The leaves are all off the trees now and autumn is shading gently but firmly into winter, but there is still plenty happening in the forest garden. Low light and wet plants make photography difficult, but a friend with a better camera and better skills than me recently took some shots, which prompted me to write a round-up post.
It’s counter-intuitive if you are used to an annual garden, but autumn is a major sowing and germination time in both nature and the forest garden. Many seeds require stratification, or a period of cold, to germinate, and the easiest way to achieve this is to sow in autumn and let nature take its course. Other plants are self-sowing and coming up in autumn, taking a punt on managing to survive the winter and seed early. A mild autumn can be a really productive period with such plants: I’ve particularly enjoyed having copious supplies of rocket this November. I wonder if, after many generations of self-sowing, rocket is becoming hardier in my garden? Last winter – by no means a mild one – was the first time a plant survived the whole winter through and managed to seed in the spring. It is the offspring of this plant that are growing so vigorously in the cool weather now.
I was also very pleased to see miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata) self-seeding freely. It has been a bit frustrating watching this species thrive in unexpected places like the nearby university car park while taking a long time to really get established in my allotment. It is a really nice, mild salad crop, so I’m sure the wait will be worth it.
I particularly like getting biennial carrot family members established as self-seeding populations in the garden These are often quite difficult to grow each year from seed, having often short-lived seed with demanding stratification requirements and vulnerability to various diseases that are ingrained in our long-established allotment site. Saving seed, or allowing plants to self seed, is the only way to really guarantee fresh, viable seed. Parsnips, coriander, fennel, celery, angelica, alexanders and turnip-rooted chervil all self-seed this way. Of these, autumn is a particularly productive time for the celery and alexanders. I’m also getting there with Hamburg parsley, a variety of parsley that produces an edible root.
Another pair of related plants providing both food and colour at this time of year are the pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) and chop suey greens or shungiku (Chrysanthemum coronarium). Both are producing cheerful yellow and orange flowers against the gloom, and the flower shoots of both can be used in stir fries. With the marigolds I use them flower bud and all, but the bud of the shungiku is very bitter so I remove it.
The wood mallow is also still going strong, providing edible leaves and flowers, and the little seed-heads known as ‘cheeses’. When you add in the kale, the leeks and the veritable treasury of root crops still to be dug up, winter may be coming but that is no cause for the forest gardener to worry.