouring last year, for they had not yet begun to register, but this year they have presence. Their limbs are not yet touching, but you can begin to imagine that they might in the not so distant future. Forming a moment of still where their branches arrest the wind and where not so long ago there was nothing. They have made a place here and a backdrop for the blackening foliage of the Inula and the yellowing Equisetum. Somewhere changed by time, the benefit of patience and bettered for being generous.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 22 October 2022
We take our summer holiday late to be in the here and now of our growing season. We have honed the dates around the harvest now the orchards are grown, to bring in the plums as August comes to a close and the pears begin to drop, which they do in sequence. ‘Beth’ first, then ‘Beurre Hardy’ and ‘Williams’, which is done by the middle of September. There is a pause then for the best of them all, ‘Doyenne du Comice’, which will hang on for a month, so we seize this window for a fortnight in search of the last of a Dodecanese summer.
The softness of September is perhaps the most beautiful time in the garden, so we depart with a little wrench. Where it feels wrong to leave the fruit to the birds, the compromise of missing a flowering is weighted differently. One year will be different from the next but my absence has never prevented me from planting with asters and autumnal grasses and a host of late season bulbs that make this time their own.
In late August the arrival of the Amaryllis belladonna, which harness stored energy from the previous winter in leaf and lie dormant for the duration of the summer, are the beginning of a wave of bulbs which emerge freshly through what is left spent by the growing season. Colchicum have the same growth habits, rising nakedly and nimbly ahead of their foliage, as do Cyclamen hederifolium, Sternbergia lutea and Nerine bowdenii, so full of new energy and such a good counterpoint to the melancholy of autumn.
We do a late cut on the meadow banks behind the house, where I have planted drifts of autumn-flowering Crocus speciosus. Cooling soil temperatures and first rains are their trigger into growth, so we cut in the last week of August to be sure not to damage their impossibly fragile shoots. Where the pears keep regular timing, the autumn-flowering crocus have been hugely variable and this year we returned to them just coming into their prime, where last year they were already on their last run. I have kept the white form separate to enjoy their purity and the contrast of yolky stamens. This is their fifth year in the free-draining gravel of the drive and though I have not yet seen evidence of seeding, the plants are doing well and each year there are more. Most autumn-blooming bulbs have foliage that is winter green and finding a place where the low sun hits the ground helps to replenish their energies and being Turkish, they also appreciate the free-draining position.
The expectation of late bloomers is welcome as the season loses momentum and the Gladiolus murielae (main image) had not long broken bud when we left for Greece in mid-September. I grow them in pots by the cold frames to bring up to the house when they are at their zenith of tapering leaf and you can see the flowering growth nearing the point where it emerges from the pleated foliage. Everything about the growth is vertical except for the flowers which hang in the space on shepherd’s crook stems just above the leaves. We put the pot in the lea of the house to harbour the perfume, which is sweet and heady like frangipani.
The Victorians grew the Abyssinian gladiolus for display in the house or cool conservatory and though you can plant them in the ground their chances of survival in a wet, British winter are slim. Kept in the pot and moved into the frost free barn where they are not given water, I have found them easy to keep. That said, growth is so late in the spring that you begin to wonder if they have failed or been eaten by mice. Though the books recommend buying new bulbs, division in April when repotting the dahlias is enough to refresh the plants. Keep only the largest corms and replant about a dozen to a twelve inch pot and bring them into growth slowly by not overwatering until you see signs of life. This tends to be a task that is always at the bottom of the list of the many tasks at the beginning of the growing season, but by the very end, when we return from Greece to find the plants still resplendent, it is time you are happy to have found.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 15 October 2022
September is surely one of the most beautiful months. Evenings cooling, grass wet again with dew, but warmth still in the sun. The tiredness that sometimes hangs over August is now refreshed after rains. The meadows flushed with new green and germination happening everywhere. A rash of poppy seedlings seizing the moment to establish themselves before winter and, of course, the sea of dandelions. The very moment I thought about back in May when the airborne seed moved in silken clouds down the valley, but I’d all but forgotten whilst they lay dormant in the dry weeks of summer.
