The end of win­ter is in sight but there’s still time to plant trees. Sue Bradley looks at putting in a sweet chest­nut and gets her beans started

Living France - - Contents -

Sue Bradley re­veals what to do in the gar­den this month, plus our new col­umn from ex­pats be­long­ing to France’s Open Gar­dens scheme

Mar­rons glacés are a fes­tive French favourite, but can be ex­pen­sive to buy. If space isn’t an is­sue in the gar­den, a sweet chest­nut could yield buck­ets of tasty nuts for can­dy­ing at home, along with grace­ful catkins in early sum­mer.

These long-lived de­cid­u­ous trees suit a sunny spot, whether shel­tered or ex­posed, and grow best in ar­eas with a mild cli­mate and free-drain­ing loamy or sandy soil with a neu­tral or acid pH. Sweet chest­nuts will grow higher than 12 me­tres – of­ten 20 to 30 me­tres – and have an ul­ti­mate spread of wider than eight me­tres, although it is pos­si­ble to find more com­pact cul­ti­vars, such as ‘Re­gal’, which pro­duces fra­grant blos­som and clus­ters of nuts that fall to the ground when they are ripe, although it does need to be planted with another sweet chest­nut tree for pol­li­na­tion.

Other smaller types in­clude ‘Mar­ron de Lyon’, which pro­duces sin­gle large and sweet-tast­ing nuts rather than clus­ters and has the ad­van­tage of be­ing self-fer­tile. The new French hy­brid ‘Mar­aval’ has a par­tic­u­larly good flavour, while ‘Marigoule’ pro­duces heavy yields from early to mi­dau­tumn. Both Mar­aval and Marigoule are par­tially self-fer­tile.

Plant young sweet chest­nut trees from late au­tumn to late win­ter – Fe­bru­ary is ideal as long as tem­per­a­tures are not freez­ing. Be­gin by loos­en­ing the ground around the plant­ing site and adding well­rot­ted com­post or ma­nure to the en­tire area if the qual­ity of the soil is low. Dig a hole that’s as deep as the root­ball of the tree, or the con­tainer it’s in, and three times as wide. Soak the roots in wa­ter, or moisten a pot­ted plant well.

When plant­ing, aim to keep the level of the soil the same as the nurs­ery line on the tree, or in line with the top of the com­post if it’s a pot­ted spec­i­men. Fill in the sides of the hole with soil, gen­tly firm­ing it around the roots to pre­vent air pock­ets. Wa­ter well for the first year.

Trees will pro­duce sweet chest­nuts in­side spiky cas­ings af­ter two or three years, usu­ally in and around mid-au­tumn, at which point it’s wise to start pick­ing be­fore the squir­rels find them.

Eat sweet chest­nuts roasted over an open fire, boiled, puréed or candied. They can be used in nut roasts and stuff­ings or milled to make a flour.

To make mar­rons glacés, place 500g of fresh, un­peeled chest­nuts into boil­ing wa­ter for four min­utes and then peel them while warm.

Cre­ate a syrup by bring­ing 300g caster sugar and 300ml wa­ter to the boil and then sim­mer for 10 min­utes. Add the chest­nuts and sim­mer for a fur­ther eight min­utes, be­fore turn­ing off the heat and al­low­ing them to stand overnight. Boil the chest­nuts and syrup for a minute the fol­low­ing day and leave to cool. Re­peat this process over sub­se­quent days un­til the syrup has gone. Fi­nally, place the chest­nuts onto a bak­ing tray cov­ered with parch­ment and bake in a very low oven for around two hours.

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