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’!

Half a Hundredweight of Slugs?

Last night, having collected a particularly impressive haul of slus, I decided to weigh them. I placed another ice cream box on top and tipped away the water.

I weighed the two bxes with slugs and without and the difference was a pound and a quarter. I’ve been collecting most nights since the Hostas started to sprout and have guessed at perhaps an average of eight ounces a night. This could mean I’ve destroyed over fifty pounds of slugs this year.

Despite collecting thousands of them I feel I still don’t understand slugs. There is a very large clump of Disporopsis pernyi and almost every night there are two or three large slugs in one small area of it feeding on its foliage, but not elsewhere in the plant. They have practically defoliated a Kirengeshoma plant in one spot and about twenty feet away another clump is almost untouched. I would love to know whether the ‘innocent’ orange slug feeding on pigeon or fox poo is the same species as the identical looking animals eating the Dahlias, Hostas etc.. Innocent or otherwise they have all met the same fate!


When we disposed of the willow crushed shed, we kept its door for future use.

We have now used it to replace the rotted door on the Second World War air-raid shelter in the garden

. It looks pretty good for a door we reckon must be fifty years old.

My father used the shelter to store apples and we have kept homemade wine in its stable cool temperature. Now it’s just a home for our thick hoses we use to empty ponds, and the stack of buckets in which we overwinter water lilies, when we empty the ceramic water pots each autumn.

Replacement for Rotted Log Seat

Over thirty years ago we installed a log bench consisting of two whole logs for legs and a seat formed from a larger trunk split in half. Sadly, eventually one upright rotted completely above ground and the top had deteriorated beyond repair. Recently we decided to replace the rotting bench, having come across an arbour seat we liked in Roots and Shoots, a local garden centre.

Removing the old more sound log proved no easy task, for as a young man I had done jobs to last.

The log uprights were supplied around four foot long and I had concreted over half their length into the ground with concrete from the bottom of the hole to a substantial collar above ground. We also dug out a fair amount of soil and a proportion of the old flowering Chusquea couleou to create a bay for the new seat.

I assisted our friendly local builder, Brett Lomas, to pave the area and install vertical stone slabs to hold back the higher ground.

We duly collected the AFK Arbour Seat on the car roof rack and constructed it with relative ease. It is a well made flat packed kit which fits together well.

The pond in front of the seat needs de-silting, and we reckon the seat will give us somewhere to take a breather when we are carrying out this fairly unpleasant task.


Feeding the Wildlife

Sadly, yesterday one of our large Koi Carp died, a Chagoi around 10lbs in weight, I guess. We used to bury dead koi in the garden, but there were usually dug up again by the wildlife,

so lately we’ve left them out for the foxes.

Last night while slugging I went to see if the fish was still where I left it. It had been moved a yard or so but was being devoured by a badger. The badger didn’t run off as the meal was too heavy to pick up and make a rapid exit, so he kept eating, ignoring me. I thought I’ll go back in doors and get my camera, to hopefully get a picture. It turned out that

even the repeated flash full in his face, wouldn’t put him off his, ‘as much as you can eat, fish supper’. I got closer and closer until in the end I was crouching no more than a yard in front of the feeding creature. I wanted him to look up and had to make quite loud noises for him to react to me, giving me the second picture..

Seedling Updates

The Phyllostachys kwangsiensis seed continued to germinate since my recent post about them.

About a week ago I potted them off into small square pots.There were a few with little or no chlorophyll in their leaves, and I think these have now failed. There are a couple with yellow striping in the leaves which I will watch with interest.

The Epimedium seedlings have been producing new leaves, but frustratingly slowly. I recall reading on an American website they get some flowering from Epimedium seedlings in their first year. I will be extremely surprised and happy if I see a flower from any of them next year.

It has been a challenge to keep them from being eaten, during the worst slug and snail outbreak I can remember. There have been several evenings when I have collected as many as I pictured in my earlier post. Only on suddenly colder nights does there seen less out there. Other than then, there seems little reduction in numbers despite my best efforts!


Bamboo Flowerings

Over my forty years or so of having bamboos in the garden there have been quite a few flowerings. Some have resulted in the death of the plants a few of considerable size.

Some have produced viable seed, others haven’t, or at least I haven’t found any. Most plants have not recovered, but Yushania anceps was a notable exception.

Until recently, it was an occasional bamboo species flowering,  Fargesia murielii, Yushania anceps, Himilayacalamus falconeri,

Pleiblastus gramineus and simonsii ‘Variegata’,  and Fargesia nitida. These were spread out over the years, but recently there has been several flowering. There has been the Phyllostachys kwangsiensis I posted on earlier, but I have three others currently, Thanocalamus spathiflorus, Phyllostachys praecox ‘Viridisulcata’ and most significantly,  our very large Chusquea couleau ‘Wisley’s Tall Form’. The loss of this will be a significant one. Hopefully someone will keep Phyllostachys praecox ‘Viridisulcata’ going for the keen collectors.I guess the more different species and varieties in a collection the more often flowering will occur.

Replacement For Our Crushed Shed

Some of you may have read on the old web site about the sudden disaster, that occurred during the summer of 2009, when our very large weeping willow’s tree trunk failed at about five feet from the ground. A number of trees and shrubs were damaged by the falling tree along with our ancient 8’x6′ pent shed. It might have been repairable but was not a feature of great aesthetic value.

Our daughter and her friend served drinks and cakes etc. from the shed so we thought perhaps a more attractive replacement might be used as a tea room, were we to start having open days again.

We looked on the Internet and several local garden centres and ended up buying a 9’x6′ ‘Buckingham’ summer house, from Brentwood Garden Centre.The price included erection of the building onto a prepared base.

We were completely amazed by the two guys who carried the panels one each down our long and winding paths with overhanging branches, with almost no damage to plants. From when they arrived to completing the the building including felting the roof was less than an hour and a quarter. We had to glaze the windows and door ourselves, which has taken far longer. Each panes of glass has been pressed into a bead of silicone sealant, and any excess trimmed off with a sharp knife and chisel when cured.


Two Days Dry, We’re Promised!

I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit fed up with this drought! The ‘experts’ never mention that gardeners wont have been using their hose pipes a great deal for the last five or six weeks, not to mention farmers, who wont have been irrigating anything. Also they have been saying the water will have been taken up by trees and not soaked in. Many trees have only just got leaves on them and wont have been taking up water. Surely the situation must be much better for water companies now!

What has been having a field day with all the rain are the molluscs. As someone who tries to protect their Hostas, Epimediums and other vulnerable plants without the use of too many toxic slug pellets, I use the capture and destroy method. I go out with a torch and collect a range of undesirable creatures. As well as slugs and snails you can catch Lily Beetles, Black Vine and other weevils and night caterpillars all about their destructive work, once it is dark. One does of course have to have a degree of determination to get out of

the arm chair and trudge round the garden stooping low in the rain. However, I am convinced I would have had considerably fewer Epimedium shoots and flowers and more holes in many plants had I not been so dedicated. The picture is one recent ice cream box of slugs, collected in the rain during a session of about an hour.