Putting the Garden to Bed

Round & About


Green-fingered Cathie Welch shares her tips on getting your garden ready for the colder months

I have always thought this was a strange saying as so much goes on during the winter months. Some plants die down but others are coming up as it’s their season. The animals, insects and birds all still need shelter and food.


Many plants actually need their annual prune in the winter when they are dormant like roses, apples and pears and many other deciduous shrubs and trees. Think about piling up the prunings or making a ‘dead hedge’ instead of throwing them out or burning them.

Cutting back perennials

Many perennials have gone over and look dead at this time of the year and it is tempting to cut them all back for tidiness. Think carefully about each plant as the seed heads that look dead to you can look beautiful in the frost and can contain valuable food for birds. The base of perennials can actually be protected in the winter, particular those that are slightly tender like Penstemon and many Salvias. Perennials at the side of ponds are refuge for amphibians. If you really need to cut them back consider leaving piles so creatures can hide there. Many perennials are best left until the sap is rising in the Spring like Fuschias, Hydrangeas and Perovskia.

Tender Perennials

Some plants need winter protection as they don’t tolerate the freezing temperatures of recent years. Hardy Fuschias die back but tender ones will die. Dahlias and Cannas really can be put to bed in the garden by covering with a thick layer of straw mulch topped with compost.

Autumn Leaves

I find the thick acrid smoke of a bonfire particularly upsetting if leaves are the fuel. This is especially tedious when leaf blowers are used. Rake the leaves up into a pile for hedgehogs and other creatures to enjoy. Mulch over the top of them on flower beds as they will eventually rot down. Mow them up on a lawn for exceptional compost. Create a leaf mould pile but do not burn!

Meadows and hardy annuals

A lot of our native wild flowers need to have the seed stratified which means they need the cold winter in order to germinate in the Spring. Consider leaving the seeds in the ground rather than collecting them or re-distribute throughout the garden.


Foxgloves, teasels and forget-me-nots need to go through vernalisation which is when the plant is in its first year. It needs the cold to stimulate flowering the following Spring.

Plants are amazing and a little knowledge can transform the way you think about ‘putting your garden to bed for the winter’

CGS Courses
Please ask for details as I am now meeting potential students for Spring Courses as well as bespoke workshops and volunteering. I can also come and teach you in your own garden and am happy to chat over a coffee at Ashdene. Consultancy gift vouchers available too. Visit my website or email:  [email protected]

Autumn unfolds at Ramster Garden

Karen Neville


Whether you are looking for foresting bathing or a seasonal walk visit Ramster Garden. Rosie Glaister from Ramster Hall, shares her top five things not to miss that capture the dazzling beauty of autumn colour

With over 1,500 catalogued trees and shrubs in the garden, there is plenty to see as you wander down leaf covered woodland paths that meander past established shrubs, mature plants, and peaceful views.

Avenue of Acers

Our ancient avenue of acers must be the most photographed spot in the garden during autumn. The 120-year-old gnarly twisted trunks and branches create dramatic shapes covered with fiery red and orange leaves.


This is one of the best trees for autumn colour. It has large maple shapes leaves which transform from crimson colours red, to purple then gold. It is one of my favourite trees within the garden because of its amazing spectrum of colours.

Handkerchief or Dove Tree

During the spring you will see flower-like bracts that flutter gently in the breeze that resemble doves or handkerchiefs. During autumn, the leaves turn a stunning golden yellow to orange.


We have an excellent collection of flowering Dogwoods, but perhaps our best is Cornus ‘Normal Hadden’, fantastic for its stunning autumn colour and peculiar red fruits that appear to float on the ends of branches.

Nuts and berries!

There is something so magical seeing all the autumn berries dress the garden with natural decoration. The woodland floor is also a feast of colour and texture from fallen leaves and shiny conkers from our towering horse chestnut tree. Toadstools and fungi complete the enchanting woodland scene – if only we had fairies!

Visiting our garden

Ramster Garden is open 10am-5pm on Thursday, Friday, and weekends until 12th November. We have twenty-five acres of peaceful woodland garden for you to explore and a Tea House which serves homemade soup, quiches, sandwiches, and cakes. You can also enjoy a range of drinks including our own blend of coffee. Parking is free and we welcome dogs (on short leads). No need to pre-book, just come along and enjoy a wonderful walk.

Dark wines for long dark nights

Round & About


Our wine expert Giles Luckett shares his red wine recommendations to raise your mojo levels!

Hello. Since I became a wine lover autumn has become my favourite season. Without the harshness of winter, yet with long evenings populated with hearty food, it’s a red wine drinker’s ideal. Over the past few weeks, I’ve taken advantage of this situation and I’ve been doing some ‘research’ for this column. Several trade tastings and somewhat less formal sessions in my sitting room later, I’ve picked up my super six for the autumn. These are food-friendly, warming, and mellow wines, which I hope will bring a smile to your lips as they have mine.

