Shoots and leaves

I am always slightly surprised, at a time when temperatures plummet and conditions seem particularly hostile, that there are so many signs of new life in the garden. We rarely get a proper frost here in London, but the last ten days several freezing nights and icy mornings have brought a dusting of white across the garden. After over two years of languishing in the confines of its pot, the tree peony is covered in shoots. This beautiful plant was given to us by neighbours, and I have finally rescued it and planted it in the ground. Despite being absolutely sure I kept the label, recent fruitless searches suggest that I did not. So I cannot be absolutely sure which cultivar this is. However, I have a vague memory of it being P. suffruticosa ‘Yagumo’. The RHS tells me that despite appearances, tree peonies are particularly hardy, so I am assuming it will survive these harsh conditions and make it to next spring.

I still have half a bag of Camassia bulbs left over, and notice that they too are beginning to sprout. I imagine this is probably not a good thing, so managed to get six more planted in the soil. I am now resigned to the fact that the rest of the bag will go unplanted, so will try and find somewhere cool and dark to store them.


At this time of year, in a garden this small I am fast running out of things to do. But before I can join Hank on the bench, there is one Autumnal task to attend to.


I’ve been doing this for a few years now. Collecting leaves in Autumn, storing them in sacks for a year or two then tipping out the transformed contents onto the beds. When we were children, my mother used to send us out with a wheelbarrow, through the gate at the end of our suburban garden, into the woods. She instructed us to fill the barrow with just the top few inches of what we could dig from the woodland floor. We took our spades and learned to score neat squares in the ground, stopping as we hit the clay, and lifting the soft crumbly earth into our barrows for transport back to the garden.

Please don’t do this now. I suspect it would be frowned upon. It might have been then, but we’re talking the early 70’s, and ancient woodland was not afforded quite the deserved status it is now. Everybody seemed to do it. In fact the woods were seen as a kind of resource for free garden supplies, where anything that could be dug up was fair game. Now, thankfully, those days are over.

With limited resources and a small garden, my yield is considerably smaller, but at least it’s ethically sourced. The trouble with urban gardens is that there are few leaves, and even fewer places to store the bags even if you manage to fill any. However, I usually mange to fill about two black bin-liners and hide them out of site in the semi-subterranean area around the front bay window.

Apparently I’m supposed to wait two years to get something really good, but I’m impatient and Alys Fowler tells me I can halve the waiting period and get the worms to do the rest. So that is what I do. I spread it on an area of soil which is looking particularly impoverished (there’s never enough for the whole garden), sit back and wait for the worms to pull it beneath the surface. This works well, especially in the shadier areas, where the occupants are most suited to woodland conditions.

Kate Bradbury gives good advice on how to make your own here, and also talks of the benefits this brings to wildlife as well as soil, and The Anxious Gardener offers advice on how to do it on a grand scale.



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