They maybe all around us now and covering large areas of the garden, often regarded as a hindrance when it comes to the maintenance of a neat and tidy garden. But, alas, leaves falling to the ground is a message from nature which one should take heed of, and that message being leaf matter is the best natural and free mulch available for the gardener and grower.
Fallen leaves can be found residing in many areas, from resting on the lawn to wind blown corners of the garden and now is the time to sally forth and gather. A large pile of leaves can be transmuted into leaf mould, the decomposed matter formed when the leaves have decayed over time. The leaves can be stored in plastic bin liner bags with a few holes
pierced in the sides and bottom, once full, a sprinkling of water is advisable then storage in a shady area of the garden is essential and the following autumn the rotten leaves form a crumbly rich surface mulch.
To be left for a second or third year will allow for increased decomposition of the leaf matter and this, with its added microbes, can then be used as a conditioner and soil enhancer which can be dug into the soil to aid in water retention for drier ground and for improving drainage in heavier soils. If preferred a leaf storage bin can be constructed and there are numerous methods of construction, one composed of chicken wire which permits air to travel through, being the
most simple. Once a large amount of leaves have been placed into the bin, apply a sprinkling of water and then cover with some black plastic sheeting on top to encourage the decomposition.
Leaf mulch is high in nutrients which will pass slowly into the ground below. As with all mulches it prevents the ground from drying out during the summer months and from becoming too cold or even freezing in the winter months. It also reduces the opportunity for the unwanted plants referred to as weeds to grow.
The leaves can be gathered regularly as they fall with hand tools such as a rake or broom, a lawn mower can be used on a higher setting to collect leaves from the lawn whilst shredding at the same time. If the leaves are not collected soon after falling, then they will dry out and loose their nutrients.
If your own garden is devoid of fallen leaves then maybe ask the neighbours, I am sure they would be happy with the assistance of leaf clearing. Or vice-versa, others in the neighbourhood may require leaf mulch too. The coming together can create a community free leaf mulch, this way the local gardens will never be without a mulch or compost.
It is advisable to avoid leaves which have been lying on roadsides, they may contain toxins. Certain leaves will break down faster than others, Horse Chestnut leaves taking longer than Oak leaves. The leaves from Walnut and Eucalyptus do contain a natural herbicide, this may inhibit the growth of plants within the area the mulch or mould is
The splendour of the autumnal colours from bright yellow to orange to a crimson red, it is one of natures finest displays, the deciduous trees then sleeping for the winter months. They took nutrients from the ground to assist their growth during spring and summer, and now is the time to give back to nature and this can be achieved by gathering the fallen
leaves and making a leaf mulch or mould full of natural nutrients.
Contribution by Oliver David Cook
My love of gathering wild food started when I was a child. I was born and grew up in London, but spent my childhood summers in the cabin my granddad built in the middle of the woods in Poland. The cabin was a world away from London life. Think washing in the stream, cooking on a wood fired stove, mushroom hunting, stargazing, and having to walk down a woodland path to get to the compost loo. Even when not in Poland, my parents have always loved a life outdoors, and would take my sister and I on all sorts of weekend adventures, many of which did involve mushroom foraging. I learnt about mushrooms mainly with my mum, who in turn learnt from her dad. There’s a big culture for mushroom hunting in Poland. I’m no expert, and really only know a handful of varieties, but the happiness I feel when I come across these mushrooms is immeasurable. Is it nostalgia? Is it something primordial? Or is it both of those mixed with the joy of being in the woods? Who knows. I only know that it gives me the kind of joy that seems excessive and bizarre to someone who doesn’t understand it. It’s also something that inspires my work. I’m an artist, illustrator and author, and my most recent children’s picture book ‘Wylder’ celebrates a more sensitive and mindful way of connecting with nature, including a good few nods to my love of wild food gathering.
There are many different thoughts that can lead me to go out looking for wild food. Mainly though, they fall into two camps: “I could do with some leafy greens,” or “I could do with some mindfulness/therapy.”
Over five years ago I moved to Cornwall, and although I’ve loved mushrooming since I was a child, it’s only in the last couple of years that I really started paying more attention to plants. A couple of years ago, it had been a while since I’d been mushrooming, and a beautiful solo adventure to a new spot reignited my love for it. It must have been then that I decided I didn’t want to rely on just one part of the year to get this feeling. I wanted to learn more about what you could gather all year round, which lead me to think more about plants.