First up is a wine from the South of France, the Domaine Saint Rose La Garrigue 2018 (Majestic £5.99 on offer, down from £8.99). The Domaine Saint Rose was established by a couple of British corporate high flyers Charles and Ruth Simpson, who have brought modernity to a traditional blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre to great effect. Plum-coloured, the nose offers mulberry, raspberry, and blueberry tones with a twist of herbs and raspberries. These are reflected on the ripe, soft, plump palate, which is spiced by hints of white pepper and earth.

Next, a new wine (to me at least) from one of my favourite wineries, Vina Zorzal. I’ve had several Vina Zorzal wines; the Garacha (The Wine Society around £9) is likely to be one of my wines of the year (again), and the Viña Zorzal Cuatro del Cuatro Graciano (The Wine Society £16), is about as good a red as you’ll find for under £20.

My recommendation this time, however, is the Vina Zorzal Graciano (The Wine Society £8.95). Graciano isn’t a grape you see adorning a label that often. It’s a problematic vine as it’s easily affected by rot and doesn’t give great yields, which is not exactly a recipe for commercial success. It is, however, capable of brilliance, as this shows. Inky in colour, this lip-staining beauty is powerful, concentrated, and glorious. Packed to the gunnels with flavours of cooked blackberries, redcurrants, and spices, its bright acidity stops it from becoming overwhelming or cloying. At this price, it’s a wine to buy by the case and partner with hearty, mid-week suppers.

Sticking with Spain, and another new wine from an old friend, we have Cune’s Asua Crianza 2018 (£12.99 – The Surrey Wine Cellar (or Harvey Nichols if you’re passing). Rioja is one of my favourite regions, and let’s face it, no one does it better than Cune. The Asua is made exclusively from Tempranillo (so no Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuelo, etc.) and offers an intense, pure, and delightfully different take on Rioja. Endowed with plenty of black cherries, blackcurrant, and mulberry fruit, shot through with vanilla, dried herbs, and citrus peel, this is already delivering the delightful goods, but has the capacity to age and develop for another 3-5 years.

South African wines have been hitting the high notes for some years, but many remain outstanding value for money. A great example is the Journey’s End ‘Sir Lowry’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2020 (Waitrose £14.99). Journey’s End Honeycomb Chardonnay (Ocado £9), then do. It’s got more vanilla than Madagascar and is fruitier than the man from Del Monte’s dinner party conversation.

The Sir Lowry shows the refined side of their wines. Deep purple, the nose is a complex mix of raw blackcurrants, black cherries, woodsmoke, and mint. On the palate, this medium-bodied offering gives layers of black fruits, chocolate, plum, cherries, creamy vanilla, and a crack of black pepper on the end. Food-friendly (we had it with lasagne), it also showed well as an evening solo sipper.

“South African wines have been hitting the high notes for some years”

Another new-world winery that never fails to impress is Catena. Catena is my favourite Argentinean producer, and the Wine Society’s Exhibition Malbec (The Wine Society £12.50) is worth the membership on its own. The wine I’m recommending is the Catena Malbec 2019 (Majestic £9.99). This high-altitude, cool climate Malbec shows this grape’s impressive range and depth. Almost opaque, the nose if full of dark notes of blackberries, charcoal, and prunes that are lifted by scents of rose petals and raspberries. The palate reveals an. equally delicate balancing act, with hefty quantities of super-ripe, black-skinned fruits, coffee, cocoa, and earth given life by a refreshing splash of raspberry and redcurrant acidity. One for steak night, decant it or give it some time open before drinking.

I’ll finish with yet another new wine, one that hails from one of the greatest producers on the planet, Gaja. The Gaja family made their name in northern Italy in and around Barbaresco. Today, they’re acknowledged as Italian winemaking royalty, and their wines sell for serious money – the sensational 2019 Barbaresco, for example, will set you back £200 a bottle.

The Idda (London End Wines or Fareham Wines, £29.50) is the result of a joint venture with Sicily’s Etna pioneer, Graci. This is a terrific wine, one that combines power with elegance, purity with complexity. The bouquet offers floral herb notes backed by vibrant black and red fruits. The palate is dominated by tones of raspberry and strawberry, with touches of coffee, mint, and liquorice adding a savoury dimension. This is a serious and seriously good wine that will develop for another few years. Try it with mushroom risotto or lamb shanks.

Well, that’s it for autumn wines and almost for autumn. With the festive season on the way, next time, I’ll look at festive fizz and suggest a couple of wines that will make even the driest of turkeys taste like manna from heaven.

