Tag Archives: autumn

Crab apples – choices for an autumn WOW!

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 16 October 2016.

Autumn fruits and berries are vibrant in gardens and hedgerows now. This week crab apples became one of my favourites: crab apples in yellow, orange, crimson and maroon are perfect cheer for autumn days. And they make wonderful jelly: so, what’s not to like?

I would like one in my garden. Which variety? And how to choose? Try this one of many websites that can help you choose one for yours. Here are some of the things to consider.

Choosing crab apple trees


These are The Thing now. Cheerful red, such as ‘Red Sentinel’, or bright and light yellow ‘Butterball’ . Fruits vary in size too: small and berry like on ‘Floribunda’ or the size of plums on ‘John Downie’.

crab apples
Malus John Downie – gorgeous to look at, and to make jellies: there is a quick recipe at the end of this blog.


In a garden many years ago I planted ‘Malus Floribunda’. It is also called ‘showy crab apple’ and the flowers were certainly a show stopper: soft pink with darker centres and so many that the tree looked as if it was covered in foam. Or try the dark red flowers that smother ‘Malus Cardinal’.

Leaf colour

The bronze leaves of ‘Malus Royalty’ are stunning from spring to autumn when deep red fruits add a shine. More common are the soft green leaves like ‘Malus Golden Hornet’ which make a great background to the fruit.

Shape and size

Some are upright and neat – great for a small space. Others spread into umbrella  or weeping shapes. These need more room for the best effect and can create a large area of dry ground underneath (no problem: plant bulbs for spring and autumn and ground cover plants there!). A decision on where the tree will be dictates the size and shape the garden can manage, but I do love the spreading look of ‘Malus Louisa’.

Whatever I choose, I need a tree on a ‘dwarfing rootstock’ (which means it won’t grow huge) for the garden spot I have in mind. Others will grow to 5 or 6 m high – lovely if you have the space.

What next?

There is no rush. I will keep looking at gardens and parks, visit garden centres and browse online catalogues. If I buy a pot grown tree I can plant it any time. But a bare root tree must be planted when the tree is dormant (the leaves and fruit have fallen and the tree has stopped growing for the winter). For crab apples that is between late October and early March, and I like to choose a time when the ground is soft and damp.

crab apples
Crab apples near Glewstone. Jonathan Billinger. Geograph 978786. Reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

And a nice idea as I write this blog – the crab apple ‘Wedding Bouquet’ has masses of ivory-white blossom in spring, and small dark red fruits in autumn. A perfect wedding present any time of year!

A recipe for crab apple jelly

  1. Wash and chop about 2kg unmarked apples in half.
  2. In a saucepan (not aluminium) just cover them with water and bring to the boil.
  3. Simmer until the fruit is soft (how long this takes depends on the amount of apples, but reckon on 30 – 40 minutes).
  4. Remove from the heat and mash the fruit down. Carefully pour the pulp into a jelly bag and let it drip overnight into a steel, glass or plastic container (not aluminium).
  5. Do NOT squeeze the bag: that will make the juice and the jelly go cloudy.
  6. Measure the juice and for every 600ml of juice, add 450gm of warmed white granulated sugar in a good sized pan. Heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  7. Boil rapidly for 10 minutes, or until setting point is reached.
  8. To test for setting point put 2 or 3 teaspoons of the jelly on a saucer in the fridge for 5 minutes. Run your finger over the top of the jelly: if a skin has formed that wrinkles with your finger the jelly has reached setting point. If not, keep boiling and try again.
  9. At setting point, remove the jelly from the heat and let it stand for about 5 minutes. Pour into sterilized jars, adding wax covers and lids and store in a cool dry place.
  10. Enjoy this taste of autumn with scones and cream, on breakfast toast or when adding marzipan to rich fruit cakes.

Autumn preparations for winter in the garden: part 3!

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 14 October 2016.

Never mind spring cleaning – autumn preparations are essential to protect your garden from the worst of winter. Use our top tips to guide you.

