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your garden: Rakes of colour; Clearing up leaves may be hard work but turn it to compost and you'll reap benefit.

Byline: Bill Chudziak

As November approaches, deciduous trees shed their leaves. Some gardeners see nothing but work but compost produces one of the best soil conditioners - leafmould. It's important you choose the right rake - as I'm about to show. It's good news for your winter bedding, which is at garden centres now. Look out for winter-flowering cyclamen.

CYCLAMEN

Cyclamen are back in force and their cheery, fluted appearance is a welcome sight in the greenhouse, on the coffee table and the windowsill. If you buy the smaller flowered, hardy sorts and keep them inside during flowering, they should be hardened off before planting outdoors in shady areas or in leafy soils under deciduous trees. The larger flowered sorts are not hardy and should be treated like houseplants and one thing that sees them off is excessive watering. Water sitting in the crown for more than a few hours sets up grey mould, leading to death.

Always water indoor cyclamen from below. Use a shallow saucer and water once a week. Leave them in a saucer of lukewarm water for no more than an hour. Drain excess water so air can get to the drainage hole. Avoid sunny windows near radiators as the compost dries out too quickly.

CHOOSING A RAKE

The imminent hoar frost plus a good 'blaw' is a good time to start lifting leaves and a good time to buy a new leaf rake. In a typical Scottish autumn approximately a mere one in every four days is dry enough for leaf collection. Polyurethane teeth will gradually wear down over three to five years and as most folk usually buy one tool for a lifetime, metal is a good choice. The Wolf system (pounds 15) with interchangeable heads has a metal shank, avoiding the inevitable 'shank, sag and snap' from years of downward pressure.

RAPID COMPOSTER

Alpinists regularly grow intractable species in a 50/50 mix of grit and leafmould. In shady containers, it is an ideal compost for terrestrial orchids, ferns and other woodland treasures. In the border, plants like tricyrtis (toad lilies) Japanese anemones, trilliums and arisaema (cobra lilies), romp through leafmould. Making leafmould is easy - fling it in a 3ft heap for three years minimum, fenced in with chicken wire, or fill up 'punctured' wheelie bin sacks with wet leaves, then put them somewhere dark and dry. Speed things up with collapsible 'rapid composter' bins, made from a fabric ideal for leafmould-3ftby2ft; 330 litres,pounds 20.

RUBBER TINE RAKE

Rubber-toothed rakes make all the difference on areas where your rake snags, such as crazy paving and saturated decking and old stone paths. pounds 30 by Bulldog.

WIND SCULPTURE

Wind chimes are fine - but light sleepers like me prefer silent wind sculptures. This brass spiral is 24 inches long and requires careful placing, ideally at your furthest vista, in full sun so you can appreciate its lighthouse effect. Next time you're up a tree, take fishing wire and suspend one of these things as high up as you dare. They cost pounds 30.

LOBELIA KATHLEEN MALLARD

I don't really rate trailing lobelia, but Kathleen Mallard is a fully double form with perfect, tiny 5mm flowers.

During the summer it romps away if planted on its own where it will gradually fill an entire basket.

Sadly it's not reliably hardy but young plants can be grown to a decent size indoors in full sun.

Water them like the cyclamen, little and often from below. As soon as spring growth appears, move them into a frost-free greenhouse.

Divide your mother plant into many by teasing the crowns apart carefully, repotting a finger width of stems into loose compost in small pots.

Feed regularly and let them fill the pots with roots before planting out in late May.

CAPTION(S):

Cyclamen make a cheery sight inside and out - but don't overwater
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Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 28, 2007
Words:642
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