The Autumn fruit and vegetable garden in France
Hi, and welcome to Life in Limousin, France
Autumn is always a busy time in deepest rural France when all the fruit and vegetables in the orchards, hedgerows and garden ripen at the same time. It's also a busy time in the kitchen as we cook up our preserves, jams and chutneys for the winter when we love a taste of France.
The apple trees are covered in apples, the peach trees are bent double under the weight of the fruit, the asters and sedums are buzzing with bees and we are in the middle of harvesting honey. Autumn is here: 'The season of mellow fruitfulness'. (J Keats , 1875. 'Ode To Autumn')
It's important to try to achieve a balance in the garden. I enjoy growing flowers in the vegetable garden, having fruit trees with the poultry, feeding the geese on fallen cherries, plums and peaches in the orchards, (I like to imagine them ready-stuffed for Christmas, poor things!), and love the gentle buzz of bees visiting the flowers and making all that natural, local honey that's so much more fragrant and flavoursome than some imported, commercial honey.
Where in the world is Limousin?
Limousin, South West France
The Autumn fruit garden
We have our hands full trying to gather in all the fruit that is ripening now, both in the hedgerows and the garden, and I must admit I resort to tossing them into the freezer by the bagful! The cherries and plumbs are long gone, fruiting in early summer, but we still have apples, grapes, raspberries, strawberries (yes, strawberries in autumn!), blackberries, medlars, chestnuts and sloes to gather in.
Like the flowers, the fruit is scattered throught the gardens and fields. We grow a canopy of grape vines to provide shade behind our gite, and self-seeded peach trees punctuate the flower beds. The apple trees are in our childrens' play area and the hen enclosure. (I use the word 'enclosure' loosely as it does little or nothing to actually enclose the hens).
Apples in Limousin
The combination of poultry and fruit trees works well, and hens and geese in the orchards is an old tradition. The trees provide shelter and shade, the hens clean up worms and unwanted insects.
Limousin is a real apple area and is famous for improving and marketing the Golden Delicious. We have many apple orchards here growing a wide variety of varieties. We have only inherited two. An old cooking apple tree and two old eating apple trees. There was a third, younger tree but our goat, Eva, got over the protective fence and stripped the bark, finally killing the tree. These eaters are late ripeners, but we usually start using them about now for cooking. For several years I thought that the apples were not the nicest. Not real cookers like the ones we have in England, and not tart eaters, but slightly bitter and dry. Having been to some of the local apple displays, I now wonder if we might have a variety used for cider.
The locals in Limousin have presses and collect the apples to make REAL apple juice and cider - absolutely gorgeous!! The press in the picture is a local council one where they had organised a demonstration at the Autumn Produce and Craft fair in Chabanais. Must look out for a decent sized press.
Limousin is not a wine making area and we don't have those acres of vineyards that you see in the Bordeaux region, but grapes do grow well here and those we don't eat off the vine, we freeze and make into grape jelly. We have inherited two varieties, a sweet black rape and a dark red one that has a powerfully perfumed taste.
Medlars are the last fruits to ripen. Wait until the first frosts of November soften the Néfliers, or Medlars. These old-fashioned fruits are back in fashion in Britain - they never went out of fashion in Limousin! The fruit is split open and we eat the flesh that looks and tastes like well cooked applesauce.
A medlar tree is a thing of beauty
The peaches grow like weeds and the poor little trees are often weighed down with small but delicious fruit. We have both yellow and white varieties. I rarely get around to pruning them properly!
We gather them up and eat, freeze and cook with them. I also make jam and a most wonderfully rich chutney for Christmas with them.
The vegetable garden
Where to start? I've included just my best pictures because vegetables grow so well in Limousin that everyone has a magnificent vegetable patch here. The down-side is that the weeds grow magnificently too.
These are some of my favourite vegetables to grow, because they are easy. Anyone who has been a regular reader of my articles will know that I have a hundred and one things to do here so I like flowers that survive, vegetables that grow by themselves, fruit that is easy to harvest and prepare, recipes that are foolproof and don't make a mountain of washing up.
Tomatoes really do grow like weeds! I always have a little crop of them from the water I collect in the kitchen and throw onto the flower pots and borders in the summer. No work whatsoever. To get a crop like those in the picture, though, you'll need to compost (see below) and stake at least.
Pumpkins and squashes are another must. So gorgeous to look at, so tasty and versatile, so easy to grow and so good for Halloween! On top of that you should be able to store them for winter. I grow various pumpkins and butternut squash every year. They need to be planted into soil enriched with the old compost, (or you can plant them on the heap itself), and you need to pinch out to get big ones. Water if very dry, otherwise, task-free.
