Autumn clear-up for jaded gardens

Autumn leaves
Autumn leaves

A friend commented recently that gardens are beginning to look a little ‘down at heel’ as autumn moves in – and that’s a fair summary.

In such circumstances, the onus is on us to lessen the effect by removing dead foliage on perennials, spent annual flower growth, weeds and other border debris.

Follow this up by trimming the nearby lawn and see how it lifts the overall appearance.

Having finished there, move on to the vegetable garden where the lower leaves of sprouts are yellowing and ready to fall at the slightest touch.

There are ragged flags to remove from winter leeks and the foliage of several other vegetables being harvested tends to accumulate.

Add fading asparagus tops and the myriad leaves building up daily and we have the makings of a veritable bounty.

All the lush growth of summer may well look sad now, but it still has a use.

There is a potential soil conditioner and feed locked up within and composting is the key to making it available to a new generation of plants.

With so many green recycling facilities at our disposal, there should be no need for the bonfires of yore.

In this garden, we have a traditional compost heap, a hot bin and two grey bins that are collected by the local authority fortnightly during the growing season.

Any excess is taken by us to the main recycling unit.

Our traditional composting area is constructed in slatted wood to support the oxygen intake that encourages aerobic decomposition. This is topped up year-round with a good balance of green and brown materials that are known to break down well.

Typical useful greens are the leaves of vegetables, fruit remnants and small amounts of grass mowings. Browns include paper, card, twigs, and wood-shavings.

Even so, the combination of suitable ingredients, warm weather and ideal structure, will not deliver a rapid compost from this system. That can take several weeks in summer, more over winter.

The so-called ‘Dalek’ plastic bins are inexpensive, do work and can be a useful addition, but they too are slow at breaking down green waste, and the amount of composted material collected at any given time is limited.

By comparison, the tumbler composting bins are expensive and as the name implies they have to be turned by handle regularly. They do transform garden waste much quicker than the plastic bins, but the load size is limited.

I’ve had the Hot Bin, created by Tony Callaghan of Morpeth (www.hotbincom posting.com) for almost three years now and find it very useful. Even during winter, it retains a good operating temperature, decomposition is rapid, and wheelie-bin dimensions allow a fair amount to be processed in one go.

Because it’s a sealed unit, we can add items such as bones and waste food from the kitchen that are no-nos in other forms of composting.

It’s hardly rocket science to understand that when any crop, ornamental or edible, has been grown on a piece of land for several weeks, there is a need to replenish before the next can be planted.

This is especially important at present, having come out of a very dry September that even has hawthorn hedges struggling to support their berry crop.

Anything organic will help; the weekly litter from a pet herbivore’s home for example, but thoughtful gardeners will have a good supply in store, the older the better.

Such was the case last week at The Alnwick Garden where land cleared of herbaceous geraniums was being prepared for spring bulbs and more.

The gardening team has several large composting bays behind the scenes and on this occasion the volunteers were using one-year-old leaf mould. Gold dust!