Without knowing it you probably already know a good few wild edibles: brambles, nettles, dandelions… That’s how it started for me. Then one time, along with my sister and mum, I went on an organised foraging walk here on the coast. Gaining knowledge about some new plants sparked my interest further and had a snowball effect. Then learning more and more new plants randomly here and there whilst walking with or chatting with friends and family… It just changed the way I looked at things. I observed more during my walks, and I wanted to know what was what. It does surprise me just how much I’ve learnt through curiosity and interest. Gathering wild food and gaining knowledge on it is a satisfying and rewarding thing. I think the more you know, the more you want to know and the easier it becomes to absorb new knowledge.
Going out to gather wild edibles is a different way of looking at and engaging with your environment. By default you connect and interact with the land, you have to pay attention to your surroundings and engage your senses. I have no doubt that this form of focused awareness and presence has a great benefit for mind health. For me it definitely feels like mindfulness and a form of therapy. And how great it is to then on top of that have access to free food that’s full of nutrients, not only because it’s freshly picked, but also because it’s from more nutrient-rich wild and uncultivated soil.
In a supermarket you only have access to a handful of different leafy green varieties, but when you go for a walk you could be surrounded by dozens of edible plants without knowing it (and of course deadly poisonous ones too!). We’ve experienced a great loss in our connection to nature and food. The knowledge of wild edibles, something that is somewhere deep in all our blood, these days isn’t so readily available or accessible to everyone, and can all too easily start to seem like a fancy interest for the lucky people who have time on their hands.
It’s important to note though, that going out and picking plants to eat isn’t in itself a sustainable act, and on the contrary, when done in a non-mindful way, can actually be very damaging to nature and ecosystems. Something to remember is to never take more than what you will eat, and always leave plenty for wildlife… after all they don’t have grocery shops, and they completely rely on wild food. So go gently, and be mindful. Modern agriculture has a devastating impact on the planet and on the welfare of animals and humans, but with how densely populated the world currently is, plus how little wild spaces are left in comparison, if we all went to forage our own food right now this could have pretty interesting implications on the natural world too. Of course, it doesn’t look like we’re all suddenly going to do that, but it’s just good to stay mindful of how you interact with the natural world, whether it’s the environmental/ethical impact of the food you buy in a shop, or how you pick the mushrooms in the forest.
Here are a few common edible plants you may find it nice to get to know, and some of which you likely already know. These notes are not meant to be a guide in identification, just a little personal introduction to them that might inspire you to investigate further.
I’m sure everybody knows this one! Pick the top couple/few layers of leaves of this super food, and either make a nettle tea, nettle soup, add it to curry or pasta sauces, make it into a pesto, or just steam it and use it like any other cooked leafy green. You can use gloves if, unlike me, you don’t like the sting!
Such a versatile plant. I’m known to not bother de-weeding this nutritious medicinal plant from my veg beds, as I think of it more as a salad crop than a weed! You can eat the leaves, flowers, stems and cook the root. The leaves have a bitter taste, which I personally really like. I love the younger leaves added to salad (as it’s quick, easy and means you keep more nutrients intact by not cooking) and I’ve made soups and pestos out of the leaves too. The flowers are also great in salads, and I’ve made dandelion syrup from them before for a cake recipe, which is a nice thing to do when you have more time. But I’m definitely all about the faff-free plants that you can either eat raw or quickly cook, and dandelion is one of those for sure.
I think most of us know what a clover looks like with its three leaves, and how common it is. Both the leaves and flowers are edible, but up till now I’ve mainly only picked the flowers to add to salads. I really love adding flowers to salads, mainly for the colours and how it looks :)
Sorrel is one of those I had heard about for so long and wanted to find, but somehow only came across my first one way later… and now I see it everywhere! It really is a common plant. It grows in a rosette, and the main identifying feature is the pointed tails at the base of the arrow shaped leaf. It has a lovely sour citrusy taste, and I most like it added fresh to salads.
I love this succulent plant. It grows from stone walls and rock crevices and has a distinct appearance, so it’s an easy one to identify. It has a lovely fresh crisp taste and texture, and is great added to salads, curries, cooked dishes, or as a raw garnish to cooked dishes, to add freshness and texture. Be gentle when picking this one as the roots of the plant come up with the plant very easily if you’re not careful.
Another very common and highly nutritious plant that seems to grow almost everywhere. You can add the leaves to salads, and also add it cooked to dishes you would use other leafy greens in. I’d say I eat this one mainly because it’s so common and nutritious, not because it’s particularly tasty. I haven’t tried them myself, but apparently the flower buds have a mushroomy taste.
I’d known and loved honeysuckle and its beautiful scent for so long before I realised the flowers were edible! I add them to salads, and decorate cakes with them :)
Sea beet (coastal)
This rich green plant with its shiny succulent leaves can be found around the coast. It’s a great one to know about because it’s both very common and also delicious. Similar to spinach but tastier, and like spinach can be eaten raw or cooked.