Haricot verts just grow. Plant the seeds when the danger of frost is over, and collect when the beans are long enough. I use dwarf ones so I don't have to stake. As to variety, I grow yellow and green, for fun, but would advise that you don't choose the very fine varieties if you're lazy like me, because they take the same time to pick as the nice, fat, juicy tender ones but you'll gather far fewer in weight.
Globe artichokes are the last vegetables that I've chosen to illustrate, (not to be confused with the Jerusalem artichoke below). I have grown these, but the ones in the picture are from Piegut Market. I like them because they look like a Caravaggio oil painting once on the plate. You'll want to paint them before you eat them! Spectacular. They also have spectacular, thistle like flowers if you let them go to seed.
The best gardening book I ever bought
Jerusalem artichokes have the most spectacular flowers
Buy tubers to grow or eat
Don't know what a Jerusalem Artichoke is?
Don't worry, your'e not alone! The Jerusalem artichoke isn't an artichoke, and it isn't from Jerusalem! the Latin name is Helianthus tuberosus, but you might find it called the sunroot, sunchoke, earth apple or topinambour. I've seen it called the potato water chestnut! You might guess from the photo that it's a member of the sunflower family if you just glance down this article a bit.
The Autumn flower garden
The flower garden looks lovely in September. As a painter and landscape gardener, I love colour and form in the garden, and although this garden was largely inherited, I've tended and added to it. At this time of the year it really does look stunning. I adore the pale pink of the sedums contrasting with the cool, pale blue green of the lavender, the purple asters with the Goldenrod. It inspires me to get out my paints and start making colour notes and sketches for the winter season when I look forward to catching up on my painting.
And all these plants are tough little cookies. They withstand footballs, geese, the dog and other pests (I don't spray if I can possibly help it), as well as droughts and cold - all of which we have at one time or another here. Plants take care of themselves, and that is my kind of gardening!
Mix your flowers and veg!
All the local gardeners in Limousin grow flowers amongst their fruit and vegetable gardens, and the municipal gardens make a feature of this. All through Limousin you'll see towns bedecked with planting schemes full of flowers, but also cabbages and kale, pumpkins, beans, tomatoes and sweetcorn. They are just gorgeous - good enough to eat! The illustration here is from the quaint, medieval town of Rochechouart, out nearest small town.
There are many reasons why you should mix your flowers and vegetables, not least because it gladdens the heart. Growing The flowers attract beneficial insects and feed the bees. Others distract harmful pests or create a diversion masking the smell. We've all seen rows of marigolds planted alongside the carrots. In addition to this, the distinction between flowers and vegetables is not as clear as one might think.
What to plant
The list of flowers for the autumn garden would be endless but here are a few tried and tested tough plants to bring a splash of colour to the house and garden:
Sedums are easy to grow and great for butterflies, bees and other insects. Our puppies and dog, (not to mention my son and his football), have flattened ours a bit, they should have a lovely, compact, rounded form, but they are tough enough to survive!
Golden Rod (Solidago canadensis or Solidago virgaurea) These are tall plants, about 1.5 meters high and they will seed all over. They grow in neat clumps and have great, golden sprays of flowers. At this stage they can flop a bit so if you're a keen gardener, get out and tie them up.
Asters are superb. You might remember them as Michaelmas Daisies. You can buy them in all sizes, from tiny ones to shoulder-high. They come in a range of pinks, blues, purples and whites.
All the autumn flowers help to make honey for the bees and they provide seeds for the birds in winter so don't be tempted to cut them down after flowering; leave them for the animals and insects overwinter and cut them back in spring instead. They look beautiful covered in winter frost.
We need lots of fresh herbs for cooking and they need to be at hand so I like to mix my herbs amongst the flowers. In the borders in front of the house I have rosemary, sage, chives, mint and lots of self-sown parsley. I tried thyme but the boy or the dog flattened them and they just couldn't recover. All these herbs have a decorative form, nice scent and a rich history. Have a look at some of the excellent HubPages written by Jerilee Wei about herb gardens.
Vegetables are flowers
Many of the vegetables also produce lovely flowers. Long before we ate runner beans, the Victorians cultivated them for their scarlet flowers. I've seen them grown up decorative supports in the gardens at Saint Junien, a pretty town about twenty minutes from Les Trois Chenes. Tops has to be the leek, but fennel parsely and dill flowers are lovely. The squash family produce beautiful yellow trumpets and, of course, we mustn't forget that broccoli and cauliflower are - flowers. They look spectacular when they go to seed.
