Ask the Experts: Autumn Garden Advice | Living North

Ask the Experts: Autumn Garden Advice


Ask the Experts: Autumn
From keeping your lawn in tip-top condition to top garden design tips, we’ve got your gardening questions answered
‘You can enhance your view by adding a picturesque building or ornament in the same direction as the view, but below it, or slightly to the side’

What jobs should I be prioritising in the garden at this time of year?

This time of the year you should shape formal hedges so that the base is wider than the top, as this will build strength into the hedge so that it won’t splay outwards if we get heavy snow. Harvest your crops when they’re ready and sow green manure crops in vacant patches to protect the soil over winter, improving the soil in the spring by digging the green manure in. Collect seed of plant species or cultivars that you know come true to type on sunny, dry days and either store for sowing in spring or sow them directly.
Trevor Jones, Head Gardener at The Alnwick Garden

Watering is always top of my list at this time of the year – even new trees need watering! Take care to give the soil a good soak, especially if plants are in pots as these tend to dry out quickly. Collecting seeds from your garden at this time of the year is a cheap, easy and fun way to increase plants in the garden. Once the colder weather arrives, clearing up fallen leaves from ponds, borders and beds is a great place to start (a mammoth task for us at the Arboretum!) Remember not to be too tidy, however, as piles of leaves make great wildlife habitats and, rotted down, they provide an excellent soil conditioner. Don’t forget to leave more food out for wildlife too.  
Faith Douglas, Curator at Thorp Perrow Arboretum 


What do I need to know about scarifying my lawn?

Over the year, plant remains and grass cuttings accumulate on your lawn making the soil surface too dense. Rain water, air and nutrients are no longer able to reach the grass roots, and as a result the lawn looks sickly and uneven. Scarifying means cutting the turf and removing mulch (old grass cuttings) and moss, allowing the soil to absorb more oxygen, so lawn growth can be accelerated. When scarifying, grasses that do not have sufficient roots will be pulled out, so it’s not recommended you scarify a newly-laid lawn. The rule of thumb is that a lawn should be at least three years old before scarifying. 

Autumn is a good time to do it, as it will remove any moss that it acquired over the summer, but make sure you rake up any fallen leaves first as they make a valuable leaf humus that’s a great fertiliser. Mow the lawn before scarifying with the lowest possible blade height (four centimetres cutting height is ideal) and make sure the soil is dry. After scarifying, the lawn should be fertilised and, depending on the soil, the surface can also be sanded. If the turf is too thinned out, we recommend a subsequent seeding where appropriate. Protect your lawn for a few days afterwards to allow it to regenerate. 
Eric Pattinson, General Manager at Greenlay Grass Machinery, Cramlington


How can I create a garden which enhances my view rather than obscuring it?

The answer is to think of your view as a picture which you will frame to show off the best features. Clear the central ground and place your tall garden elements to the sides to draw the eye to the view. You can enhance your view by adding a picturesque building or ornament in the same direction as the view, but below it, or slightly to the side. We all need a shed, but could it be in the guise of an attractive summerhouse with a seat looking out over the beautiful scenery?

To the front of your ‘picture’ you might use an open screen which suggests enclosure for a part of your garden, but doesn’t hide the view. A few vertical posts, or an airy Japanese Maple such as Acer palmatum, are good for this.

A solid screen, such as a hedge, with cut-out windows through which curated views can be seen is a very old technique used in Japanese gardens and formal English gardens.
Sophia Andreski, Garden Designer with Sophia’s Gardens


What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when designing a garden?

When we complete a garden, I want the client to feel that, if they had been able to design the garden themselves, it would have been exactly like the one we made. I like to help them find a style that feels completely personal to them, and then use that to guide the rest of the garden design. It could be quite general, like ‘contemporary’, or more specific, such as ‘English country garden’ or ‘Italian Renaissance’. The shape of the garden elements would follow from that choice: wide English borders overflowing onto narrow paths, or symmetrical square Italian parterres full of upright cypresses and complex topiary. 

A definite style will make it easier to choose the materials too. Crazy paving or herringbone bricks in the English country garden; crisply sawn stone flags for the Italian Renaissance garden terrace, alongside fine gravel paths. Plant choices are then straightforward. Mixed and varied colourful shrubs and herbaceous plants for the English country garden, or just a few types of green shrubs and conifers for the Italian Renaissance garden. From these examples you can see how choosing your own personal style really helps when designing a garden.
Sophia Andreski, Garden Designer with Sophia’s Gardens


Which plants can I use to create winter interest in my garden?

I have a few favourite hardy winter plants, including Mahonia x media ‘Charity’, which is a very architectural, evergreen shrub, having pinnate, sharply-toothed leaves with the brightest of yellow, highly-scented flowers hanging in racemes in the winter. I also like Sarcococca – the winter box is an evergreen, low-growing shrub that has the most beautiful scent in January and February from the smallest of white flowers. Finally, Hamamelis, the witch hazel, has wonderful autumn colours and, once it loses its foliage, produces a mass of spicy scented flowers along its naked branches which have a unique, spidery effect.
Trevor Jones, Head Gardener at The Alnwick Garden

We create winter interest using trees and plants with interesting bark and coloured stems. Trees like Acer griseum (Chinese Paper Bark Maple) have the most wonderful, striking peeling bark and the firm favourite Cornus (Dogwood) comes with a variety of different coloured stems, my favourite being Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter fire’. You can also leave seed heads on perennials to create lovely frosty structures!
Faith Douglas, Curator at Thorp Perrow Arboretum


How do I know when a tree has become hazardous?

Trees provide tremendous benefits to our homes, cities and public open spaces, but they can occasionally cause problems and sometimes become extremely hazardous, if not dangerous. Dealing with hazards can ensure the safety of both people and property and prolong the life of the tree. Trees are inherently safe structures, but in extremely stormy weather conditions or because the tree has built-in weaknesses, they can become dangerous. 

Every tree has the potential to shed branches, or fall over but few actually cause injury to people or property. It is an owner’s responsibility and duty of care to provide for the safety of trees on their property. When determining whether or not a tree is in a hazardous condition, it is worth considering these questions: 

• Are there any dead or damaged branches in the crown of the tree? 
• Are there any detached branches hanging in the crown of the tree? 
• Are there any cavities or rotten wood along the trunk or in the major branches of the tree? 
• Are there any mushrooms or bracket fungus present at the base of the tree or on the stem or branches? 
• Are there any cracks or splits in any of the branches in the tree crown?
• Have any significantly larger branches fallen from the tree? 
• Has the tree developed a significant lean? 
• Is the crown showing signs of being spare? Have the leaves fallen off earlier than usually? 
• Does it look like any of the leaves on the outer crown have died back, as is in the case of ash dieback? 

These are just some of the main hazardous conditions, but certainly not all of them. If you have answered yes to any of these questions then it is worth seeking a professional opinion from an arboricultural consultant or contractor to ensure that your tree is safe. 
Liam Timmins, Tree Surgeon with Stan Timmins and Sons Ltd

Published in: October 2019

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