With the change we welcome a new wave of energy in the garden. The first of the asters, the sudden emergence of naked colchicum and smatterings of autumn flowering cyclamen, the harbingers of this shoulder season. Most lovely of all on this particular September day is the Clematis ‘Sundance’ which has been readying itself for autumn. I have it on the edge of the garden close to the milking barn veranda where, if ever we do sit and look, we are inclined to catch the warming, morning rays. The covered veranda is our breakfast place, so it is a moment in the garden which affords close scrutiny and where we need the detail to satisfy the time we take to pause there. In spring we have Paeonia mlokosewitschii, followed by navy blue camassias twinned with the blackest Iris chrysographes.
Backlit for most of the first part of the day, I like to play with the morning light here. The sparkle caught in pale flowers and the potential of shimmer in flexing willows. Thalictrum ‘Splendide White’ and white again with the albino form of the rosebay willow herb. Gone to seed now and disseminating the seed into the air much as the dandelions do in May, the willow herb is now showing that it is done. But not so Clematis ‘Sundance’ which, despite its modesty, is flushed with a countless number of flowers craning on wiry necks and reaching towards the sun. Palest lemon yellow tepals from one parent, Clematis tangutica, and violet anthers and the refined foliage from its second parent, C. ispahanica.
‘Sundance’ is one of several herbaceous clematis that I have growing in my stock beds to test their worthiness, for most need support and have to prove that they deserve it. Though I prefer to use perennials that require little staking, ‘Sundance’ would flounder around on the ground if you didn’t help it, as it reaches as much as eight feet when given support. Cut back to about knee height here in February, it needs a framework of hazel twigs to ascend, as it has lost its climbing parent’s ability in C. tangutica to twine its leaf stems around whatever will provide it with support. An hour or two fashioning twiggy cages in spring will see it top its support and then cascade down over the boundary fence, much as old man’s beard does from a hedge, but with considerably better behaviour.
During the course of September, the multitude of pale flowers slowly give way to a cumulo nimbus of silken seed heads so that one moment of delight is replaced by yet another as the growing season dwindles.
– We are on holiday for the next two weeks and will return on October 15th –
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 24 September 2022
When we arrived here, the milking barn that sits just below the house was marooned in a patchwork of concrete slabs that the farmer before us had poured to hold the slopes around the building. We had plans for the barn to be renovated as my workspace and for the old yard to become a place for the barn. Somewhere to take in the view up the valley and for the planting here to capture the evening light.
The trough that is now the anchor point in the yard was the catalyst. We hired the largest forklift to lift the trough from the waggon that parked in the layby at the top of the hill, but as we edged down the single-track lane, we quickly saw that maybe we had bitten off more than we could chew. Weighing in at about twenty tonnes all in, the concrete patchwork buckled like a pie crust as we inched the trough down the slope and into the old yard. We were a way off yet from doing the renovations to the buildings, so the trough sat marooned in the remains of the yard and, in the time that followed, the interlopers that found their way into the cracks and gave the yard grace, spawned the idea for the mood for the planting. Herb Robert and hogweed, Timothy grasses and willowherb. Plants that could survive on very little and, whilst we were waiting to make our next move, made the place their own.
Today the trough strikes a horizontal on the slopes and holds and frames the space with its weight and gravity. Once we scraped the crust of the old yard away, I did very little to improve the ground in the bulk of the yard so that in the centre we are planting mostly into the rubble that underpinned the old concrete. Pockets of soil were introduced around the periphery so that I could rely on a number of placeholders such as the Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ that step through the space and capture the light and the wind that moves through the valley. Bloody Cranesbill and acid yellow Achillea ‘Moonbeam’, giant fennels and Devils Bit Scabious echo the pioneers that took to the concrete yard, but I have been careful not to overplant to retain the old airiness of the place as it once was.