Eat the flowers
You can eat many of the vegetable flowers but also many of the flowers from the flower garden are edible. Nasturtiums are an old favourite but there are many others. Have a look at these articles for more:
Another great vegetable flower is the Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), also called the sunroot, sunchoke, earth apple or topinambur. the plant itself is tall, 6 - 10 feet. You eat the tubers in winter roasted or as soup, and in autumn the plants produce lots of sunflower-like blooms that are excellent for cutting.
Sweet chestnuts are a Limousin speciality and you'll find them incorporated into many local, traditional dishes. They make a delicious liqueur from them as well as jam, sausages and sweets.
I don't grow chestnut trees in the garden; nobody does. Why would they when we are surrounded by miles of sweet chestnut and oak woodlands? When autumn arrives, we simply go out and pick them off the floor outside our front gate and roast them on the wood burning stove. Limousin people in the past survived on chestnut flour which they used to make bread and as you walk through the countryside, you'll see chestnut driers, little stone buildings with tile roofs. There are some pictures of these here: Rambling in South West France: Vayres and the Chestnut Drying House
And in the kitchen
It will soon be time to start making jams, jellies and chutneys, but right now, as we are still busy, I'll prepare them for the freezer, so I can toil over a hot stove when it gets chilly outside. Many of the vegetables should be frozen as well to see you over the autumn glut so that you can enjoy your produce in the winter. Not everything freezes well, and I'll start dealing with the apples and marrows straight away.
Some Autumn Garden Recipes
- How to make easy baked peaches recipe
This is a deliciously simple dessert with peaches baked in the oven. Fabulous seasonal food, quick, easy and stress-free. The peaches are dropping from the trees like rain...
- How to make Peach and Apple Chutney for Christmas
We had a glut of peaches at Les Trois Chenes Bed and Breakfast this year, and what better way to preserve all that summer sunshine goodness, than to make jam and chutney? This recipe makes a chutney so rich,...
- Apple Cake - a Limousin Speciality
A regional speciality of the Limousin, France, you can make this moist cake using either apples or pears. An apple cake is easy to make and very economical so we often serve it in our chambres d'hotes as a dessert. It looks pretty as a picture on our
- How to make Marrow and Ginger jam
Click edit above to add content to this empty capsule. It is time to get out my Granny's cookery book and look up all those fabulous old recipes for chutney and jam. Today at Les Trois Chenes, our farm house...
- Flognarde - Traditional Limousin Recipe
Clafoutis and Flognarde are specialities of the Limousin and Auvergne region, and we serve this dish, along with other regional food and wine, at Les Trois Chenes chambres d'hotes, Limousin, France.
Bee hives in the vegetable garden
Our bee hives are very much a part of the vegetable garden. I love the sound of the gently drone as I work the garden, and I love the thought that all those bees are busy pollinating the flowers, fruit and vegetables.
There is a world wide crisis in the bee population. Bees are dying and we don't know why. One report suggested the cause was mobile phones. A couple of winters ago many bee keepers in France suffered losses, including us, but the colonies are rebuilding themselves and we hope for a good crop this year. It is estimated that within only four years of the demise of the bees, the human population would be wiped out as well. Food for thought!
So it behoves all of us to give the bee a helping hand. Fancy trying your hand at bee-keeping? Have a look at my first article on getting started with bees. I'll try to follow my husband about and keep you updated about his bee hives.
See how bees make honey - fascinating!
Bee and honey products
Wild mushrooms are there for the picking
Autumn is the time to feed the compost heap
With all those autumn leaves, the last of the grass cutting, the weeding and tidying autumn is the perfect time to start your compost heap. These days, when we worry so much about waste and landfill, we really should discover the thrifty pleasures of composting. Even if you have a tiny garden you should be able to find a small patch to put a container and you'll see all that unwanted vegetable matter turn into a super soil conditioner and feed. It's magic!
A fabulous French Autumn Festival in Chabanais
Visit Chabanais, a cosy little town nestling into the Charante countryside. The river Vienne runs through the heart of the town. Although it's over the border from Limousin Chabanais is still only about ten or fifteen minutes away from us.
In the autumn the town hosts a wonderful harvest festival (or fall festival) with apple juice making, lots of wonderful local produce for sale and lots of arts and crafts. This is an event not to be missed.
© 2009 Les Trois Chenes