More soon…


Autumn leaves and fiendish fun

Ellie Cox


It may feel as if the children have only just gone back to school but already it’s time for half term. So, if you’re in need of some ideas to amuse them and save your own sanity, read on…

This time of year may be the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, but it’s also the time for ghostly goings-on when things go bump in the night and you can’t help bumping into a pumpkin or two!

There’s a whole week full of pumpkins at Secretts at Hurst Farm, Milford from October 22nd to 29th. Pop along and pick your own to take home. They’re priced by the diameter so bear that in mind when tempted to go for the biggest. Pick up an activity sheet and join in a scavenger hunt. If the fleshy orange squash is to your taste, then tuck into the pumpkin menu of soup, curry or a slice of spicy pumpkin cake.

In the lead up to Halloween, RHS Wisley invites you to delve into the world of deadly plants and bugs. With fun family activities from Saturday 22nd to Sunday 30th. Follow the trail around the garden to explore how everything from cacti to centipedes defend themselves and their habitats. Meet all kinds of bugs and get stuck in with craft and planting workshops. Design a deadly bug or start growing your own carnivorous plant at a workshop and find out more about the wicked plants and wildlife who make Wisley their home.

Magic and mischief abound on The Watercress Line this Halloween with spooky fun galore to keep the kids entertained. Travel on the Wizard Express steam train, walk in Harry Potter’s footsteps over the railway footbridge and explore the Harry Potter style coaches in the siding at Alresford. Get up close to hairy, scary creatures, take part in a broom making demo and much more. As well as unlimited train travel between stations. And why not dress up as a spooky character for the chance to win a prize?

There’s a week of spooky make and take craft activities at the Rural Life Centre, Farnham from Monday 24th to Sunday 30th. With the popular pumpkin carving on Saturday and Sunday. Pre-booking essential for this.

If you’ve ever accused your children of being air heads let them revel in this at Brooklands Museum this October half term, at their Air Heads extravaganza where you’ll find all manner of activities to keep them entertained. Join in the Build a Paper Aircraft Family Workshop and watch it fly. Pedal planes will run from the paddock for under 5s. Become a detective and solve clues, decode messages and search for hidden objects to claim a prize.

Fairy Doors will be in the Painshill landscape from Saturday 22nd until November 13th. Discover the secret series of doors hidden around the woodlands and lake. As you wander the route you will see the best spots for autumn colour. Enjoy some stunning trees, collect autumn leaves and celebrate the season. Keep your eyes open for the fairies!

A new after dark trail awaits visitors to Polesden Lacey from October 20th to November 6th with IGNITE. Visitors can enjoy a walk through the gardens at night guided by flickering flames and glowing tunnels of trees, with magical illuminated installations along the way. Nestled in the Surrey Hills, the Edwardian gardens of the estate are the perfect setting for this exceptional after-dark experience.

An autumn stroll through the ancient woodlands and parkland at Hatchlands Park is a joy at this time year. The beech woodland creates a delightful haze of gold and yellow and the native wild service tree, with its vibrant red leaves glows against the sky. There are various way-marked routes to follow and if you need a little help to get around, book an all-terrain Tramper personal mobility vehicle.

There’s a weird, wacky, and wicked Halloween trail to follow at Winkworth Arboretum in Godalming. From Saturday 22nd to Monday 31st where you can uncover the spookier side of trees on a haunted trail around the arboretum. Did you know fungi is closer to an animal than a plant? There’s a tree that smells like candyfloss? Or that some trees can grow fingers? Discover all this and more…

Take part in an autumn colour hunt throughout the month at The Vyne. Search for reds, golden yellows and rusty browns hidden in the grounds using the autumn colour hunt key. Intrigue and curious conundrums are part of the Halloween riddle trail from Saturday 22nd to Sunday 30th when little ones can also hunt for witches, wizards, cats and toads exploring the gardens with the aid of trail sheets. A chocolate treat awaits at the end.

Spot the pumpkins hidden across the Pleasure Garden and have fun strolling through crunchy leaves at Petworth from Saturday 22nd to Sunday 30th. Search out seasonal colours and different leaf shapes at Petworth that are marked on the colour catcher chart. Collect what you find, then help create deer shaped wild art installations by attaching your leafy collections to the animal models.

Gin lovers listen up! Did you know there’s an award-winning distillery in the beautiful village of Ripley? Distillers Of Surrey are a family run business on the picturesque Papercourt Lake, Polesden Lane. If you’re yet to discover this hidden treasure, check out their opening times at www.distillersofsurrey.com or book one of their popular distillery tours where you’ll be welcomed with a G&T and enjoy an interesting tour. Younger ones aren’t forgotten with spooky Halloween craft to enjoy on Saturday 29th.

