I love the look of fallen autumn leaves, giving a colourful seasonal cloak to the garden as they flutter onto lawns, borders and paths, but even I have to concede that there comes a time when they need to be raked up - especially when they start to become matted and slippery after rain. Smaller leaves - such as those from the crepe myrtle and Japanese maples - can be raked up and put directly around shrubs and larger perennials, where they will break down over time to form a nutritious layer of humus for the soil. Larger leaves, however - like the ones from my huge Liquidambar tree (pictured above) - get put through a mulching machine onto our compost heap. The ones that fall onto garden beds can start to suffocate small plants, as I have discovered this past week. And, of course, fallen leaves left on lawns too long can start killing the grass!
I have a sturdy miniature rake (actually intended for children) for the purpose of gently combing these leaves from various plants in nearby garden beds that have been choked in recent weeks. My paternal grandmother - of very slight build - used a set of such children's garden tools her entire life; and our large rake is unsuitable for getting in between dense plantings. Under the leaves, I discovered all sorts of activity going on, which made me feel guilty for not having got rid of them sooner!
In one area, I found the buds of a Helleborus foetidus 'Gold Bullion' forming. It finely dissected lime-gold leaves and flowers like bunches of small cups in the same hue. These hellebores do reasonably well in Sydney's climate in sun or part shade, and provide welcome winter flowers that last for ages throughout winter and into early spring. Where they are happy, they will self-seed - which is a good thing as the original plant will probably only last a few years.
Further along in the same garden bed I found little shoots of snowflakes (Leucojum aestivum) poking through - again covered with a layer of leaves, so I cleared these away in a hurry. These are a cultivar called 'Gravetye Giant' that I was given by a friend many years ago - they grow taller than the usual species and have a larger flower. There were also jonquil leaves starting to peep through the earth: and there are already some flower buds forming.
Elsewhere I uncovered seedlings of self-sown spring annuals that were being engulfed by leaves, and I don't think they would have survived much longer under this blanket. I love these 'volunteer' plants that turn up every year, as I don't deliberately plant many annuals any more. Some of those that I found were seedlings of the white-flowered variegated-leaf form of honesty (Lunaria annua); the delightfully ferny-foliage Orlaya grandiflora, which is like a small version of Queen Anne's lace; tiny forget-me-not seedlings (Myosotis sylvatica); and hundreds of delicate baby plants of love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), which all originate from one single plant I was given a few years ago. I usually thin out all these seedlings, heartbreaking though it is, so that those which remain can grow robustly. I do try to remember to give them an occasional dose of liquid fertiliser to help them develop.
Come spring, when my bulbs and annuals bloom, I will be glad I got busy with my little rake in autumn!
This blog first posted on 3 June 2012; updated 6 June 2021.
Painting with coleus
10 Oct 21
Coleus can make wonderful pictures in the garden.
03 Oct 21
Tough and undemanding plants from my parents' garden are favourites in my own.
The value of green spaces
26 Sep 21
Earlier this year, I visited Callan Park in Sydney's inner west.
19 Sep 21
Meet some of the ferns that grow well in Sydney,
A garland of daisies
12 Sep 21
Daisies seem to epitomise spring and there are lots to choose from for Sydney gardens.