Autumn preparations: tidy up

I am still picking runner beans, and glad of suggestions for what to do with a glut. Within a week or two I will be sad they have ended. One school of thought suggests I leave my runner and climbing French bean plants in the ground until the frosts because until then they will go on fixing nitrogen in the soil – a good thing. Another school says TIDY UP as soon as the last bean is picked. Either way, autumn preparations will require you to cut the plants down, chop them up and put the choppings and roots firmly in your garden compost store.

The same goes for other veg. and flowering plants that are past their best. Even a late spell of sunshine now won’t give you much pleasure, and it is so much nicer working in the garden in autumn sunshine than in winter rain.

Autumn preparations: dig and mulch

Where you tidied up veg. and other short lived plants, dig over the soil with a good fork to loosen it and pull out the weeds. Throw a good layer of well rotted garden compost where you have dug. It will rot more during autumn and winter, help stop the rain compacting the soil or washing it away. And you are ready to dig it in to plant veg. and flowers in the spring and early summer.

Friends living in areas of mild winter weather sow ‘green manure’ on bare winter soil to protect and feed it. Try it if your climate is suitable.

autumn preparations
Compost bins at Potterton’s allotments, East Warwick, showing good lids to keep them warm. Robin Stott. Geograph 4050830. Reuse under Creative Commons licence.

Autumn preparations: keep it warm

Your compost store likes to be warm in winter (don’t we all?). Firm the contents down well, and put a lid on it. Purpose-built compost stores usually have tight fitting lids that keep the warmth in to help the materials rot. If yours doesn’t have a lid make one from carpet, wood or sacks.

Plants you know are tender, or have been advised to protect from cold winds and damp, need to be prepared now for their winter coats. Cut off damaged leaves and any top heavy growth that won’t look good next year, clear weeds and leaves from the bottom of the plant and leave a clean and drier base. Different plants like different wrappings so follow the instructions that came with your plant. Don’t forget to tie the covering firmly or the wind will whip it off and damage the plant in the process.

autumn preparations
Tree fern in a winter coat, Kew gardens. David Hawgood. Geography 1088968. Creative Commons licence for reuse

Autumn preparations: keep it dry

Feet (or even bricks) under your lovely patio pots will keep plant roots out of water that will rot them or freeze the base of the pot.

Spread a little gravel around the base of Mediterranean plants, succulents and plants that love to be baked by the sun. It will stop muck and damp collecting there and rotting the stem or roots.

All preparations done? Time for a sit down and a coffee in a warm conservatory or orangery (see our blog to find out more!).

Wind? Be prepared with part 2 of preparing for autumn tips

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 12 October 2016.

You are ready for autumn rains (if not – read last week’s blog), be prepared for wind with our top tips, and read more at the RHS.

Be prepared for wind

Autumn (and winter) winds mean wobbly plants, and leaves burned by the wind or stripped from their stems. Southerly (warmer) winds are unusual where I live, but a strong wind from any direction is shock and awe to young shrubs and tender plants wherever they are.

Being prepared for autumn winds is especially important because the weight of full leaf cover and rain on the leaves can create a top-heavy plant, easily broken by wind. Have you looked out one morning to see a much loved plant snapped in two? It won’t be anything like Hurricane Matthew here but some weather forecasters reckon the UK is in for a windy winter, so be prepared.

Wind damage in the garden can cost a fortune if sheds and fences need repairs. And flying fences will break your precious plants too  – all that effort to create a lovely garden wrecked. Fixing wobbly boards and loose roofing now makes sense. Take time to check that everything is as it should be: fence panels are secure, wall and garden trellises are firmly fixed, arches and obelisks are all upright and not bending with the wind and shed roofs are waterproof and firm.

be prepared for wind
Salle Hall, a sturdy garden arch at the entrance to the kitchen garden. Evelyn Simak. Geograph 935467. Reuse under Creative Commons licence.