Autumn leaves and fiendish fun

Ellie Cox


It may feel as if the children have only just gone back to school, but already it’s time for half term. So, if you’re in need of some ideas to amuse them and save your own sanity, read on…

This time of year may be the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, but it’s also the time for ghostly goings-on when things go bump in the night and you can’t help bumping into a pumpkin or two!

Come and explore the first-ever pumpkin patch at The Earth Trust Centre at Wittenham Clumps from October 22nd to 30th. Pick your own direct from the field on the farm and try not to get lost in the maize maze. Get your boots muddy and your hands grubby, as you and your little ones have fun with one of our favourite autumn harvest vegetables. Morning and afternoon sessions. Booking essential.

A spooky, fun-filled, after dark trail awaits all the family this half term at Blenheim Palace, 21st to 30th, complete with new installations for 2022. Join with family and friends to wander from dusk into darkness between one ghostly space and another… if you dare! Watch out for flickering flames in a fiendish fire garden, daring fire artists and grinning pumpkins. Wind your way through the illuminated haunted woods filled with creepy neon cobwebs, ghastly ghouls, wicked witches, larger-than life spiders and beastly bats. Then discover the Secret Garden filled with more hidden surprises. Could it be a trick of the light or do things really go “bump in the night”?

Join fascinating, free, family-friendly events at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford this half-term. The Festival of Social Science is a celebration of creative, challenging, and inspiring work that social science researchers do to help us understand and influence the world around us. Hands-on activities are led by real-life social scientists. Discover the future of going to the doctors, explore what better cities could look like, uncover hidden histories in the museum’s collections – and much more! Find out how the researchers are helping to make the world a better place. Just drop in on 29th and 30th.

Hear spooky stories from 1,000 years of gruesome history come to life during a Spooky Tour at Oxford Castle on October 15th and 21st to 31st. Are you brave enough to visit one of the most haunted places in the UK? Explore the vaulted well chamber, visit the punishment cells and go underground into the dark and spooky crypt. Watch out for ghostly visitors revealing themselves! Underground in the crypt, a cauldron is brewing; with the help of the castle’s resident warlock you can concoct some magical potions with three exciting activities in this hour-long workshop on selected dates.

Take part in the Waterperry Halloween Hunt throughout October half term, 15th to 30th. Follow the trail through the historic gardens to claim your prize at the end.

Follow the clues around the mysterious world of Tumblestone Hollow and the Gardens at Stonor to win a chocolate prize (or an alternative treat) on the Moon Witch’s Halloween Adventure. Folk of Tumblestone Hollow will be reading stories from The Moon Witch and The Thief and giving away spooky temporary transfers. There will be pumpkins galore and ghoulish surprises in this magical spot.

Corn Exchange Newbury and 101 Outdoor Arts and The Base Greenham are excited to be presenting a range of fabulous shows, events and workshops to keep families and little ones entertained this October half term! From shows like Fireman Sam, Morgan & West: Unbelievable Science and a stage adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s The Dark on stage, and spooky screenings of Halloween classics in the cinema, to crafty workshops and fun art courses across the Learning Centre, 101 and The Base, including pumpkin carving and Halloween themed t-shirt printing – it’s going to be a fang-tastic half term! Find out more at www.cornexchangenew.com

Enjoy a free guided tour at the Living Rainforest this half term and explore the theme of ‘poisonous and venomous’ in keeping with it being Halloween. The centre is home to more than 850 species of plants and animals and visitors can experience the sights, sounds and smells of a lush tropical rainforest environment.

Children can enjoy some autumn crafts in the barn at the historic site of Avebury, as well as a half-term family trail from 22nd to 30th.

LEGOLAND’s Brick or Treat presents Monster Party, where the LEGO® Monsters are taking over this October. Join them at the Brick or Treat Monster Party to celebrate their fantastic new 4D Movie The Great Monster Chase!. There’ll be amazing new experiences, live shows, fantastic LEGO decorations and lots of Monster mischief.  The LEGOLAND Windsor Resort will be transformed into a pumpkin-filled wonderland for what promises to be the most frightfully fun event of the year.

Big friendly spooktacular family fun is promised at HalloWellyWeen at Wellington Country Park from Saturday 22nd until Sunday 30th. Enjoy daily shows and story telling at The Witches Show Tent, comedy duo Big Foot and PeteZa in The Not So Spooky Show Tent, get face to face with creepy crawlies in The Lost Jungle and carve a pumpkin in The Pumpkin Patch. The pop-up play village, Halloween themed miniature train and new for 2022 Junk Jodie with recycled Halloween crafts will all add to the entertainment.

