What a wonderful autumn it has been for colour. Even in the last days of November the magnolias and field maples are golden yellow and the oaks and beeches golden brown. The weather has been kind to us so far, not much frost and no really cold weather, so there has been no excuse not to be busy in the garden.
Last time I wrote I still had the long yew hedge to cut: 300 yards of mixed topiary. Well it is all done now with the help of a variety of hedge trimmers. For the first time I used battery powered trimmers as well as conventional petrol engines and I have been impressed with the performance. Of course, I made sure the trimmers were kept very sharp. Any tough, woody material takes its toll on blades and a blunt cutting edge will use the battery more quickly, so a daily sharpen with a diamond file kept them in good shape. It is better for the plant too, as a clean cut will heal better than a tear.
It won’t surprise you to hear that a 10-acre garden with lots of lovely ornamental and mature trees produces a lot of leaves! Some years autumn seems to consist of nothing but leaf blowing and collecting for weeks on end, and others years somehow the leaves disappear magically in the night, blown out of the garden into surrounding fields and countryside. This year has been the former!
But the good news is leaves are very, very useful. Leaf-mould is a brilliant soil conditioner, pulled down and mixed into the soil by earthworms, it opens up the structure of the soil. Over time it will help with aeration and drainage and reduce soil compaction. What I like to do is collect the leaves with a lawn mower. Not only does this shred the leaves so they rot down quicker, but the little bit of grass you cut at the same time adds a bit of moisture which helps the leaf-mould break down even more quickly. I then put this straight on to beds in a thick layer and hey presto, instant mulch. Leaf-mould done this time last year is now a lovely workable planting medium. And it’s easy to weed too.
One thing I found when mowing up the leaves is that a mower without a rear roller is so much better. Leaves just get stuck in a roller and you can end up making a right mess. The same goes for cutting grass at this time of year. Because it has been a very mild autumn the grass continued to grow, albeit more slowly, but enough to need a cut even in November. Because the grass is damp the chances are a rear roller will skid and smear the turf, so a mower without one will do the job with little or no damage.
Obviously autumn is when the garden is put to bed for the winter. Herbaceous borders are tidied up, beds get the final weed and various shrubs get an end of season haircut. It’s also the time when I start to think about any tree work I need to do. Most trees are pruned in their dormant period, winter, when they are not actively growing. It is also easier to see what you are doing once the leaves are down. During the year I make a note of any trees that need attention, maybe marking branches that are a problem. Then over the course of the winter months I work my way round making the necessary changes. The most useful tool for this is a pole pruner, i.e. a small chainsaw on pole. This enables me to work from the safety of the ground removing any low or damaged branches.
Autumn is also the time when trees and shrubs are planted. The ground is still relatively warm, so roots can get a head start, and hopefully the winter rains will provide ample water to help plants establish. It is the time of year when we do bigger projects: maybe a larger planting scheme, new beds, or as I am doing, a new woodland corner with a set of steps sweeping down a steep bank to open up a part of the garden previously by-passed by visitors. It is work in progress, but by next spring it should be an interesting and colourful addition to the garden.