Gardening Update: Green paths to autumn

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THERE was a time when labour was cheap enough for garden paths to be made of sand, the ideal rooting medium for seedlings and weeds. But the garden boys kept their rakes moving and cleanliness prevailed. Today we have gravel paths which are much easier to maintain and residual weedkillers, containing Simazine and Atrazine, could keep the paths clear for the better part of the growing season. But both weedkillers are being withdrawn and stocks have to be used up or safely disposed off by 1 September 1993. Lovers of clean gravel paths will either have to settle for the 'green solution' and keep busy, or try less effective and more expensive chemical treatments.

Going 'green' usually means a little-and-often approach to a problem. On paths this applies to autumn leaves just as much as to summer weeds. If you allow leaves to sit thickly on gravel paths for long, you encourage the worms to surface and drag them below. Along with the worms come casts of soil, and soon that immaculate gravel is topped with a seedbed for any passing weed. It is better to rake up leaves on gravel paths fairly often: sadly, going 'green' and laissez-faire gardening do not always make a marriage of convenience.

Weather permitting, leaf fall can be staggered by planting the right species. Ignore the usual Japanese maples, but try the related vine maple, Acer circinatum, or the Amur maple Acer ginnala. Both are small trees and colour well at the first hint of autumn. The ironwood tree, Parrotia persica, manages to stay colourful throughout the season and bears every colour of the season simultaneously, from green and yellow to cream, orange and scarlet. The Italian alder, Alnus cordata, stays glossy racing green until mid-December; as the leaves fall its pairs of hanging cones are revealed.