A native autumn harvest – an extra special
treat when it's from your own trees
As the leaves start to colour and fall from the trees and the cooling air is heavy with the smell of wood smoke there is nothing more gratifying than getting wrapped up and going out to gather the season's harvests.
Autumn is a most plentiful time of year. Along the hedgerows and verges plump ripe fruits hang from wayward trees and nuts crunch underfoot.
And it's possible to create that natural bounty in your own garden, giving you the benefit of having wonderful ingredients for all manner of culinary delights right on your doorstep – and it's fantastic for wildlife too!
With a little preparation this stockpile of preserved fruits and nuts will provide throughout the winter when little else is growing in the garden.
The versatile and very pretty 'John Downie' crabapple
Crabapples are wonderfully versatile fruits that are incredibly useful in the kitchen. They have much historical horticultural significance too, especially in the breeding of apples.
They make lovely jellies and jams and a delicious wine. Fruits are harvested as soon as they are ripe, usually around the beginning of September.
They also make a stunning garden tree, with gorgeous blossom in spring, and wonderful autumnal colour. And then there's the fruits, which are not only edible but highly decorative, and they cling to the branches long into winter if left unpicked.
At only 9 metres fully grown, they are suitable for all but the tiniest of gardens. Being native to the UK they are very tough and are suited to most sites, with a well drained soil and a good bit of sun, although they will tolerate shade.
And Malus 'Rudolph' is worth a mention as a stunning ornamental tree with masses of pink blossom, followed by large purple fruit.
One of our best selling fruit trees, the
'Shropshire Prune' damson
Another of our ancient native trees is the damson, introduced to this country by the Romans.
Damsons make superb jams, jellies and pickles, and rich warming liquors when infused in gin, brandy and vodka – perfect for a winter tipple! The fruits are usually harvested in October.
They make great little garden trees due to their compact size of up to four metres, and they can be trained against a wall in a number of attractive ways, meaning they take up even less room! In spring they are covered with a delicate white blossom.
A truly hardy native tree, it's a wonderful choice for your garden larder, and it will thrive in a relatively sunny and sheltered spot in a fertile, well-drained, loamy soil.
Prunus insititia 'Merryweather' is a great all round damson and yields the largest fruits. If left to hang on the tree they can be eaten fresh, although they are still quite tart!
Farleigh Damson Trees have smaller fruits, but sensational blossom and bumper crops.
The common elderberry needs little introduction
Your garden larder would not be complete without the undisputed queen of the gourmet hedgerow – the elder.
From early summer the flowers can be picked and used to make a delightfully floral, summery cordial or champagne; summer in a bottle! In autumn their plump berries can be added to jams, sauces and gravies, or made into a rich wine.
Elder will grow pretty much anywhere! It can be easily grown in a wild end of the garden as a tall shrub or small tree of up to 6 metres, and makes a great informal native hedging plant.
It has attractive umbel flowers that look like lacework against the surrounding foliage, which are very much loved by birds and insects.
Sambucus nigra is the native shrub, while Sambucus nigra 'Aurea' is a hybrid bred in the 1800s. With the same culinary attributes as its native cousin it is slightly more compact meaning it is possible to grow it in containers.
The blossom before the berry: blackthorn (or sloe)
Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is another excellent native shrub that produces an essential autumn ingredient for the enthusiastic gastronome – sloes!
It's most common use is of course sloe gin, but it can also be used to flavour vinegar and fruit wines, as well as in jams and jellies. The fruits are harvested after the first frost, as this makes them sweeter.
It is most commonly grown as a country hedge, or in a mixed native hedge where its dense growth and thorny habit make an impenetrable barrier.
It is often grown around allotments for security, with the added perk of the fruit!
It is a most attractive shrub, with frothing masses of white blossom in early spring appearing on bare wood before the leaves have shown. The berries too are very attractive, their shiny deep purple hidden beneath a layer of powdery blue bloom.
And the autumn larder would not be complete without a native nut!
The distinctive fruits of the common hazel
Corylus avellana, the common Hazel, is a native woodland tree which is usually coppiced and grown as a shrub. The resulting 'withies' have many uses for basketry, hurdle making, and for use as supports in the garden.
However the Filbert Hazelnut, Corylus maxima provides larger nuts for eating.
Their uses range greatly, and as well as being delicious on their own, can be added to a multitude of sweet and savoury dishes. But they have a special affinity to chocolate, and when finely ground can be used as a flour in a deliciously naughty French chocolate torte (anyone got a good recipe?).
A truly versatile shrub, they are happy to be planted pretty much anywhere. They can happily grow in waterlogged areas of the garden, and in quite deep shade. It too makes a great country hedging plant.
So with your garden larder stocked to the brim, it's time to get cooking! Everyone loves something homemade for Christmas (how about this lovely damson-infused vodka?), and what can be better than gathering the ingredients straight from native plants in your garden?!
Any other ideas for using these native fruits and nuts? Please do let us know!