Autumn gardens colourful bounty

September 21, 2006

Autumn engulfs us with its deeply appealing, melancholy loveliness. I’m a romantic, and I find that the most enchanted of all the garden enclosures at this time of year is the Kitchen Garden. It is full of tangled sprawl in every direction. Scattered among the vegetables (so many, like the corn-on-the-cob, heading towards decay) are bright yellow chysanthemums, orange and gold pot marigolds and nasturtiums as well as white tobacco plants, the heavenly blue of cornflowers and the pinks into plums of antirrhinums. Among them, I must single out a few stars.

The pompom Dahlia Ivanetti is covered with rosettes of imperial purple in a shade of unmatched intensity. Close to it is the Bishop of Llandaff, a dahlia which earns its keep on account of its deeply indented, darkest bronze leaves, as well for its single flowers in a truly startling shade of scarlet.

But don’t get me wrong; the Kitchen Garden hasn’t surrendered to Flora, for everywhere Pomona has bestowed her abundance. The sun has shone this month and I have been enjoying picking tomatoes, still warm, popping the odd one into my mouth just for sensation of its flavour. Those we have grown this year are the reliably productive Moneymaker, Alicante, Outdoor Girl and Gardener’s Delight, the last a particularly good cherry tomato. But I don’t think that I can face doing this year what I did last autumn, going into overdrive mass-producing passata.

The choice of what is grown is largely left to Shaun, who is attracted to the exotic. He cheerfully grows the curly leaved parsley, which I never use in cooking, just because the leaf is beautiful. Well, why not? A lot of the Kitchen Garden seeds come from Terre de Semences, a firm which started to operate some nine years ago under the aegis of the French organic guru, Dominique Guillet, whose mission is ‘to preserve the biodiversity, particularly of vegetables’. There is an English version of the French catalogue, which is a cross between a list of seeds and a horticultural evangelical mission pamphlet.

To them we owe some of the more exotic squashes which enliven the Kitchen Garden. Turk’s Turban climbing up my blue trellis is a sight worth seeing. It is shaped exactly like a turban and is striped red, yellow, green and white. Golden Hubbard lives up to its name. It is positively lustrous and has leaves akin to those of a fig. Both of these varieties keep well for up to a year. One which will keep for up to two years is Siam, which has a tough, green skin covered with white lines and dots. Not much, I admit, is done with these cooking wise.

They are grown chiefly for the aesthetic pleasure they bring, firstly in the Kitchen Garden itself, where they hang on the branch, but also, sometimes, severed and placed on the bed to gaze down upon and, later, brought inside the house. Already, a selection has been taken in, and Shaun has promised to bring me more in October for a winter display. Inevitably, they remind me of New England and the pumpkins which are massed on the doorsteps at Halloween.

The bulbs always seem to arrive when you least can cope with them and it was so this year. There they are in two large boxes, all beautifully labelled in brown paper bags. There are 1,000 crocuses for naturalising, plus others destined for the same treatment; Allium sphaerocephalon and Anemone nemorosa. The hyacinths City of Haarlem, Ostara and Fondant are for potting for displays around the house.

And then there are the tulips, ordered with particular planting places in mind, which I have not written down. Now I find I’ve forgotten their intended homes, but don’t worry gardening, as I’ve always said, is the art of fudging it. They’ll find an appropriate home somewhere, even if it is not the one I’d originally intended.

This article first appeared in COUNTRY LIFE magazine on September 21, 2006