Thursday, 31 October 2013

Leaf mold

Much of this afternoon was spent both in and on a pile of leaf mold. A lovely, deep pile of well-rotted leaf mold – thick, chocolately stuff, the consistency of a really good chocolate brownie, the kind that makes your mouth go all funny and sends a little shiver down your spine. The kind that offers your teeth the resistance of the barest hint of crust on the outside but rewards the persistance of your masticationary efforts with a meltingly gooey interior. The word ‘unctuous’ gets a bad press but was surely invented for this stuff – in fact, I’m not sure that anyone could ever have really appreciated the richenss of that adjective without having been here, on this pile at this moment, watching the shining blade of the shovel carve tranche after tranche out of the heap, hearing it flop wetly to the ground, crumbling as it falls. There has been rain of late in volume, and were I in particular mood I could wish the texture more friable. Candidly, I rather suspect the inclusion of grass during the incorporation of the heap, but I cannot say. I was not here at that time. But what this compost lacks in crumble it more than makes up for in luxury, and it will be more than adequate for purpose.

This lot is bound for the rose garden, to act as a mulch in order to supress weeds, and also as a soil conditioner to lighten the clay. In this the gardener will be given invaluable help from the host of worms which poplulate the rich humus, as they do the hard work of mixing the new layer organic matter with the soil. Before the mulch can be applied, I remove fallen leaves from the beds with the aid of a powered blower. These leaves will not make it into the main pile, instead meeting their fate on the bonfire and thereby minimising the proliferation of rose blackspot (the fungus Diplocarpon rosae). Once the beds are clear, applicaton of the fresh leaf mold involves accurate aiming of the barrow, and the use of a long-tined compost fork – by far the most efficient tool for spreading the mulch between the stems of the rose plants.

I have posted before (in Leaf fall and Cloth of Gold) on the wonder of leaves. As I write this on Hallowe’en, and in spite of the fierce winds at the beginning of the week, we have not yet entered the peak of the leaf raking season, with many trees keeping a stubborn grasp on their foliage. But it’s surely a matter of days if not weeks before leaves cover our gardens again, and it’s as well to have a plan of what to do with them once they’ve been coralled and collected. It would, after all, be criminal to let all that potential goodness go to waste.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Honey fungus

Autumn is the season for mushrooms, the fruiting bodies of fungi that appear suddenly in our gardens at this time of year, along with morning mists and the smell of woodsmoke. An integral part of our environment fungi play an essential role within the ecosystem, converting dead material into nutrients required for plant growth. However, in the quasi-naturalistic setting of the garden, not all fungi are created equal. There are relatively harmless saphrophytic fungi, which live on dead or decaying organic matter, and aid the process of decomposition. These perform a vital function and one which, from a gardener’s perspective, is relatively benign. There are also beneficial micorrhizal fungi which form a codependnent relationship with the roots of plants, assisting in the uptake of nutrients from the soil in exchange for sugars and carbohydrates. But there are also pathogenic fungi, which are rather more of a nuisance, possessing as they do a penchant for living material.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Eat your greens

Wandering along the farm lane, as I do several times a day with Bill, I spend many a happy while examining the hedgerows. It’s fascinating to me that while we tend to think that at this time of the year the whole natural world is a few short weeks away from bedding down for a long winter snooze, many perennial and biennial plants are gearing up for spring, thrusting out lush green foliage and staking a claim to their spot for the new growing season. Here’s a selection of native plants, most of which are doing just that, and all of which, it occurs to me, might not make it that far in an unmolested state, owing to them being either rather tasty foragers’ fare, or rather useful in some way.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

In between days

An awareness of the passing seasons is a grounding thing. It relates us to the world outside our window which might otherwise be perceived only in momentary glimpses as the natural realm intrudes upon our busy lives: suddenly we’re driving to work in the dark, shorts and t-shirts are consigned to the back of the wardrobe, and one day soon we’ll awake to find the lawn shrouded in leaves. We note the signs that mark our passage from spring to summer, to autumn, to winter and back to spring and, while we may complain about the less welcome aspects – complaining is in our nature after all, and something to be enjoyed – we are fortunate to live in a part of the world where the passing of time is softened by the comforting regularity of discernibly different seasons. But as much as we tend to think of clearly defined periods, each with their own individual events and moods, in reality we spend as much time transitioning between one and the next, where the interregnum is marked by a character of its own.