The old concrete from there yard was crushed into a fine enough aggregate and pulled over the whole surface to bring everything together and into the rubbly ground I planted two late season grasses which would capture the light in late summer. Sporobolus heterolepis, the breathy Prairie Dropseed and, amongst its delicate cloud, Bouteloua gracilis, the eyebrow grass from the Great Plains of North America. Arvensis Perennials had kindly gifted me three plants of the cultivar ‘Blonde Ambition’ with the assurance that it would grow well in the UK if given free-draining ground.
I have been using the eyebrow grass in plantings in California where water is scarce and where every move we make has to be water-wise. Until the gift encouraged me to think of it being viable here, I’d thought our summers wouldn’t be long enough and the winters too wet for a plant that I’d only seen growing in desert. So, put to the test in the knowledge that they would get all the light I could offer and ground that drained freely, I am pleased to report that three years later, they have rather made the yard.
Late to emerge in May, but coming into their own in the second half of summer, ‘Blonde Ambition’ is nicely clump-forming and slightly shorter than the straight species that I’ve been drifting amongst chapparal natives in California. The inflorescence, which is tilted at right angles to the stem, is the eyebrow of the name and the distinctive horizontal accent that sets this grass apart from all others. Distinctive, but not so out of place that it feels wrong here, it has proved itself in this year’s heatwaves and drought. I chose not to water to put it to the test and they have rejoiced in the conditions and rather opened my eyes to the possibilities of how we might need to garden in the future. Punching through the light-capturing fleet of eyebrows I have added the soaring Liatris pycnostachya and the late and delicately flowering Allium carinatum var pulchellum for highlights in the tawny blond.
Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 17 September 2022
Another summer of tomato growing brings another summer of learning. Now three years in to growing tomatoes under cover I have learnt from my previous mistakes. Having started to feed the plants very late in the first year, I now have a firm grip on watering and feeding regimes. After overcrowding the polytunnel with too many plants last year and risking blight, I reduced the number of plants and increased the spacing, which has resulted in much better air flow and more light reaching the fruits. Perhaps feeling a little smug I was preparing myself for our biggest harvest yet. However, this year’s impediment to a bumper crop has been largely out of my control.
When the first heatwave came in July we covered the polytunnel with two spare lengths of bird netting from the fruit cages to create enough light shade to keep the temperature down somewhat. Yet, on the hottest day, when it reached 37 degrees here, the temperature inside the polytunnel was 46, despite having both doors open and regularly hosing down the floor (which rapidly reduced the temperature by 4 or 5 degrees). About a week later it became apparent that the last fruits on the first trusses and nearly all of the second trusses had aborted due to stress. So I kept up the watering and feeding and trusted that there was still all of August for them to produce plenty more fruit.
After less than a month’s respite, however, and the same thing happened in mid-August which, although not as serious as the first, still affected the setting of the third trusses. So, as the nights now draw in and the temperature drops, we are faced with a larger crop of green tomatoes than we have ever had before, which will now likely not ripen.
I first heard of fried green tomatoes when the film of that title was released in 1991. Although I was working in film at the time I did not see it, as it had the whiff of Oscar-worthy schmaltz about it, but something about the title fired my imagination. (What were fried green tomatoes? How did you make them? What did they taste like?) It seems the same thing happened in the States. Having long been the preserve of thrifty gardeners in the deep southern states (a recipe for them first appeared in print in the late 1880’s) the majority of the American population were similarly unfamiliar and equally intrigued by them. As the film won plaudits and became a sleeper hit, fried green tomatoes quickly became fashionable and they are now a menu staple of restaurants up and down the country.