Click hereThe Secret Wild Garden
Contribution by Maia Walczak words and pictures
The pumpkin is characteristic of autumn and synonymous with October and Halloween, it is also variety of squash and its true name being a cucurbita, which is the latin name for gourd. A gourd being a trailing or climbing plant, containing large fleshy fruits with a hard skin, some varieties being edible, others for decoration.
As a guide, the middle of October is an ideal time for harvesting of squash and pumpkin, however, one should be vigilant, they are frost tender and to harvest before the first frost is strongly advisable.
Allow the fruit to mature and colour wholly on the plant prior to the harvest, the colour being dependant on the type and variety which is grown.
The skins should be hard and not easily dented by a fingernail and its shine will also be slightly diminished. A soft outer skin will be susceptible to damage and eventual rot.
If the fruit cannot be harvested before a frost or a large amount of rainfall, then it is recommended to raise the fruit off from the ground, thus it is not in contact with the soil to lessen the chance of rot and infection. This can be done by the use of straw, cardboard or a solid object such as wood or a brick.
To reduce the chances of disease and infections it is best to harvest on a dry day and using a sharp knife or pruners and cut the stalk as far from the fruit as possible, ideally 10cm. The stem remaining intact with the fruit is essential for good health and storage and for this reason do not be tempted to carry them by their stems, the weight of the fruit causing it to brake off.
The fruit can then be cured, which entails leaving them exposed to higher a temperature, either outside or inside on a windowsill for approximately ten days.
This curing will improve flavour, heal any wounds and harden the skin. After they have been cured they can store for two to three months in a cool, dry and dark environment, ideally about 10c. However, beware that it does not become too
cold as they may soften and begin to rot.
During storage, ensure they are not touching each other and preferably, they are on a wooden surface or cardboard, do not store on concrete as it will increase the chances of rot.
Certain varieties of squash and pumpkins are suitable for a longer winter storage, whereas, others are best to be consumed this autumn, therefore, it is best to check which type you are harvesting. The popular squash varieties being the butternut, the golden butternut (coquina) and the striped harlequin are enjoyed with great gusto soon after harvesting.
Pumpkins which are best for consumption are not usually the best for Halloween carving and Jack-O-Lanterns. A rule of thumb being a smaller denser pumpkin will contain more flesh and are best for cooking, whereas, a larger pumpkin will have more area for artwork and with less flesh it will be easier to carve.
Gourds are extremely high in nutrients and being classified as a fruit they contain seeds too, which can also be salvaged and consumed.
It maybe for the culinary delights or for decorative purposes, either way, enjoy the wonderful squash and pumpkin which nature has provided us and after Halloween, why not return the pumpkin to the natural environment and use it as a bird feeder? It will be greatly appreciated.
Contribution by Oliver David Cook
Summer bedding plants provide and create a temporary floral and foliage display during the
warm summer months. The form of display can be within the garden beds, hanging baskets or a
container of your choice. It is an excellent opportunity for one to become creative, not only with
the variety of plants available but, with also the type of container which can be used. For
example, a disused wheelbarrow or a pair of old boots can make authentic and attractive
Although grown from seed, they can be purchased in cellular trays and multi-packs ready for
planting and providing an almost instant effect.
The majority of the summer bedding plants are categorised as tender/half-hardy perennials,
hardy annuals, half-hardy annuals and hardy biennials. The following are some of the popular
- Sweet Peas
- Busy Lizzies
Generally, summer bedding plants are regarded as being frost tender and suitable for the
summer months only. They are excellent for filling any bare or vacant areas within the garden
beds, the larger areas can be planted with what is known as carpet bedding plants. Essentially,
these plants are more compact and closely integrated which give the effect of a carpet and it is
possible to create various different designs and patterns by using different colours of blossom.
This is widely seen in public gardens and commercial landscapes around the country where
many thousands of plants are used, the design layout being from a computerised plan.
The private garden does not have to be quite as formal, but an effective display can still be
achieved, whether the same colour is used in large clumps or long singular rows, it is another
opportunity to be creative in the garden.
Hanging baskets are a great addition for any garden or property and bedding plants with a
pendulous and trailing characteristic will create the best effect. Popular plants suitable for
hanging baskets are Lobelia, Begonia and Periwinkle, but, why not try the edibles of
strawberries and tomatoes.
Colour themes have long been popular and simple to achieve, this is known as monochromatic,
where each container or hanging basket is composed of plants with foliage or blossom in
shades of the same one colour. Again, another opportunity to be creative.
Regardless of the choice flowers and the location of planting, either within the borders or
container, the addition of summer bedding attributes to the garden a feeling of completion.
