Updated: Nov 28, 2022
This time of year is a great time to look at the health of the garden. I really like to take a walk around it during the autumn, to remind myself about which plants have had a difficult year, which plants or areas have done well. I like to check out areas with difficult weeds, to have a little think about whether that situation is changing at all and to revisit plants that were in trouble during previous years, to see if there has been any improvement. And then I have my little health-care routine, that I use each year, to help to nurture everything into a good state of health.
MY GARDEN HEALTH JOURNEY
I’ve been having a sort out of old photos recently and it’s reminded me how much of a journey my own garden has been on. I’d forgotten how awful the soil was when we first started growing here around 10 years ago. And, of course, all health in a garden comes from the soil. We gave ourselves a massive challenge (I love a good challenge!) and started with a concrete yard. After digging up the concrete, we were left with appallingly bad soil – compacted, stony clay.
I’ve had a long-term fascination with the soil/health dynamic and was delighted to have such a large experimental ground to try out all the methods I’d been researching. But ultimately, my garden has been my teacher over the years and I now have a simple routine I follow each year, a simple set of practices I use and a major part of that is this autumn care.
AUTUMN HEALTH CARE
1. COMPOST CREATION
Every autumn and into the winter, I have a final weed around the garden, generating plenty of material to make up into compost. I collect up leaves to make into leaf mould for next year. Leaves that have fallen onto beds are left there to rot down, but those that have fallen onto the drive or other paved areas are best collected up, as are those falling onto the lawn. These are perfect for making into leaf mould.
Every autumn and into the winter, I collect up the compost and leaf mould I’ve made over the year, along with shop-bought compost to bulk it up and I mulch up any gaps around my plants. Home-made composts are filled with health-giving microbes that work with plants to create pest and disease resistance, drought-proof and moisture retentive soils. The microbes found in garden compost are particularly good for annuals, biennials, soft-growing perennial plants and grasses. Those found in leaf mould are great for trees, shrubs and woody perennial plants.
I transplant or sow beneficial annual plants to fill any gaps between young garden plants, shrubs and trees that have not yet filled their space. This means every bit of soil is filled with roots, which will be feeding and supporting those beneficial soil microbes through the winter and into next year.
My garden now has a decent layer of top soil, created with this use of mulches and careful plant cover. The photo above is from the same area as the previous photo with appallingly bad soil. What was an extremely difficult growing space, with all manner of pests and diseases, is now edging its way towards better and better health. There’s still a way to go, but I’ll keep going with my current health regime and will hope to see more improvements in future years. I’m always on the look out for more things I can try though and love to hear stories about techniques that others have been using. If you have any good tips or garden health stories you’d like to share, please post them up them in the comments below.
If you’d like to hear more about the methods I use to create health in the garden, I’m giving a talk on the 16th Novemr ’23 at 7pm at the visitor centre in Cardingmill Valley, Shropshire. If you happen to live nearby, it would be great to see you there!