All this sounds fussy? Not at all. To be prepared is quicker and easier – after all, we know this weather is coming – than to clear up afterwards. And a bit of garden DIY on a sunny autumn day uses your skills and works up an appetite for an early supper. (Read our blog on alfresco dining for ideas on keeping your patio warm enough for outdoor autumn suppers.)

Toward the end of October the national home safety month resources will offer ideas and advice on how to make sure the outside of your house and garden are safe and secure – and not just from wind damage. If you can’t wait, read the home safety team’s January blog and tackle your garden repairs with kit from a local garden centre or DIY superstore.

Stake it out!

  • Make sure young trees and shrubs are tied carefully and firmly to stakes that are themselves firm in the ground. If you don’t, strong winds can disturb the roots and rock the plants so much that they keel over.
  • Cut down by at least half the tall summer growth on herbaceous plants such as delphinium and heliopsis and rudbeckia so that winds don’t whip them into a mush.
  • Stake, or cut down, your lovely tall sunflowers. If you cut them down, put the heads on a bird table to feed garden birds.
be prepared
Sunflowers. Gerald England. Geograph 4307092. Creative commons licence for reuse

Happy days of garden DIY next weekend?

Michaelmas daisies boost the garden with warm autumn colour

First published by Rattan Direct on 25 September 2016.

Michaelmas daisies can provide warm autumn colour in late summer and autumn when most flowers are coming to an end. Bees love their open flowers.

Michaelmas daisies

Michaelmas daisies (sometimes called asters) are perennials which grow in clumps. I am an old romantic and I love those tall, abundant swathes of purple that take you unawares as you turn a corner in older, sometimes neglected, gardens. They are a wonderful cut flower and can last more than a fortnight in a vase, if kept cool.

Michaelmas Daisies at Old Court, near Colwall Stone, Herefordshire
Michaelmas Daisies at Old Court, near Colwall Stone, Herefordshire, the birthplace of the modern Asters hybridised by Ernest Ballard in the early 20th century.
© Copyright Barrie Jenkins and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence

Michaelmas daisies flower around the Feast of St Michael and All Angels, or Michaelmas, which falls on 29th September. This celebrates the Archangel Michael who fought against Satan and his evil angels. St Michael became the protector against the dark of the night, and Michaelmas daisies thrive in sunny positions.

In general, they are pretty tough and will grow almost anywhere although they like fairly moist soil and flower best in full sun. And the bigger ones should be staked to hold them up, which I often forget to do. Divide plants regularly in early spring to keep them healthy and vigorous.

A mixed press

They have a mixed press, it must be said. We’ll talk about two main types here: the New York and the New England. (Their names give away that they were introduced to Europe from North America in the 1700s, although they now seem to be quintessentially olde worlde.)

In their favour, the New York asters (the novi-belgii group, for the hard core) come in a wide range of jewel-like pink, plum and purple colours. They flower for weeks in the autumn. On the other hand, they can suffer from a white powdery deposit called ‘powdery mildew’. Weed-free flower beds will help air circulation and keep mildew at bay but really, if you’ve got it, the only solution is to spray with fungicide which I’m not very keen about.

Michaelmas daisies near Thursford Green, Norfolk
Michaelmas daisies near Thursford Green, Norfolk
© Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for re-use under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence

The New England asters (novae-angliae) are more pest and disease-resistant – good! On the downside there is less of a choice of colour (mostly pastel with some strong colours), a short flowering season and some baldness in the lower stems.

Monty Don talks about how he realised he had an aster-shaped gap in his borders. He also mentions two other types of aster: Aster amellus and Aster x frikartii.

Change of name!

With much more powerful microscopes, plants are often being reclassified and that’s what’s happened to the Michaelmas daisies and the asters. Louise Mitchell talks about this and tells us her favourites.

I love the warm boost that Michaelmas daisies give the garden and, despite their challenges, I welcome them with open arms.