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The Grumpy Gardener - November

Hints & Tips With Mike Alexander
In his regular column for French News Online "Lifestyle" Section, professional gardener Mike Alexander, marks the coming of winter as he tackles his autumn tasks.

Autumn arives
Autumn bring leaves - tons of them

Autumn Leaves

The warm dry autumn has given a wonderfully colourful run up to November.

The problems however start now. One of my clients has no fewer than a dozen large horse chestnut trees and whilst they make a great display of themselves for most of the time they punish me harshly at this time of year when they drop tons of leaves. I have to wear my dog eaten straw hat as I clear-up beneath them -- conkers falling from around 15 metres can make your eyes water if they hit you on the head.

Me? Just an Old-Fashioned Rake
In all fairness to the client, she has offered to buy me one of those electric leaf blowers but the thought of ruining the tranquility of a beautiful autumn morning with yet another noisy garden device does not appeal , so I have opted for good old-fashioned raking, and not with just any rake either. A conventional spring-tined rake means conkers are constantly caught up in the tines however an old fashioned, hand-made wooden rake works really well. The other real necessities are a self standing bag and a leaf lifter which reduces most of the bending over.

Leaf Mould - Make Your Own
The silver lining to this little grey cloud of fallen leaves is leaf mould. This wonderful natural product is free and great for improving soil. If you have a bit of space somewhere out of view it is dead easy to make leaf cages out of chicken wire and fencing stakes.

Simply drive four stakes into the ground to form the corners of a square about a metre apart and then attach the wire. I like to make three cages next to one another and then fill two of them. Two or three times a year I turn them by tossing the leaves into whichever cage is empty which is a lot easier than trying to turn leaves in a single cage. Each time I throw in a few large handfuls of blood meal and within a year the leaves have normally broken down to a crumbly, black , moisture retentive mould making a fine mulch for the autumn. The empty cages are then pressed into service anew next autumn. The turning and blood meal speed the break down process by some 50% but if you just leave the leaves piled up somewhere you will get the same product within a couple of years.

- Salvia 'Royal Bramble' -

For the last few weeks dahlias and sages have been centre stage in my gardens now rapidly heading into winter decline. The final bright colours of these two plants along with some late flowering roses has helped draw the eye away from the general demise but now even they are no longer able to disguise the fact that we face the onset of winter.

dahlias - dark princess
- 'Dark Princess' -

There has been a trend in recent years to over winter dahlias in the garden in the belief that milder winters will not lead to unsustainable losses. Personally I prefer to stick with the traditional system of lifting the tubers as soon as the leaves are touched by frost then drying them off and covering with dry sand until spring. This means I can be sure of their survival, divide as necessary and then keep them in pots which I move into the garden just before flowering.

Previously - click an image below
To read February's gardening tips article - click this image
Is a world without bees possible? Read about this crisis that will affect us all - click here
Prune for Results
A World Without Bees?
What you should have done in January!
Prune your roses - click here
Fruit Tree Pruning
Wars of the Roses
Grumpy Gardener April - It's War Out There. Click to view
Click to read this article
Prune When Finished
Herald of Spring...
click to read Grumpy's july  tips
You've got to be quick!
Un-thirsty Lavender
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Grasp the Nettle
Star Jasmine - Madrid
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read a previous article
- click an image -
Jihad - on bunnies ears

Grumpy Gardener
Our Grumpy Gardener has been gardening professionally in France for more years than he cares to remember and before that in Africa and the UK. Today he happily shares his expertise with French News Online readers. Your gardening questions are welcome and while they may not be individually answered, they may form the basis of future monthly columns.

Article: Mike Alexander
November 2011

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