Sloe Gin Anyone?Has summer finally arrived? September may be a bit late, but the sunshine is more than welcome. Peace is settling back on the Lot, the main bulk of the summer visitors have gone, and the traffic has become a bit saner. Time to look hard at the woodpile in readiness for chilly evenings to come. The tourists are not the only visitors to have gone – the local swallows were suddenly conspicuous by their absence on the 5th, so autumn is on its way.

So, September in the garden. It is a good month for taking stock of how well things have done in the summer, or at least it would be in a normal year. The flower garden has a definite jungle touch to it, with really very few pests this year, not even many hornets or wasps and it is sad to think that the annuals that are doing so well will have to be pulled up soon to make way for other plants. Look around neighbours’ gardens towards the end of the month for plants that will give autumn colour if you haven’t already thought of them. I am particularly fond of liquidambar trees, but they do get very large, as does the American red oak. A smaller plant to try could be the amelanchior. Spring bulbs will be going in towards the end of the month, so ground must be got ready i.e. try to get rid of the perennial weeds – that always sounds so easy, but I’ve never managed it yet! There will be hard wood cuttings to be taken next month, so decide which plants you may like to propagate – currants, roses etc.

Our vegetable garden has been somewhat of a disaster this year. We appeared to have a fantastic shallot crop, but when we lifted them and put them to dry they rotted off and we ditched the lot. The onions threatened to do the same, so we have frozen a lot rather than loose them. The tomatoes again promised an excellent crop and then the weather ruined them – we are still picking, but I won’t have enough this year to do the usual amount of purée etc. This is possibly the best year we have had for apples, but again a lot have rotted on the trees before ripening – if you have had the same problem clear up well and burn all affected fruit and vegetables rather than compost them as you will only spread the diseases that way. The main vegetable work this month will be in the kitchen – each year we make kilos of jams and chutneys. If you have never tried making chutneys, have a go. They are easier than jams in that you don’t have to worry about setting and you can make use of all the things that will not keep – and they make good presents for friends. Confiture de l’oignon is so expensive to buy and so ridiculously easy to make!

I have also been “hedgerow harvesting” – the cornus trees are heavy with cornelian cherries. If you don’t recognise it, the fruit is about the size and shape of a small olive, complete with stone, in various shades of red as it ripens. They rival sloes in their mouth puckering dryness when under ripe, but are very palatable when purple. We use them to make a jelly that you can use instead of red currant – pick the fruit when it is fairly dark red and follow a normal jelly recipe. Setting can be a slight problem so add pectin if necessary. The hedges are also blue with sloes, the fruit of the black thorn, so it is sloe gin time. Traditionally you are supposed to prick the fruit with the thorn of the tree (should be done, I feel, with like minded friends who are inclined to cackle and use airborne brooms) but freezing the sloes and then defrosting them is easier. Mix 900g of sloes with 1.2 litres of gin and 225g of sugar in a large airtight jar and keep in the dark for 4 months, stirring occasionally. Strain and filter and the sloe gin should be ready for Christmas.

August was a frantic month for us in that we sold our B and B and gite business and bought our retirement home in the space of ten days. We have gardened between us on Kentish loam with chalk, Essex sands, Hampshire clay with flint (what joy) and northern Lot loam, but we are about to start a new adventure. We have bought a house and barn with 7.5 hectares of causse; hence I am hoping that you folk out there who are already gardening on the causse will be able to give us some advice on what varieties grow etc. Has anyone out there brought back an old grape vine? We have three monsters with rods about10 cms in diameter. I am hoping that I will be able to write about the creation of our new garden, but at the moment our thoughts are with the fact that there is no septic tank! Oh, and by the way, anyone know a good book on keeping sheep?

Happy gardening!

© Mamiaj 2007

 



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