Autumn Leaves – Red, Orange, Gold and Brown to be Turned Into Next Year’s Black Gold

“Don’t get me wrong, I love trees, but not in the street outside my house.The’re so messy with their leaves in the autumn.”

I heard this kind of statement on many occasions, from members of the public, when I worked in The London Borough of Havering, Council’s Parks Department. They have a point, but that mess is a fantastic resource for us keen gardeners.

Linda and I collect not only our own leaves from our paths and grass areas, but also from a few neighbours’ front gardens and the verges, pavements and road gutters near our house. We pick them up using a rotary mower which partially shreds the leaves speeding the formation of leaf-mould.

We have a weld-mesh tower six feet high (1.8m) by four feet diameter (1.2m). We fill this each autumn and empty it a year later. When a year has elapsed it has reduced in volume to around half the height of the tower.

We spread the majority of this precious material around our Epimediums and other woodland plants, and over our Heuchera and Japanese Maple bed. Any left is put in bags to be used later for improving the soil for new plantings of woodland plants.

Autumn colouring trees and shrubs has long been a particular enthusiasm of mine.

However our garden doesn’t produce as good a performance from many plants as I¬† have seen elsewhere. This is in part due, I think, to the soil. Ours is generally a good rich organic topsoil overlaying London Clay. Many subjects seem to be much more colourful in Autumn on poorer sandy soils. However some of our Japanese Maples are reliable, Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ with its rich red and A.p. ‘Senga Kaku’ with bright yellow to orange. On the other hand our two Acer griseums¬† don’t produce the strong orange colours we’ve seen elsewhere and our large Acer rubrum ‘Scanlon, and Liquidambar styraciflua are a bit disappointing for the three dimensional spaces they occupy.

I have just posted a dozen or so new images of autumn colour in the ‘Shrubs Gallery’ many of which are off young Acer palmatum cultivars in pots.

By the way, having lost quite a few young Acer palmatums in pots left outside or in our unheated large greenhouse in winters past, I now always heel them in the ground over winter with no losses due to roots freezing. I think they become safer when they have grown large enough to be in a 3 gallon bucket sized pot and above. However ours is a sheltered garden in the South of England. It may be wise to protect sizable specimens in larger pots or tubs with bubble-wrap or fleece in winter time if severe weather is forecast. It is heart breaking to loose a maple of significant stature.

Summer, What Summer?

I don’t know about other British gardeners, but I feel a bit cheated by our 2012 Summer.

The only good thing about it was not having to water so much, especially with our large number of plants in pots. The bad things were far more numerous, not least of all the plague of slugs of biblical proportions, but then I’ve already ranted about them twice before.

Our Eremurus, so good in the last couple of years, failed to flower at all.

We had no apples on our two young but established trees, and the first cropping year of our Plum ‘Lizzie’ resulted in a great setting of fruit which all rotted before ripening. Too late to be much help, I found a site on The Net advocating the spraying of the fruits with a diluted solution of milk with a drop of washing up liquid, at regular intervals. I will try this next year, in good time if the summer is again a wet one.

We have lost two unusual small trees probably by drowning, a Styrax hemsleyana and a Cornus x rutgersensis. Also our honeymoon purchased, Magnolia campbellii has given us cause for concern, as it too may have suffered severe water-logging. There was a considerable leaf fall in August, carpeting the ground beneath the tree. However It kept perhaps half of its foliage and still has some now, so may be OK. It is now 37 years old and a good size and we’d hate to loose it.

Let’s hope next year is a more ‘typical British Summer’!