Explore the lost village of Stowe as part of the Halloween trail at the National Trust property during October half term, expect some chants and spells along the way together with rare opportunities to explore the spookiest of Stowe’s monuments, the Gothic Temple on 29th and 30th.

Follow the paths of the Wicked Witch Trail around Lamport Garden on a spooky exploration from Saturday 22nd to Monday 31st. Help find the ingredients for a secret Stowe potion, learn some chants and spells, and enjoy the magical colours that can be found there.

Chilterns Walking Festival October highlights

Liz Nicholls


Enjoy walk, foraging, local & literary history, cream tea, garden tours and more as part of Chilterns Walking Festival, 15th-30th October.

The tenth Chilterns Walking Festival features a programme of more than 50 walks and local events to help you enjoy the autumn splendour, the golden beech trees and hedgerows bursting with colour.

Highlights include Pipsticks walks on the day before All Hallows Eve for a spooky walk along the River Thames and lots of ghostly tales from the riverbank! Or take a Walk on the Dark Side with an exhilarating stroll through Bones Wood and Crowsley Park, tuning into the sounds and sights of the night, and ending at the pub for hot chocolate.

50 walks and local events to help you enjoy the autumn splendour

There’s also a foraging walk among the magnificent sweet chestnut trees to learn about and enjoy the bountiful autumn fruits of the forest. Literary walk discovering” in south Oxfordshire including the house where he once lived.

Discover and walk some of the ancient routes which criss-cross the Chilterns, exploring Drovers routes and the Slow Ways historic routes. There’s a nature walk at Aston Rowant to celebrate the 70th anniversary of National Nature Reserves. Join the rangers to see the wildlife that makes them so special, finishing with tea & cake.

Tour guide Bobbie Latter will take you on a guided walk around historic Marlow, followed by a hands-on lace-making experience and a delicious afternoon tea. Plus there are map reading courses, pub walks, local produce tasting, historic garden tours and much more.

Find out more

For full info please visit visitchilterns.co.uk/walkingfest

Celebrate autumn with the National Trust

Karen Neville


As autumn swoops in, it’s not just Keats who was in love with this atmospheric season, the National Trust is too, find out more about what you can enjoy

Ask anyone what sets autumn apart from the other seasons and they’ll almost without fail say the colours – the kaleidoscope of reds, yellows, oranges, russets and bronzes – that fills the landscape are a sight to behold and none more so than at Winkworth Arboretum.

The Godalming countryside plays host to some of the best hues on offer, seek put the views on the edge of the Magnolia Wood, the top of the Azalea Steps, the lakeside Boathouse and the eastern meadow.

Colour of a different kind comes courtesy of an after dark trail, Ignite at Polesden Lacey from October 20th to November 6th. Walk through the gardens at night guided by the flickering flames and glowing tunnels of trees with illuminations along the way.

We can all channel our inner child with a bit of leaf swishing

Natural light can be enjoyed with the warm glow emitted on autumn afternoons caught on the cusp of the fading summer light and the prospect of crisp autumn days to come, forget a filter on your phone camera, who needs that when you can bathe in the stunning natural light. Try The top of the amphitheatre at Claremont Landscape Garden with a view of the landscaped lake behind you and autumnal yellow trees.  Deep in the parkland at Hatchlands, among golden grasses, clambering on a fallen oak trunk presents the picture perfect mansion in the distance. The viewpoint memorial on the top of the Box Hill, boasts all of Surrey laid out behind you as a backdrop or for something different how about the public art installations by Hew Locke and Mark Wallinger at Runnymede.

We can all channel our inner child with a bit of leaf swishing – do you favour the high kick to watch the leaves fall to the ground or a flat-footed swipe to hear the rustle or perhaps you like to go full on ‘snow angel’ and really immerse yourself in autumn?

Polesden Lacey Credit: John Millar

Autumn means harvest time and there are apple days to enjoy at Leith Hill, Dorking on October 1st and enjoy those rich pickings in a National Trust café with a slice of delicious spiced apple cake.

The swirling mists are the perfect accompaniment for Halloween at the end of the month so why not visit some of National Trust’s spookiest spots in Surrey and discover The Sailor’s Stone at the Devil’s Punch Bowl which marks the spot where a sailor was murdered in 1786 or Claremont Landscape Garden where landscape designer William Kent is said to linger.

Find out more

See the National Trust’s website www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Celebrate autumn with the National Trust

Karen Neville


As autumn swoops in, it’s not just Keats who was in love with this atmospheric season, the National Trust is too, find out more about what you can enjoy

Ask anyone what sets autumn apart from the other seasons and they’ll almost without fail say the colours – the kaleidoscope of reds, yellows, oranges, russets and bronzes – that fills the landscape are a sight to behold and none more so than at Basildon Park, Stowe and Hughenden.

