There is no gardening substance so wonderful as leaf mould. It smells delicious – like a woodland floor, is completely free and it is also enormously useful. Leaf mould makes a perfect addition in potting compost, is ideal for mulching all woodland plants and when added to the soil it helps improve its structure.
Unlike compost which has to be turned regularly and has to be made up of a good mixture of ingredients to get the right balance, leaf mould is the easiest thing in the world to make. I am obsessed about making it, gathering as many leaves as I can, so that they break down into a lovely, crumbly, rich texture that is an essential component of our home-made potting compost.
I just gather deciduous leaves and put them in a bay and let them quietly get on with the process of decomposition. We are lucky here at Columbine that the garden is large enough to have our own permanent bay for leaves but at home I put the leaves in a black plastic bag, leaving the top turned but not tied. I make sure the leaves are really wet and I punch a few holes in the side of the bag for drainage. They rot down well and I store them behind the shed or tucked away in a corner.
When the leaf mould is half-rotted – after about six months – I use it here at Columbine as a mulch around the plants in our bog garden and also put a layer on the bare soil in our walled vegetable garden. The worms work it in to make the richest tilth imaginable. When it is fully made and crumbly, I sieve it and add it as an ingredient to our potting compost.
I also leave piles and drifts of leaves under our trees and hedges to provide over-wintering cover for insects, hedgehogs, small mammals and frogs, which gives essential winter protection for these small creatures that contribute so much to the garden’s health. However I use it – I don’t waste a single crumb – or leaf of it.