Autumn – or fall in the northern hemisphere – is definitely with us here in New Zealand. Sun, showers, more sun, a good drenching, then sun-showers, fast-paced clouds and swirling mist, and on it goes.
I’ve still got tomatoes growing, and chillies and capsicums, though everything is looking tired and ready to give up. Lettuces, mint, rocket, dwarf celery, native spinach and cavolo nero are luscious but require being on constant caterpillar watch because one blighter can mow down a small plant in a matter of days.
It probably sounds as if I’ve got a big garden. Well I haven’t, not at all, just a couple of small plots that I have managed to get rock-free (they don’t call my suburb Rocky Bay for nothing), and I have a series of deep pots in strategic places. But it provides me with plenty of greens and herbs, along with hours of back-breaking work that keeps me stretched (I save on gym fees!). But it gives such joy to harvest your own produce, no matter whether it is just herbs or salad greens picked from a few pots placed in a sunny spot.
I like the old variety of mint known as English mint. I find it hardy, although prone to rust in warmer weather (just cut it back and it will come away again). This is my best year ever for mint. I’ve found a place it likes and it has taken off.
I favour hardier types of salad greens such as the curly green one in the pic because it can stand up to a pelting of rain. I put softer leaved varieties in pots under the eaves of the house where they receive some shelter – I’ve lost too many seedlings to heavy downpours to stick them out in the garden during cooler seasons. Pineapple sage is prolific and growing over my top bank which is fine by me. It looks pretty with its bright red flowers which I use in salads (the leaves are too astringent for that). Fennel flowers can be shaken over fish dishes – the pollen is intensely scented – or left on plants to go to seed which can then be harvested. Chillies can be picked and dried at room temperature on a cake rack, or left on the plant until semi-dried, then finished off at room temperature. They’ll last through winter, although they discolour a little over time. In moderate climates such as we enjoy on Waiheke, chilli plants can be left in the ground and will produce right through until deepest darkest winter, then come away again in spring. All the usual herbs – sage, rosemary, parsley and thyme are growing beautifully but basil is tiring, so pesto makes a good end for the last of it.
My little guava tree is full of red fruit which is juicy and tart. I intend to make guava jelly but I often end up eating all the fruit and giving it away to others to make jelly … And, bananas! Yes, we have loads of bananas. My newish palms at the back are about to drop down their beautiful flowers which will turn into dense-fleshed sweet bananas. I can’t wait!
In case you are wondering, no, I didn’t grow the pumpkin or the radicchio in the picture. I don’t have enough garden for pumpkins and if I so much look at a radicchio plant in the garden it curls up and dies. Can’t win them all!