Take the orange or green walk through beech woodland to see the colours at Basildon Park near Reading, the Grecian Valley at Stowe serves up a splash of colour while Hughenden manor is awash with seasonal shades across the Chiltern valleys.

We can all channel our inner child with a bit of leaf swishing

The balcony at Basildon Park, dahlia garden at Greys Court near Henley and under the arch at the ruin of the cascade at Stowe all provide the perfect frame to your autumn snaps bathed in the glory of the natural light of the season.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away so you’ll be more than ok if you visit Hughenden where very day is apple day – not only can you learn about the 40 varieties of old English apple they have there but you can also help with the hay making or find out more on a fungi trail.

Credit: Hugh Mothersole

We can all channel our inner child with a bit of leaf swishing – do you favour the high kick to watch the leaves fall to the ground or a flat-footed swipe to hear the rustle or perhaps you like to go full on ‘snow angel’ and really immerse yourself in autumn? All the above places are ideal to indulge in this.

Another sure sign of autumn are conkers, their shiny brown casings are jut begging to have string attached ready for battle but before you do that, take a moment to admire their form and gather up as many as you can from the surrounding woodland at Basildon, Stowe and Hughenden among others, An old wives tale portrays them as useful in warding off spiders which may come in handy for Halloween at the end of the month.

On October 31st, thoughts will turn to spooky tales and you can summon up the atmosphere at Chastleton, near Moreton in the Marsh, which is exactly as it was 400 years ago – take a behind the scenes tour on October 25th or follow the Halloween trail at Stowe in the half term which explores the lost village of Stowe complete with chants and spells along the way and visit the Gothic Temple if you dare on 29th and 30th.

Find out more

See the National Trust’s website www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Wines for autumn with Giles Luckett

Round & About


Round & About’s resident wine columnist gives his top picks for the new season – mellow wines for the mellow season!

Hello. As a wine lover, I’ve always liked autumn as a season. Unlike winter or summer, where the weather and food tend to prescribe reds or whites, autumn, with its early warmth and latter chill, offers a much broader palate to work with.

As Keats put it, doubtless, after a glass of wine (or something altogether stronger knowing what the Romantics were like), this is the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ and the following suggestions make for the perfect accompaniment to this golden transition.

First up is a white from Portugal, The Lisboa Valley Selection (The Wine Society £7.95). Portuguese reds have been a favourite of the wine trade for some time now, but the whites have never quite caught people’s attention. I tried this for the first time last year, and it’s become a regular in our house. Offering an intriguing combination of freshness – grapefruit, green apples, and watermelon – with a balancing richness – peaches and dried pears – it has a tang of Atlantic salt to the finish. Marvellous with seafood, it’s also lovely on its own.

As Keats put it, doubtless, after a glass of wine (or something altogether stronger knowing what the Romantics were like), this is the ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’

Next is a wine from Sicily, a wine-producing island that has seen its fortunes soar in the last decade or so as winemakers have got to grips with the natural gifts they have been afforded. My recommendation is the Nostru Catarratto Lucido (Kwoff £12.49). This organic wine is made from the rare (I certainly had to look it up) Catarratto grape. Mid-gold in colour, it offers a complex nose of jasmine cut with almonds and peach stones. The palate is fresh and tangy with plenty of gooseberries and white currants, but this soon deepens as greengages, peaches, and apricots come in at the end.

And for my last white, we have one from another region whose fame lies with its reds. Abruzzo sits east of Rome, where its coast borders the Adriatic. Its Montepulciano is a great source of inexpensive, often highly drinkable reds, such as Tesco’s Finest Montepulciano (£7).

Whites are thinner on the ground, but wines such as the Contessa Abruzzo Pecorino (£9.95) are well worth seeking out. Pecorino gives fragrant wines with plenty of citrus freshness that also offer riper notes of apricots, Mirabelle plums, nuts, and dried herbs. The Contessa is an excellent example of this, and I found it went well with creamy cheese pasta – one that was loaded with pecorino cheese, funnily enough.

There will now be a short interval for a glass of Champagne.

I’m a huge fan of Champagne. Good as sparkling wines are, even the best cannot match the complexity, elegance, and depth of the greatest sparkling wine on Earth. While I am a fan of many houses, the one I keep coming back to is Taittinger. Across the range, their wines are the epitome of style, and their Prelude (John Lewis £55) is arguably the best sub-£100 Champagne on the market. But it’s to the Taittinger Brut Reserve (Tesco £39) I’d like to give a nod to. This is a show-stopping wine. Mid-gold, the tiny, even bubbles (‘bead’ if you want to get technical), lift notes of spring flowers, red apples, citrus, and yeast. In the mouth, it’s gentle yet persistent, and at its core is a glorious note of peaches in syrup that is offset by taut acidity and creamy yeastiness.

