Arrgghhh, it’s becoming harder and harder to duck and weave around the juggernaut that is The British Christmas!
But while we’ve still got some modicum of sanity, let’s get on with some pleasant little gardening jobs like making leafmould, choosing some shrubs for screening and making more lovely oriental poppies……….
Leaf-mould for a lovely garden
There is nothing – as in NOTHING! – more important in horticulture than looking after the soil. Ignore the soil in your garden – its composition, its moisture-levels, and plant willy-nilly (one of Caroline’s favourite plants, by the way!), and you will never have the garden of your dreams.
The good news is, you can improve your soil hugely, whatever it’s like, by collecting fallen leaves and turning them into a free compost.
It could hardly be simpler to do. And you’re going to have to sweep up all those leaves by your front door, on your lawn or down the path anyway, so why not put them to good use?
If you have a spare corner, it would great to make a leaf cage, by hammering four long wooden posts into the ground in a square a metre wide, and fixing netting to them. Then you just chuck all the leaves in there, keeping them moist. When the heap is full, cap it with a 2” (5cm) layer of soil if possible. Otherwise, just cover it with a recycled plastic sack, and leave it for a year.
Taking up even less room, why not use old plastic sacks? Bung the leaves in, pressing them down and making sure they are properly damp. A word of warning based on experience – they can get quite heavy, so don’t fill the sack so full that you can’t then move to where you want to store it!
Tie the top which will keep the moisture and heat in, and use a fork to puncture a few holes in it for drainage and air. Leave your bags out of sight – behind the shed is a good spot – and in 12-18 months, you will have the most marvellous organic material for improving soil structure, mulching and even as an ingredient in potting mixes if you sieve it. If you can be bothered to spread the leaves out on the grass, mow them and then collect them, your leaf-mould will be ready to use in 6 months, not 12.
Some leaves take much longer than other to rot down, remember. Oak, hornbeam and beech are all nice and quick, horse chestnut and sycamore take longer. I don’t use any evergreen leaves in my leaf-mould, but if you want to, then it would be best to chop them up first or you might have to wait a long time for the required magic to happen.
Everything is getting so expensive at the moment, and this is FREE and amazing, so it seems a total no-brainer not to go out and DO IT!
By the way, just as we were taking the photo for our feature pic this week, a kind gardening pal popped round with some lovely produce from his veg garden, including some delectable-looking beetroot. He was very nearly in the pic, actually! Click on the link at the bottom for a delish beetroot soup recipe.
Shrubs for screening
In a small garden, it can be horribly difficult to hide the ugly stuff like wheelie bins, compost heaps, blank walls etc. This is a good time to choose and plant some dense-growing shrubs that will screen such things, and make the vistas in your garden more attractive.
Be careful not to choose a plant that will vastly overwhelm the thing you are trying to disguise (a mile-a-minute vine aka Russian vine or Fallopia baldshuanica over an oil-tank is WAY too much!), and evergreens have the obvious advantage of doing their job in winter as well as summer. Flowers and scent are real bonuses.
Consider Griselinia, privet (Ligustrum), Olearia and Eleagnus. Sarcococca hookeriana and Osmanthus x burkwoodii would also fit the bill well, I reckon, with their glossy leaves and white scented tubular flowers in late winter/spring. Osmanthus doesn’t like cold winds though (neither do I!), whereas the Olearia would be fine in a cold windy spot. To learn more about great varieties of Sarcococca and Ligustrum, check out the links at the bottom to two of Louise Sims’ pieces.
- I adore oriental poppies! There is a really easy way to make more by taking root cuttings now. I use a trowel to delve around a mature plant until I’ve exposed some of the roots. I detach them and then cut them into 2” (5cm) pieces, remembering which was the top and which was the bottom of each bit. I tuck them into compost-filled modules, with the top of the cutting level with the top of the compost. Cover with fine grit, water them and leave them in a warm, bright place inside – I shall leave mine on a sunny windowsill – a greenhouse would be fine too. New leaves start to emerge after a few weeks, but I have learnt to leave them alone for a few weeks more before potting them on – leafy growth comes before much root growth, and you can kill your baby plants before they have properly got going, if you move them too soon. I have made a short video on how to take root cuttings – the link is at the end.
- Have you got a fig tree? If you are lucky enough to grow this delectable fruit tree, you may well have lots of figs of different sizes still on it. This is because figs try to fruit twice each summer, but our summers are not (usually) long enough to allow that to happen. Leaving that second (unripe) summer crop on the tree will inhibit the development of next year’s pea-sized fruits which are already forming in the leaf-axils. So take off all the medium-sized figs now and let the tiny ones grow on over the winter.
- I was reading this morning about how David Austin are fazing out the sale of some of their rose varieties because they can’t cope with the changes in our climate. Beautiful roses like ‘A Shropshire Lad’ and ‘Munstead Wood’ are struggling with the hotter, drier summers and many roses are suffering more from diseases like rust and blackspot.
Lots of newer rose varieties have better resistance to fungal diseases; and there is one useful thing that you can do now, to limit black spot disfigurement next year. That is to pick up all the fallen leaves around any rose bush that was afflicted this year, because blackspot can overwinter on them. Don’t put these leaves on your compost heap but burn them or dispose of them elsewhere.
If you have some excess produce from your garden – beetroot, apples and carrots – why not try Bill’s Beetroot Soup recipe! It’s a marvellously healthy and hearty winter soup from our good friend Bill Tait.
The link to my short video on taking root cuttings is here.
Louise’s piece on Sarcococca is here.
And the one about a super variety of Ligustrum (privet) is here.
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