While many of us are wondering what to do with the apples in our gardens, at Lewis Cottage they are dealing with a bumper crop of some more unusual fruits - mulberries, figs, quinces and medlars. In the second of his blogs one of the creators of this special Mid Devon garden, Richard Orton, shares some ideas on how to use these fruits, a recipe for mulberry jelly and some tips on growing figs. He also shares his list of garden jobs for the autumn.
Michael has a wonderful view of the garden from his bedroom and most mornings is treated to a wonderful display of birdlife feeding off the bird table just outside his window. Just beyond the golden hops on the terrace (which have put on a most spectacular display this year) stands a Brunswick fig planted ten years or so ago, and further on a mature mulberry tree.
Fond as we are of planting trees for all manner of reasons, we’ve always tried to plant ones that are productive too. After last year’s abysmal harvest, imagine our excitement to see not only a multitude of mulberries, but a heavily laden fig tree too. At the top of the garden the quince tree is also aching under the sheer load of fruit this year and there will be many jars of medlar jelly too by the looks of things.
So what to do with this bumper harvest of late summer fruit? Year on year we turn the medlars into jelly, quince into fruit cheese and the mulberries into gin, but this year with so much to harvest I suspect we will want to try something new. Membrillo from the quinces perhaps and maybe a savoury mulberry condiment recipe? That surely means there will not only be gin but a tasty accompaniment to Sunday roast lunch as well! I’ve included a recipe for mulberry jelly at the end of this blog, so if you’ve access to some mulberries why not give it a go?
How to grow figs
There is much confusion on how to grow figs successfully so perhaps this year (as we have such a good crop) it’s time to put the record straight.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that in their natural habitat of the Middle East they crop twice every year and, whilst they will produce two lots of fruit here in the UK, only one crop is likely to ripen.
In late spring you will notice small pea-like fruits which were formed the previous year and it is these that will swell over the summer months, ready for picking in late September and early October. Figs are ripe and ready for harvesting when they are soft and gently ‘give’ when squeezed. Around this time remove any figs that have failed to ripen. However, if the smaller pea-sized figs survive the winter they will ripen and be ready for cropping next summer.
When planting a new fig remember that they need full sun and do best either against a south facing wall, where you can train it, or in a bed that is big enough to accommodate a small tree for figs are not shy when it comes to growth! Even when planting out in the open it’s best to restrict the roots by planting it first in a large pot and planting both pot and plant in situ. Figs also take hard pruning well so don’t be shy if your fig has outgrown its space – just remember that the best time to prune a fig is in February when it is at its most dormant.
Autumn gardening tips
- Dust off your bird feeders and wash them thoroughly to remove any harmful bacteria. It’ll soon be time to fill them with your feathered friends favourite nuts and seeds.
- Collect seed from your hardy annuals and perennials and get them sown now for overwintering.
- This is an ideal time to sow sweet peas for next year so you get an early crop. The inner part of a toilet roll is great for this and you can plant them straight into the ground in spring without having to pot on.
- It’s a good time of year for applying some biological controls to prevent newly hatching bugs such as vine weevil doing untold damage during winter. There is nothing more depressing than lifting a plant only to find it coming off in your hand.
- If your greenhouse is beginning to look empty it’s a great time to give it a clean and disinfect it especially if you use your greenhouse to store your tender perennials over winter, as I do.
- Although the days are getting shorter the soil is still warm so there’s just time to split more of your herbaceous perennials and increase your plant stock.
- Make use of the remaining dry days to paint sheds and fences with preservative.
- It’s an ideal time to start potting up winter hanging baskets and planters with winter flowering bulbs and plants. We often use rooted evergreen shrub cuttings in our planters and plant them with cyclamen, ivy, snowdrops and miniature narcissi.
More information on the garden at Lewis Cottage can be found here
Mulberry Jelly Recipe
900g jam sugar
½ red chilli, cut in half
Small shallot finely chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tsp black peppercorns
- Wash the mulberries and put them in a heavy-based saucepan with the shallot, chilli, bay leaves, black peppercorns and 170ml water, then stew them gently with a lid on for about 25 minutes.
- Remove the chilli, bay leaves and black peppercorn.
- Give the mulberries a good mash to reduce them to pulp and squeeze as much juice out of them as possible.
- Add the jam sugar to the pan and allow the sugar to dissolve completely. This takes about 15 minutes.
- Now turn the heat right up and boil rapidly for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the jelly from sticking to the pan.
- Meanwhile, warm a large bowl in the oven to get it nice and hot then place the sieve, lined with gauze, over the bowl and pour the mulberry mixture into the lined sieve.
- Using a wooden spoon, get all the liquid through as quickly as possible, squeezing the remaining pulp as much as you can - the jelly sets if you take too long (if it does begin to set, just reheat it gently).
- Pour the mulberry jelly into sterilised jars and cover with a waxed disc, cool and tie down.