There will be minimal bare areas, a surrounding of flora with a profusion of colour and one must
not forget, a chance to be creative.
Contribution by Oliver David Cook
April is an ideal month for attending to any existing lawn care issues which may have arisen over time. If
it is a newly laid lawn which is desired then now is advisable before the average temperature begins to
For the first cut of the year it is recommended that the setting of the lawn mower should be on a higher
setting. This is known as the ‘one third rule’ meaning one must not cut more than a third off the length of
the blade of grass in one go. Cutting shorter on the first cut can stress the grass and if cut too short and
scalping occurs, then a bare patch would be inviting for weeds to grow.
Towards the end of the month the cutting height can be reduced to achieve the eventual desired length,
however, this is dependant on the weather conditions and if the grass is growing profusely then more cuts
maybe required or the cutting height may have to be reduced earlier.
Before the first cut is made, an overall inspection should be made of the lawn and with a grass rake in
hand, rake as much of the lawn area as possible. This is to achieve clearing the lawn of any stones or
debris which may damage the blades of the mower, it also lifts the grass blades signalling them into life,
removes any unwanted thatch and an opportunity to observe any bare patches or areas where weeds are
making an appearance.
Aeration is advisable too, particularly in the areas which are susceptible to compaction and this can be
carried out with a standard gardening fork, the numerous holes allow the root zone more access to air and
water and the chance for the lawn to breath. Aeration also aids in controlling the unwanted thatch which
hinders lawn growth.
The key for mitigating weed growth is to eliminate the bare patches of lawn, if the grass is thick and lush
the weeds have less chance of growing. One must ask why a bare patch exists and does it occur in the
same area each year, this maybe due to the area having minimal sunlight such as under a tree canopy. If
this is the case then it maybe worthwhile considering reducing the lawn size and create a shallow garden
bed for small shade tolerable plants.
Where there are other bare patches of a noticeable size the ground can be prepared for ready made rolls of
turf or alternatively grass seed can be applied. Preparation is of the utmost importance here and watering
after the turf has been laid or the seed has been sown is essential.
With the possibility of having more time available, then those deep rooted dandelions, providing they are
not too in abundance and the ground reasonably soft could be dug out by hand.
It is the bane of the lawn lover, but the dandelion with its bright yellow flowers is beneficial to pollen
beetles and bees particularly in the month of April, therefore, if desired the first cut could always be
It should be considered too that if the lawn was to remain slightly longer throughout the year, cut on a
higher setting, then this may result in less weeds. The greater surface area on an individual grass blade
equates to increased photosyntheses, which then results in more growth and increased root system, hence
reducing the space for weeds to grow.
by Oliver David Cook on behalf of Green Landscapes Cornwall
MISTLETOE the ‘air-plant’
Mistletoe, its true name being Viscum Album, is synonymous with this time of year particularly with the tradition of ‘Kissing under the Mistletoe’.
There are many ancient mistletoe traditions, the best known being the Scandinavian legend Balder, the god of peace, who was killed by an arrow made from mistletoe and was resurrected by the other deities. The goddess of love was then entrusted with the
mistletoe and regarded it as symbol of love, hence, any person passing beneath shall receive a kiss. Mistletoe is an evergreen parasitic shrub with white viscous berries and of the natural order Loranthaceae. It is a native of Europe and North Asia and requires a host plant with which to grow on, such as an apple tree in the garden. Orchards benefit from the growing of mistletoe on their fruit trees, thus yielding a return during the winter months when the trees are dormant. This is what makes the mistletoe so unique, it is also known as an ‘air-plant’ that is it is not rooted to the ground but it attaches itself to other plants, the correct
name for such a plant is an Epiphyte, this word originating from the Greek words epi (upon) and phyton (plant).
The bark and the leathery mistletoe leaves are of a yellow-green colour and are oval- lance-shaped, mostly in pairs. In spring, there are inconspicuous yellow flowers which consist of four triangular sepals, a similar number of anthers and an ovary with simple stigma. This is followed by poisonous white berries, however, they are devoured by birds most notably the Mistle Thrush, the seeds becoming attached to the branches of trees by their agency. On germination the embryo pierces the bark and penetrates to the wood and here it draws most of its food from the tree, but it manufactures carbohydrates in its leaves.The constituents of mistletoe can vary due to the host plant with which it grows on
and it is believed the Druids regarded the mistletoe which grew on an Oak was the superior, although Oak being a rare host. It possible to grow your own mistletoe and there are numerous fact sheets and websites available including the following:
Hello everyone, Green Landscapes Cornwall are sharing with you some ideas about how to implement different features for your garden!