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.
The warm dry autumn has given a wonderfully colourful run up to November.
Autumn bring leaves - tons of them
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.
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.
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
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.
- '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.