And so to the reds.

You can’t talk about wines that boast mellow fruitfulness and not mention Rioja. Rioja’s reputation is at an all-time high. A succession of good vintages coupled with innovation and investment from leading producers has made the wines of this fantastic region world-beaters.

One that’s been turning my head lately is the Cune Reserva 2017 (Majestic £12.99), and it’s autumn bottled. The nose is a smoky, rich mix of red and blackberries with highlights of citrus fruits and spices. The medium-bodied palate is loaded with crushed black fruits, vanilla, cranberries, and liquorice, and finishes with a fresh, fruits of the forest in cream flourish. Magnificent now with hearty tomato dishes or red meats, it will improve over the next three to five years.

South African wine has undergone a reinvention to match Australia’s over the past couple of decades. Their traditional ‘big is better’ approach has been replaced by the pursuit of perfection done their way. Like Australia, South Africa has a hugely diverse mix of soils and microclimates that lend themselves to the creation of truly fine wines. One of these is the Neil Ellis Cabernet Sauvignon (Cellar Door Wines £19.95). Cabernet Sauvignon is often said to be the king of red grapes, one that is capable of producing aristocratic wines that combine elegance, power, and longevity. The Neil Ellis shows these characteristics to the hilt. Inky black, the nose is an inviting mix of blackcurrants, prunes, and mint, while the palate offers a powerful mix of cassis, raspberries, chocolate, and a whiff of cigar smoke. I had this with a cheeseboard – and it was excellent – but with a fine steak or mushroom risotto, I think it would be even better.

And finally, a claret. I don’t recommend red Bordeaux that much these days because the good wines tend to be horribly expensive, and the cheap ones are just horrible. Stalwarts like Château Talbot – a wine I used to buy for under £30 – will now set you back over £60 a bottle. Great vintages, hysterical scores from critics, and wine investors have sent prices skyward and left drinkers out in the cold.

It was with deep joy then that I recently tasted the 2016 Caronne St. Gemme (Majestic Wines £16.99). The Nony family has worked wonders with this excellent estate, and the winemaker claims that the 2016 is the best wine he’s ever made. Classical nose of blackcurrants, smoke, cigars, and grilled meats, the medium-bodied palate is choc-full of plums, currants, blackberries, and chocolate, that lead to a long, well-integrated, satisfying finish. Just starting to open up, it will be fascinating to see how this develops.

Until next time...

Well, I hope that’s whetted your appetite. Next time out, I’ll look at some affordable fizz.



National Trust top 10 in Sussex

Round & About


Enjoy colour, walks and craft this autumn at National Trust properties in Sussex

Top 10...

1. Autumn colour

Enjoy Sheffield Park as the autumn colours ignite the trees and cast picture perfect reflections in the lakes. Famous for its autumn colour, this is the season that Sheffield Park and Garden was planted for. Take in the natural beauty as the trees glow with brilliant displays of reds, oranges, purples and greens. Children’s spotter sheets and colour wheel installations encourage young families to spend time noticing the variety in nature’s palette.

The South African flower borders at Nymans carry on flowering into late October, sometimes even longer. Salvias are beautiful in autumn, particularly those surrounding the rose garden. Walking in the woodland and garden at Nymans, you can see magnificent colour especially from hickory, liquidambar and acer trees.

Spot deer and wildlife in the woodland, watch mist settle over the boating lake from the shelter of the bird hide. Enjoy views across the Weald, which are particularly striking in autumn with a blend of earthy colours transforming the landscape.

2. Nature walks

Fall under autumn’s spell with immersive walks in the South Downs. Nature is busy in September, from migrating birds and fruiting fungi, to butterflies on the wing. On autumn walks at Black Cap and Slindon in South Downs, you can find open views, fungi, blackberries and hazelnuts for foraging and swallows congregating for their migration to sub-saharan Africa. In September there are clouded yellow and dark green fritillary butterflies. In October and November the trees turn brilliant shades of amber and gold.

Devil’s Dyke & Cradle Valley is home to wildflowers such as devil’s bit scabious and weird and wonderful fungi: including cobalt crust, parasols, waxcaps, shaggy inkcaps and King Alfred’s cakes.

See swathes of heather in flower at Black Down and the blue sky reflected in heathland ponds. At Harting Down and Slindon, listen out for the deer rut in the distance.

3. Crafts & creativity

Take inspiration from Virginia Woolf’s writing lodge in the garden at Monk’s House. Nestled in the heart of rural Sussex, Monk’s House is a tranquil 16th-century weatherboarded cottage inhabited by Leonard and the novelist Virginia Woolf from 1919 until Leonard’s death in 1969. Get to know Leonard and Virginia Woolf and the wider Bloomsbury Group by visiting Monk’s House. Full of their favourite things, the house appears as if they just stepped out for a walk. Open Fridays and Saturdays for pre-booked visits only until 29 October.

