Out on the road the sound of one neighbour’s leaf-blowing machine is trying to outdo another’s lawn mower. In the next house down, the hedge trimmer is being wielded as if it’s a prop from Edward Scissorhands. It seems that everyone is in their garden, doing chores and making noise! We are experiencing some dry autumnal days so the nation is taking the opportunity to do what they can to prepare their gardens for autumn and beyond.
I’ve been busy weeding beds and applying a heavy layer of mulch in the hope of suppressing any further weed growth. I’m using a really rich, dark crumbly compost — this makes a great contrast with the white bark of the birch trees and crisp green fronds of ferns.
It does an excellent job of tidying everything up and drawing attention to specimen shrubs in their autumnal beauty like acers and parrotia. And over the next year the compost will gradually be broken down by earthworms, thereby improving the soil structure.
Collecting fallen leaves is a weekly task at the moment, hence the roar of leaf-blowing machines in the air. A more ecologically friendly and quieter method is to rake. This will have the added benefit of giving a gentle scratch to your lawn — otherwise known as scarifying.
A vigorous rake will not only remove leaves but also thatch that layer of decaying material that builds up on lawns such as bits of grass left over from mowing and dead moss.
There’s still enough warmth to sow grass seed in bare patches and it’s the perfect time to lay new sod.
It’s very important to remove dead leaves from paths. If the rain comes these will become increasingly slippery and create a hazardous route for you and your postman coming up the garden path. While you’re at it, check that your home’s drains and gutters aren’t getting clogged up.
Gather leaves in black bin bags, piercing a few holes in the bag for air and allow to compost. They won’t need turning but you can help the process along by digging up some earthworms and adding them and a bit of soil to the mixture so there’s plenty of bacteria present. It might take a year or so but it makes a lovely dark compost.
Scissor-happy gardeners can get out and about with their secateurs and tidy up or prune deciduous shrubs — but don’t hard prune evergreen shrubs at this time of the year. Climbing roses are nearly finished their second flush of flowering so it’s time to cut out weak, crossing or dead stems and reduce side-flowering shoots by a third. If the rose is old and getting congested, you can remove one or two old shoots completely from the base. Ponds need attention before winter sets in. Remove and clean the pump if you have one. Thin out oxygenating plants if these have taken over and remove old leaves and debris from the bottom. Don’t use a rake or anything sharp to do this as you might puncture the lining. Ideally your pond won’t be situated near a tree but if it is, consider covering with a net to stop leaves falling in — these will rot and produce gases poisonous to fish.
Tubs and containers with summer bedding will need a facelift. Some daisies will keep flowering merrily but most bedding will need clearing. If you’re going to plant some winter and spring bedding, I would recommend replacing at least half the compost in your pots as it will be tired and leached of all goodness at this stage.
Replace with homemade compost and soil or shop-bought compost. Indulge your inner child and have fun with the primary colours —zingy reds, blues and yellows and every shade between on the colour wheel can be harnessed using pansies, wallflowers, bellis perennis, polyanthus and cyclamen. Enjoy!