I like to observe the renaissance in the garden caused by autumnal showers. Having a garden filled with flowers as the leaves change colour is not that hard to do. There are quite a few genera that choose this season to bring on the floral fireworks.
Many of the ornamental sages are in flower during Autumn, such as the ever reliable Salvia leucantha, with it’s fluffy flowers and felty foliage.
Under the great shade trees at Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens in Cape Town, the gardeners make the most of their shade loving species of plectranthus, often planted with cliveas, a winning combination. In Melbourne gardens I have used some interesting new cultivars like Plectranthus ‘Velvet Elvis’. These seem to flower over a longer period than older varieties. Their mauve flowers glow from the shadey recesses.
My favourite plectranthus, though, is our native P. argentatus. It has delicate spires of white flowers each of which is marked with royal purple and supported by a redder purple in the calyxes and stems. It grows frighteningly easy from cuttings and seems to have a wide range of light tolerance.
The autumn garden is filled with the powdery vanilla scent of Camellia sasanqua cultivars. And the bright blotches of colour are welcome indeed as the strength of the light dims. The sasanqua camellias under my care seem to attract hordes of European wasps, which is a downside, for sure. The cultivar pictured below came with a label ‘Enid’ but I am not sure exactly what it is, as I don’t think it is the cultivar Enid-Alice with semi-double flowers. Maybe one of my readers knows?
And then there is the perpetual question of what to do with all the fallen leaves. In theory we should let them lie on the ground beneath the tree so that they can break down slowly over the years feeding the insects and microbes, and adding humus to the soil, all for the benefit of the tree itself and other plants nearby. A great theory if your garden is in fact a forest or a very large country garden where many square metres can be given over to this natural process.
In smaller, urban zones, there are other factors to consider. Roads, footpaths, driveways and buildings simply get in the way of this decomposition and ultimately plumbing gets clogged, byways become dangerously slippery and we have people upsetting themselves over the messy appearance of it all. Not to mention the garden beds and lawns, which, if covered in leaves, are soon smothered and starved of light.
Leaves must be dealt with.
Thankfully, the days of setting fire to dampish piles of raked leaves and filling the suburbs with eye-stinging smoke have disappeared. Now we have our green waste bins, which strain at the quantity of discarded foliage they are expected to carry. The green waste bins are collected and processed into compost or mulch by such organisations as Back to Earth and The Green Centre
This is the most sensible way to keep green waste out of landfill and to ultimately reduce the progress of climate change, not only by reducing the amount of methane produced when green waste is sent to landfill, but also by putting the carbon stored in the green waste back into the soil, which is the best place for it. That’s a good thing to remember when you are composting and mulching your soil. Thumbs up.
If you don’t have access to green waste collection or you want to cut out the middleman, there are a couple of options available:
- Run over the fallen leaves with the lawn mower and mulch them up a bit and compost them (the lawn clippings make up nitrogen rich ‘green’ component of the compost: the leaves, the ‘brown’). I make temporary piles of this impromptu compost at the back of shrubberies. Low and long piles that break down quietly while no one is noticing. Although, like with all compost, turning it regularly will speed up the process.
- Another option is to create leafmould. You might have the space to rig up a leaf cage (four star pickets and some old chicken wire will do the trick or a ring of stiff wire mesh) where you pile up the leaves and let them sit for twelve months or more to break down into a humus rich supplement for your garden.