Gardening: The alternative gardener

Louise Levene has subversive advice for lazy autumn days
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According to the gardening yearbooks, you should be able to pull back the dining room curtains this morning and gaze upon bright orange rosehips, coppery foliage, autumn crocuses and golden spears of dogwood. But if your garden is anything like mine the swish of chintz reveals a wasteland of yellow hostas knee-deep in decomposing leaves. Time to get weaving.

Gardening books usually say that: "fallen leaves should be raked up within a few days". This was all very well when there was a garden boy permanently on hand with a sprung rake and a wheelbarrow; you would do better to wait until the trees have finished shedding. Meanwhile, just keep on top of the areas that really need clearing, such as drains and ponds. To transform leaves into nourishing leaf mould, shove them into bin-liners with a few holes poked into the sides and leave to marinate for 12 months. Clear basement area/front garden of crisp packets, condoms and spent fireworks. Throw footballs over walls randomly, in the hope that they will find their way to the right address.

"Plant bare-rooted roses if the ground is not too wet," say the books. In practice, this may mean leaving the roses in the garage until they have died. Resist the temptation to cut back existing roses in colder areas, however awful they look; they could put on new growth during a mild spell then get caught by the frost. In fact, once you have cut back the buddleia and lavatera and knocked young trees into shape, get someone to hide your secateurs or you will be unable to resist over-tidying the garden, cutting off perfectly nice dead flowers and generally giving the place a cheap haircut. Relax.

"If a plant is out of place now is the time to shift it", is the yearbook advice. Keep plenty of soil attached to the roots, dig a big hole and water in well. Then wonder if it looked better where it was.

Plant tulips. Then more tulips. Dose liberally with Benlate before planting, to combat disease, and place each bulb on a handful of grit to guarantee decent drainage. Try to plant them behind a deciduous perennial that will later shoot up to screen dying foliage. This may well never happen, but at least you will have tried.

Now is the moment to evict the bracken plantation down by the privy. Be prepared for a fight as you untangle its rhizomes from the roots of that sycamore sapling you keep meaning to do something about. Bracken now covers an area the size of Yorkshire. It is also carcinogenic; don't inhale.

Wet leaves and lazy gardeners make this a safe, enjoyable time of year for slugs and snails. Less so for anyone hoping for lupin and digitalis next summer. You could do as one famous gardener suggests, and give dinner party guests a plastic carrier and torch and offer a prize for the biggest bag, but most people would rather look at slides of Goa than rootle around in a damp shrubbery.

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