It’s impossible to ‘leaf swish’ without a smile on your face.

4 .The deer rut

At Petworth Park, hear the guttural calls of the fallow deer, echoing across the landscape and spot powerful antlers among the hillocks and long grass. Deer rut guided walks are one of nature’s greatest spectacles as bucks compete to attract the females by battling it out with their antlers. Visitors can join a deer rut guided walk led by a knowledgeable guide and learn more about the fallow deer in this historic parkland setting. If you’ve got binoculars bring them along so that you can observe the deer’s behaviour. There’ll be an element of hiding and waiting too. Walks will run on October 3rd, 5th, 7th, 10th, 12th, 14th, 17th, 19th & 21st. Pre-book.

5. Harvest

The blackberries started early this year but there’s plenty more harvest in the National Trust’s walled gardens, orchards and hedgerows in Sussex. See the fruits of the Kitchen Garden’s harvest at Standen this autumn. Plus there are guided walks on the history of the garden demonstrations of how to spin wool, by the East Grinstead Spinners.

Visit Woolbeding Gardens and see mature apple tree cordons, grown in an intricate lattice pattern on the garden wall. This horticultural haven is bursting with colourful planting and innovation. Open Thursdays and Fridays until September 30th. Book a ticket in advance and travel via minibus from Midhurst town centre.

Take inspiration in the cottage garden at Alfriston Clergy House, with its raised kitchen garden beds on a domestic scale. With traditional apple tree varieties in the orchard laden with fruit and pumpkins peeking through their cover of leaves, this is a gentle place to rest and reflect as the days draw in. Open Wednesdays and Thursdays.

6. Golden light

The golden light of autumn afternoons gives everything a warm glow that’s tinged with nostalgia for the summer just gone and a tingle of excitement for the crisp days to come. The slanting sun bathes houses, gardens, landscapes and faces in a honeyed light, nowhere more so than Petworth Park amongst the wavy gold grassland, with views of the grand house bathed in soft afternoon light or how about a cappuccino on the mezzanine floor of Nymans’ new Riding House tearoom, with views of the Weald from the top windows. At the top of the acer steps in Standen’s Arts and Crafts garden as they turn red and golden in early autumn. In Nymans’ new Garden in the Ruins – among the gothic stone window spaces and warm rust coloured planters .

7. Leaf swishing

Whether it’s a high-kick to watch the leaves tumble, or the flat-footed swish-swish to enjoy the rhythmic crackle and whoosh of the dry leaves, there are no half measures. It’s impossible to ‘leaf swish’ without a smile on your face. Try these spots:

Tunnels of beech leaves, down the deep lanes on the Slindon estate.

The woods at Nymans, in late autumn, as the golden leaves form native trees fall to the ground, including beech, field maple, hornbeam and veteran oaks.

Discover Walk Wood at Sheffield Park and Garden: this peaceful area of woodland is steeped in history, with an abundance of wildlife and natural art sculptures.

8. Try something new

Sheffield Park autumn photography workshop – The natural beauty of the gardens offers spectacular autumn colour and walks and a popular autumn photography workshop (Friday, 30th September, Monday, 10th & Thursday, 20th October, 8.30am-12.30pm). An outdoor photography workshop is the perfect opportunity to learn how to capture the beautiful colours of autumn. Adult £35, includes hot drink and cake.

9. Rainy days

A rainy day in autumn is a great excuse to leave the dog at home and prioritise an exploration of the huge variety of grand, stately and quirky houses and collections that we look after in Sussex.

Before they’re put to bed for the year, visit:

Flower Power at Standen – Step back to 1972 with Flower Power, a new programme at Standen. To mark the 50-year anniversary of being in the care of the National Trust, Standen is paying homage to this era. From fondues to fuzzy felts, enjoy a snapshot of life in the 70s, against the backdrop of Standen’s trendy Morris & Co designed walls and textiles. Inside the house is a recreated 1970s room set by Morris & Co, with their ground breaking Triad collection, plus a contemporary design space until October 30th.

Rising from the ashes: the story of Nymans’ fire. A new exhibition which tells the story of how the Messel family overcame the fire at Nymans, until October 30th.

10. comfort food

The National Trust’s cafés in Sussex know a thing or two about serving up a soothing pumpkin soup or delicious slice of spiced apple cake. Pop along to Nymans, Standen, Petworth House, Birling Gap or Sheffield Park for an autumnal walk and a teatime treat.

Find out more

See the National Trust’s website www.nationaltrust.org.uk