I have a love/hate relationship with autumn; loving it for its gorgeous hues and crisp, cold mornings but resenting the onset of darker nights, bringing with them far fewer hours to potter in the garden.
One of the best things about autumn though has got to be the leaves. You may already know this, but it was a revelation to me recently that the leaves actually contain most of those colours all year round, but they’re masked by the chlorophyll. As the light levels fall, the leaves stop producing chlorophyll and so the green disappears and the other colours take centre stage. A perfect antidote to shorter days if ever I saw one.
However, the sun was shining last weekend and I managed to get out and do a few jobs in the garden. My three-year-old, who was following me around looking for something to do, looked crestfallen when I told her there weren’t many things we could sow outside at this time of year. As usual, she didn’t believe a word I said and had to find out for herself (a trait definitely inherited from her dad) and marched into the shed to find the seed box. Now unless she’s been hiding it from me, she can’t actually read many words yet, so I was pretty amazed when she came out clutching a packet of grazing rye (a green manure and one of the few things you can sow outside this time of year) and asked ‘what about this?’. So, there you have it: gardening know-how can be shared purely by osmosis.
It’s true though that there isn’t much you can sow now, but there’s always the living salads I mentioned in an earlier blog which will do fine on a windowsill indoors year round. You can also sow garlic bulbs this month, but if your ground is prone to water logging, then it’s best to put them into trays of compost undercover somewhere cool like an unheated greenhouse or cold frame and transplant them in Spring, otherwise they might rot.
So, in the absence of things to pick or grow (although there are a few autumn raspberries and apples still around if you know where to look), this month’s blog is all about celebrating warmth, light and colour and turning a blind eye to all the things we can’t do in the garden at this time of year.
All you need is an old glass jar, some glue, a paintbrush and some autumn leaves, the more colourful the better. We cheated a little and used grape leaves from the greenhouse to make this lantern as most of the ones in our garden have become a sodden mush over the past week. If you can’t find any leaves, torn coloured tissue paper will work just as well, but you won’t get the extra dose of fresh air from collecting them (unless you walk a long way to the shop to buy it).
Thin out some PVA glue with a little water to create the kind of consistency that will leave a thin layer all over the jar (we accidentally added glitter too, but it looked lovely so it stayed!) Once you’ve covered the whole jar, gently arrange the leaves onto it and then brush the glue mixture over the top of the leaves as well. Don’t despair if they keep coming off – they will stick eventually! The trick is to use fairly small leaves if possible as larger ones will curl up as you try to put them on the jar. If you’re using tissue paper, the same technique applies but just tear it up into little pieces beforehand so you create a collage effect. Little hands are definitely an advantage if you can get them to do it slowly and carefully enough! While it dries, you can tie string around to help hold the leaves in place.
Then pop a tea light in (you may need a taper to light it depending on how big your jar is) and sit back and enjoy all those lovely autumn colours shining through.