The Back Yard

Justin Newcombe's tips for creating a gorgeous and productive garden

Gardening: Doing the spadework

By Justin Newcombe

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There's nothing better you can give a garden-conscious mum than a hand with the autumn tidy-up.

Laying in seaweed and cleaning up the yard are but a few of the things your mum would rather not do herself.  Photo / Steven McNicholl
Laying in seaweed and cleaning up the yard are but a few of the things your mum would rather not do herself. Photo / Steven McNicholl

So profound is the love between mother and child that no words can express it, but once a year, on Mother's Day, we get the chance to at least touch the hand of this love, to tip our hat to it and give it some thanks. This also just happens to be the time of the year (just before winter sets in) that the garden needs a serious tidy-up. Work done now means not having to look out at a brown depressing wasteland full of dripping, rotting, sludgy, garden detritus during the cold, wet months ahead. I've taken the liberty of preparing a list of jobs that may need doing at your mum's place this weekend ... just to get the ball rolling.

Tree work

At this time of the year I like to prune out heavy limbs or remove spent trees. This can let in some precious winter light. In the past I've hired a chainsaw but this year I picked up a small one from Bunnings which actually only costs about the same as two hireages and is perfect for small jobs around the house. Try to prune the limbs out in manageable sections so you don't damage surrounding plants.

I've hired a big chipper so I can recycle the waste back into the garden.

Mulching & mulch paths

I enjoy spreading mulch and all you'll need is some cardboard and of course some mulch. Spread the cardboard on the ground, making sure there are no gaps and the cardboard is overlapping. If the area is in lawn at the moment just cut the grass first then spread on a mulch layer at least 100mm thick. When mulching around trees keep the mulch off the trunks. For new paths be prepared to top up the mulch in a month or two once it has settled with use. After the top up you can wait up to a year before you have to re-mulch.

Clean out the garden beds

Although there is a school of thought that fallen foliage should be left to mulch down, this philosophy needs a big diverse garden to be successful. So one of our autumn jobs is to collect foliage, fallen leaves and trimmings. Cut back plants like canna lilies and dahlias then lift the tubers and split them. I replant the cannas but store the dahlias until spring.

Trench onion beds and add sea weed

I use seaweed as a low-nitrogen soil improver. The onions and garlic really respond well to it. You can also dress the trench with a little potash or comfrey.

Clean out and dress veggie beds

Use blood and bone, compost and sheep pellets. Don't forget to mulch with pea-straw. Build a big compost heap with all the garden waste you've collected. Because I have a lot of brown or carbonated material, mainly from fallen leaves, I add a bit of extra soil or old compost. I won't turn this heap but in 18 months I'll have very rich compost, much better than you can buy.

Green crop any barren winter beds

Let the lupins grow to about 400mm then trim in half. Dig the plants into the garden when they next reach 400mm or a couple of weeks before you want to use the beds.

Gardening and reminiscing while you work with your mum is pleasurable and amusing for you both and will be part of the conversations in years to come.

3 of the best: Mother's day presents

Flash gummies
You're not limited to black any more. You can get boots covered with frogs or roses - and for a real gummy spend-up, get real Wellingtons.

Skin care
Some really, really expensive skin care for mum isn't saying "you need to sharpen up". It's saying "I apologise for giving you premature wrinkling under your eyes and around the mouth and nose area".

Your time
I'm sure all mums would appreciate this one the most.

- NZ Herald

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