In Autumn, most of us have an almost overwhelming desire to get out into the garden and spend lots of time tidying up ready for the Winter. This is no bad thing, but try not to overdo it too much!
Obviously, an untidy garden gives the impression of a messy gardener, and cutting back plants here and there and removing dead and dying leaves is a very good idea, but it can become an obsession.
Fallen tree leaves should be raked up and removed promptly, as rotting leaves can be a source of disease and an overwintering home for pests. They can also smother small plants and cause areas of the lawn to die back.
But many will retain their lovely Autumn colours and can be left on the ground for a short while, where you can appreciate them, providing a carpet of golden and burgundy colours for an added Autumn feature bonus.
Once the colour disappears, rake them up and, if you have a large compost heap, add them along with any weeds, faded bedding plants and kitchen waste. As many tree leaves can take a long time to rot down, you can shred them first by going over them with a mower with the blades at their highest setting. This not only helps them break down quicker, but it's also much quicker and easier to gather them up than raking!
Another option is to make tree leaves into leafmould. Simply collect up the leaves and put them in a hessian leafmould sack or strong, black plastic bag (such as a bin liner). Moisten the leaves if they're dry to help them rot, pierce the bag to make a number of holes, tie the top loosely and then simply hide the bags around the garden and leave for a year or two. Leafmould is a fabulous soil improver and planting medium.
Once the flowers of herbaceous, perennials and bulbs have faded and started to die back, you can cut back the dead and dying stems and tidy away all the old foliage. Providing the old foliage and stems are disease free, you can add them to the compost heap. Large stems should be chopped into smaller pieces first to help them rot down quicker; the easiest way to do this is to pass them through a shredder.
But, and there's always a but, some perennials do produce attractive seed heads and these can be kept on for added Winter interest and structure. One of my favourites is Sea Holly (Eryngium, pictured in flower) and the seed heads of many grasses look fabulous in Winter. They can also provide shelter for overwintering insects, such as ladybirds and, if seeds are still there, food for birds.
Tidying up too much can leave a flat, sterile-looking garden. So don't be too obsessive!