As the days grow shorter and the nights turn cool there’s no mistaking that autumn is just around the corner. We’re saying goodbye to summer. She’s lingering on for as long as she can, indeed this last week was as hot as any days in mid July but all the tell tale signs are here. The trees are starting to think of their winter hibernation, leaves are just beginning their change in colour and the first few are falling gently around our feet. The air smells completely different, it’s too soon still for fires here and so there’s no lingering aroma of woodsmoke in the air, indeed there’s no particular thing to describe it, it’s just that unmistakeable scent of autumn.
September is a month of tranquility when the light softens and we appreciate our time in the warmth outdoors knowing that it’s slightly more precious. It’s been an interesting few months in our garden with both highs and lows and we’ve learnt a lot along the way. I love being able to wander across the lawn and cut bunches of fresh flowers, arranging them haphazardly in vases all around the house and so this year we started our cutting garden for the first time. A dedicated area of the vegetable garden where we sowed a mass of seeds and bulbs, nothing too complicated for the first year; clarkias and zinnias, cosmos and dahlias and malope trifida commonly known as annual mallow. The zinnias were an utter failure and the clarkias only faired slightly better. The mallow and cosmos have been fabulous and are still going strong and the dahlias are beautiful and I really wish I had planted more! I think next year I need to be a little more adventurous and I certainly plan to do a lot more homework in the coming weeks, I have a lot to learn!
The vegetable garden, perhaps one of my favourite places, got off to a flourishing start with a very warm early spring. But the carrots appeared to fail to germinate, I thought it was just too dry and so I resowed and again they were a failure, but this time I noticed that the tiniest of seedlings did appear but were immediately eaten. Only on the third attempt did things go a little more smoothly. The green beans suffered a similar plight, as soon as they appeared they were eaten by slugs and snails and in the end I sowed these in pots in our mini greenhouse where I could keep a very firm eye on them and then transplanted them when they were about six inches high and it worked, they’re still going strong!
Apparently it was the worst spring anyone can remember for gastropods, we were not the only ones to suffer, they caused endless problems for every gardener we know.
Our tomatoes by contrast flourished, or so we thought, by early June we already had a few starting to show the first hints of orange on their solid green flesh, things were looking great until disaster struck. Within a matter of days they were all suffering from blackened leaves and stems, it spread at remarkable speed and I immediately assumed it was blight. Jeff, our American friend and amazing gardening guru told me it wasn’t blight but a pathogen in the soil. Actually he gave me a wonderful long name which I have of course forgotten! It appeared there was little we could do but cut them down to the ground and hope they would regrow or pull them out altogether.
But stubborn as I am I didn’t want to give in quite yet. I was prepared to try anything to save them. Refusing to use any form of chemicals because our garden is completely organic I ended up making up my own concoction from an amalgamation of ideas I had read on the internet. I took a half litre empty spray bottle and added about half an inch of Organic Neem Oil. Then half an inch of all natural washing up liquid followed by a couple of tablespoons of bicarbonate of soda and finally I then filled the bottle all the way to the top with water. I shook it vigorously for several minutes to make sure everything was really well mixed and then I sprayed it all over any part of the plant that was affected and then I said a few silent prayers. This was not a cure but something that I hoped would stop the spread of the fungus. Within a week I was positive my prayers had been answered and within a couple I knew for sure. The plants were growing, I cut off any dead leaves and continued to feed and water them. We gorged on tomatoes all summer and now in September we are still harvesting a fairly decent crop on a daily basis.
Our aubergines and cucumbers have been a huge success with none of the problems suffered by half of our vegetables, they’re still going strong and we’re thoroughly enjoying them. The melons on the other hand were ok but not abundant despite the long hot summer.
Finally the carrots are big enough to start pulling up and eating, they are late because they got off to such a terrible and delayed start, but it’s been worth the wait. We’re still digging up potatoes and feasting on our autumn raspberries which are smaller than they were in the summer but just as sweet.
Elsewhere, as always we’re overrun with figs! Fresh figs for breakfast and lunch, figs wrapped in prosciutto and gently roasted, fig confiture, fig chutney, the list is endless!
The latest problem has been our olive trees which have suddenly been attacked by the dreaded olive fly. I have sprayed them with the same Neem Oil concoction and again I’m crossing my fingers, it appears to have worked but only time will tell.
However, there’s none of the urgency of spring in the garden, instead everything has taken on a slower feel. The chicks which hatched at the end of May are now nearly fully grown.
Late blooming roses and asters have now taken over a good chunk of the border. I know if I keep deadheading we’ll have things flowering for a few more weeks. The grass is still parched and dry.
The black woodpecker is busy at work with his beak in one of the old plane trees and the house martins are still circling overhead. No doubt beginning to think of their winter migration further south. We saw our first red squirrel here a few days ago and we’re about to start feeding the hedgehogs to give them a helping hand to prepare for their winter hibernation.
It’s a time to stand and listen. A time to appreciate the stillness of the garden as it slumbers lazily in the evening sun.