Around the same time I was lucky enough to have a number of friends who were professional cooks and chefs in London. Many of them were from New Zealand and Australia and, whereas I had been reading and cooking from Delia Smith, Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, Elizabeth Luard and Claudia Roden in my 20’s, they had a completely different and unfamiliar set of references, many of them American. One of these was Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, a collection of recipes assembled by the collective of chefs who worked at this influential vegetarian restaurant founded in Ithaca, New York in 1973 by Mollie Katzen (author of The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest), her brother, Josh and and a group of friends. Here, alongside recipes for Jambalaya, Okra Gumbo Soup and Cheese Grits, was a recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes.
This is slightly adapted from that one, where the tomatoes are simply dipped straight into seasoned flour and cornmeal after salting. Here a secondary coating of buttermilk (the tang of kefir, which now seems easier to come by, is a very good substitute) helps the flour and cornmeal adhere to the tomato slices and provides a sturdy coating which is still as light and crisp as tempura. Other ground spices can be added to season the flour if you wish. Coriander seed or cumin would be my first ports of call. The tomatoes should be completely green and firm, but not hard.
Although these can be served as they are, a piquant or creamy sauce heightens or contrasts with the sharpness of the tomatoes. With the last of the sweetcorn in the garden begging to be eaten and a glut of coriander, this salsa perks up the soft, juicy tomatoes no end, but a punchy aioli, herb-laden whipped ricotta or chunky salsa verde with parsley, capers and green olives would all be equally good.
4 medium green tomatoes
100ml buttermilk or kefir
50g plain flour or rice flour
50g medium cornmeal or polenta
½ teaspoon salt plus more for salting the tomatoes
Ground black pepper
½ teaspoon sweet chilli powder or paprika
2 cobs of sweetcorn, to give about 250g of kernels
1 red chilli
1 lime, the finely grated zest and juice
A small bunch of fresh coriander
1 tablespoon rapeseed or other flavourless oil plus more to fry with
Cut the tops and bottoms from the tomatoes and discard. Slice what remains horizontally into just less than 1cm thick slices. You should aim to get three slices from each tomato. Place them in a single layer on a platter or baking tray. Sprinkle generously with salt, turn them over and salt the other side. Leave to stand for 30 minutes.
To make the salsa heat a cast iron griddle until smoking. Remove the husks and silks from the sweetcorn. Brush the cobs lightly with oil and put onto the griddle. Brush the chilli with oil and put on the griddle.
Leave the corn for three minutes or so until lightly charred and the kernels change colour from pale, milky yellow to a darker, translucent yellow. Keep rotating the cobs until they are completely cooked and lightly charred all over. At the same time keep turning the chilli until blackened all over. If cooking on gas, at this point you can hold the cobs over the flame using tongs to achieve a more charred appearance and flavour, if desired.
Remove the corn and chilli to a plate and leave to cool for five minutes. Then slice the kernels from the cobs into a bowl, skin and deseed the chilli, chop finely and add to the corn. Slice the shallot very finely and add to the bowl. Add the lime zest and juice, the oil and a good pinch of salt. Pick the leaves from the coriander, chop them finely, add to the salsa and stir well. Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired.
Using a piece of paper towel firmly press the tomato slices between your hands to remove as much liquid as possible. Put the buttermilk (or kefir) into a shallow bowl. Put the flour and cornmeal into another and season with salt, pepper, add the sweet chilli powder and stir.
Put two tablespoons of oil into a cast iron skillet and heat until it shimmers, but not so that it smokes. Take each tomato slice and put firstly into the bowl of flour and cornmeal, coating it all over, then into the buttermilk and then into the flour mixture again. Place the slices into the hot oil and fry on each side for three to four minutes until they are crisp and brown.
Remove them to a warm plate on which you have put a piece of paper towel to absorb any oil. Cook the remaining tomatoes and then place three on each of four plates with a generous spoonful of salsa. Serve hot.
Recipe and photographs: Huw Morgan
Published 10 September 2022We are sorry but the page you are looking for does not exist. You could return to the homepage