Wow! What an autumn we’ve enjoyed. The days, although shorter, have been filled with the most wonderful light – the trees have kept their leaves for the longest time and spoiled us with their rainbow of colour. I am a sucker for a good tree, once I find a good one I make it a point to drive past when I know it is at its peak. My children are tormented with the constant “ohhs” and “ahhs” and “look at that” from my position as driver. This month my favourite is the fabulous Gingko biloba, the Maidenhair tree (photo above) located in the park by the Musée du Léman on the lake front in Nyon. Although native to China this specimen tree grows very well in Europe. It is one of those beauties best grown in public places for all to enjoy as it can reach a height of 30ms. The leaves are fan-shaped and turn the most vibrant butter yellow at this time of year.
The only downside of trees keeping their leaves for such an extended period is that the leaf raking seems never to be done. As I’ve mentioned before rake up the leaves, bag them in black sacks with some air holes, keep them damp for at least a year or more and hey presto, magic leaf mould. Leaf mould is a brilliant mulch for the garden, keeping the weeds to a minimum and the moisture retained. Unlike garden compost it does not bring much nutrition to the garden, so best not to add it to the vegetable plot.
With the first Sunday of advent falling tomorrow many local garden centres take advantage of Sunday openings and special advent and christmas-themed markets. While you may not think there is much of interest to a gardener at these events, think again, many have deeply discounted perennials, shrubs and trees as they like to clear their stocks before the winter. So while you are admiring the beautifully decorated christmas trees twinkling at every turn don’t forget to have a quick look in the nursery – you might be happily surprised. Remember this is a perfect time to plant and will continue to be so until the ground freezes.
There is still plenty to do in the garden. I’m sure you’ve noticed how wet the grass has become so if possible try to economical with your steps and try to not make a compacted path in the lawn as you work. We are “blessed” here with clay soil which stays warm until late in the year, a great thing, but retains moisture and drains poorly especially in the winter, not such a great thing. If you walk a path in your lawn consider stepping stones or a gravel path for the spring. If you don’t you’ll have a worn path of squashed grass for the winter and a poor start for the grass in the spring as the soil will be so compacted it will take a while for the lawn to recover. Planning ahead.
The summer pots and containers should be almost completely emptied by now even though some summer bedding plants keep on flowering. I know how difficult it is to take perfectly good looking plants out but with a dry few days ahead of us it is the ideal time to plant up some bulbs (no it is not too late) and top them off with pansies, primulas, bellis daisies or primulas. There are still plenty of bulbs available and in fact tulips prefer to be planted in December – still time to get to it. Most pots and containers may remain on the terrace and balcony over the winter, it is best to raise them up from the ground. This provides good free drainage preventing the pots from becoming frozen to the terrace if the weather turns particularly cold. Frozen terra-cotta pots have a terrible side effect of crumbling into shards when they have been severely frozen destroying the pots and making it somewhat treacherous to separate the plants and soil. Little feet for pots can be purchased at all garden centres and DIY shops, off cuts of wood or flat stones also do the job perfectly well.
Some more delicate shrubs and potted plants will need protection from the cold and frost. With pots and containers move them to a sheltered spot, perhaps agains a south facing garden wall where they will still get rained upon. Wrap them up in garden fleece which can be easily purchased either in sheets or in bags that can be popped directly over the plant, christmas-themed hessian bags are now on the market to brighten things up for the holidays.
The dahlias this year were absolutely fantastic and have just now given up with the first cold nights. These are very tender plants which need special care and attention for the winter. Cut down the growth to approximately 15-20 cms and gently dig them up from the ground or out of their pots. The tubers are very delicate and brittle so do take care. Clean off the excess soil and trim off any fine roots. They should then be placed in shallow wooden boxes (fruit crates are ideal for this purpose) in compost, dry sand or vermiculite, just covering the tubers but leaving the crown exposed. Store in a dry, cool, frost-free place until spring. Inspect them regularly for areas of rotting and remove if necessary. If they appear to be drying out too much, spray them with a little water.
Enjoy these dry mild days.