Summer on its way out and winter yet to come, this is the time of year when the garden takes matters into its own sensible hands and begins to feed itself, organically of course.
Those of you with deciduous trees and shrubs in your gardens will know exactly what I am talking about, as those prettily coloured autumn leaves dance in the breeze.
Anytime now, deciduous trees and shrubs will begin to shed the leaves they have so proudly worn since early last spring. They will scatter this treasure, for that is what it is, in garden beds, on lawns and driveways and, instead of accepting their gift with a joyous smile, many people will moan about having to clean up and dispose of the ‘mess’.
The leaves of deciduous plants are perfect soil and plant food. They are a natural layer of highly nourishing mulch around the bases of the trees and shrubs from which they have fallen. Rotting leaves suppress weeds, prevent the evaporation of precious moisture, feed the earth and the microscopic elements that soil itself is composed of. They are essential for the long-term health of the legions of beneficial lifeforms such as earthworms, which labour, round the clock and round the year, to keep the soil healthy and fertile.
Accepted that it is not always possible or feasible to simply allow all the leaves to lie where they have fallen, but this does not mean that they should be swept up and either binned or burnt — far from it.
Fallen leaves can be transformed into that gardener’s gold known as ‘leaf mould’, with very little effort indeed. All that is required is to sweep up the fallen leaves, pack them, as tightly as possible, into large, black plastic sacks, tie the sacks closed, leave them somewhere out of the way and out of sight and forget all about them for the following 6-9 months when, on opening, they will contain pure, undiluted, chemical free, leaf mould of a quality impossible to purchase even if it were available.
Leaf mould is the magic ingredient for improving soil, mulching and making your own potting mix. Making it is so simple, you’ll wonder why you haven’t done it before
Organic leaf mould is perfect mulching material, first class soil conditioner and the perfect addition to compost for seed sowing, re-potting and for general garden use.
Deciduous leaves can, of course, be added directly to the compost heap/ bin but they have far more benefits when composted, as in the black bag method.
Do not, however, be tempted to add the leaves of evergreen species of trees and shrubs into your leaf mould-making process. Evergreen leaves are usually far tougher and leathery — citrus leaves and of the extensive ficus family being prime examples — and take forever to turn into any kind of useable compost, let alone into high quality leaf mould.
If you are going to try to compost evergreen leaves, do this completely separately than the comparatively fragile ones of deciduous trees and shrubs.
Making leaf mould is simple and the rewards from using it are huge.
Go on, get sweeping and give it a go.
Seed sowing suggestions for October
In the flower department: Antirrhinums — dog flowers/ snapdragons, Cerinthe major atropurpurea — honeywort, wallflowers, sweet Williams, sweet sultan, cornflowers, nigella, bellis daisies, Queen Anne’s lace — ammi, violas, pansies, larkspur, godetia, geraniums, pelargoniums, pinks, carnations, coreopsis, petunias, lobelia, alyssum, verbena, salvias, ageratum, bidens, aquilegia, candytuft, mixed annual poppies, annual chrysanthemums and, towards the end of the month, sweet peas.
The vegetable garden: Winter cabbages and spring cabbages, cauliflowers, broccoli and calabrese, kale, green onions, lettuce, spinach, leaf beet/ Swiss chard, endive, pak choy, giant red mustard, mustard, mustard mizuna, turnip greens, radicchio, chicory, beetroot, carrots, turnips, rutabaga, French radish, Russian, Spanish and Chinese winter radish, broad beans, bush beans, climbing beans, peas, sugar snap peas, celery, kohl rabbi, red and white onions, plus — in Karachi and with care — tomatoes. Potatoes and garlic can go in this month too, all over the country.
The herb garden: Coriander, calendulas, nasturtiums, chives, garlic chives, parsley, fennel, bronze fennel, aniseed and dill, zeera (cumin), oregano, marjoram, thyme, lavender, lemon balm, chamomile, rosemary, sage, watercress, cress, borage, lovage, mint varieties and, if you can find seeds, comfrey.
Bulbs and corms: Dutch hyacinths, Dutch iris, gladioli, tulips, daffodils, spider lilies, narcissus, anemones, ranunculous, sparaxis, grape hyacinths, crocus, freesias, Asiatic and Oriental lilies and cyclamen.
Climber of the month: Passiflora — Passionflower. There are lots of different varieties of this fast growing, perennial climber with their gorgeous flowers. Some of them bear deliciously edible fruit, others produce fruit that is edible but not particularly enjoyable. The most common variety with edible fruits is P. edulis with its fascinatingly intricate flowers in purple and white. Its egg-sized, egg-shaped, fruits are a delicate mauve to purple colour and, when fully ripe, are mouthwateringly juicy and sweet. Other varieties include: P. caerulea, which is widely cultivated throughout the country. Its flowers are a combination of greenish-white, purple and blue followed by purple-coloured fruits, which are a major culinary treat. P. vitifolia has spectacular vermillion to scarlet flowers followed by greenish-white, delicately perfumed fruits with white flesh, which can be eaten as they are, or made into juice. Passionflower vines enjoy rich, well-drained soil, morning sun and need very strong supports/ trellises to ramble over. They can be propagated from seed or by woody stem cuttings. Highly recommended if you have the space, as they have a tendency to become an awful lot of plant!g — by Zahrah Nasir
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Published in Dawn, EOS, October 3rd, 2021