In the garden this fortnight: Thursday 29 March, 2012

A fortnightly series first published in the Weekend Gardener and reproduced here with their permission.

The little known Rhodophiala bifida

The little known Rhodophiala bifida

We keep talking about sustainable gardening here. For us, sustainable garden is twofold – both managing the maintenance of a large garden with a small labour input (wouldn’t we love legions of skilled gardening staff?) but also following garden practices which are not damaging to the environment. To this end we make our own compost, mulch heavily, use a mulcher mower, eradicate or control plants that threaten to become invasive, shun chemical fertilisers and hardly use sprays at all to keep plants healthy. We have a few plants of exceptional note that warrant a touch of insecticide, but generally, if a plant can’t grow well in good conditions, we will not persist with it. A few more roses are destined for the incinerator as I cull further. We do use glyphosate for weed control and Mark lives in fear that it may one day be ruled environmentally unacceptable because we would find it very hard to maintain standards without it.

The enormously useful leaf blower

The enormously useful leaf blower

But our biggest environmental footprint here is the internal combustion engine – the lawnmower, weed eater, mulcher, chainsaw, water blaster and motor blower (leaf blower). We console ourselves with the thought that we are only a one car household and that car often has only one outing a week so maybe that compensates for CO2 emissions. The motor blower is a huge timesaver for a big garden. We started with a cheap handheld one but progressed to a backpack model. It is possible to sweep and groom one’s way right around the garden at walking speed. That is an awful lot faster than doing it with a leaf rake, broom and barrow. As we hurtle at alarming speed from deeply disappointing summer into premature autumn, the blower comes into its own. Fine debris gets dispersed (it does generate dust) while larger leaves can be hustled into discreet areas to break down and rot.

The autumn bulbs are starting. At the moment the little known Rhodophiala bifida is looking terrific as are the red paintbrush blooms of Haemanthus coccineus (the plant many readers may know better as elephant ears). The lovely blue Moraea polystachya is coming into bloom, along with Cyclamen hederafolium and the early nerines are open. These seasonal delights offer some compensation for a summer which never really got going.

Top tasks:

1) As perennials pass over and many fall over, we need to do a tidy up round of the garden borders. Because our temperatures are mild here and we have soils which never stay waterlogged, we can and do lift and divide perennials most of the year. There is still time for plants to re-establish before winter temperatures stop growth.

2) Where repeated use of the blower has led to too much of a build up of debris (mostly in our hellebore border), I need to get through and rake off the surplus for the compost heap before we add this season’s leaf drop.

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