Until the turn of the year, the last few withered leaves were still clinging to the otherwise bare branches of the many deciduous trees which either grow in my garden, grow alongside my garden or grow on the opposite side of the railway from my garden.
Then along came some pretty wild winter weather – one night of quite hard frost, quickly followed by 24 hours of almost continual torrential rain, driven along by gale force gusts of wind which, as well as stripping these last, lingering leaves from the trees, overturned several of my neighbours’ blue bins.
Empty plastic or metal drinks cans, discarded plastic food trays and boxes, used plastic milk bottles and the all other recyclable detritus which is consigned to the blue bin … which is, itself, put kerbside in the evening before collection day … lend little weight to this slab-sided container.
Comes a blast of wind – and over it goes, a**e over tip, the lid flying open to allow the wind to work its wicked will with the contents. And, as the owner of the property whose fence marks the boundary between garden and an area of public amenity land, I know full well that that fence acts as a very effective net when the wind is from the
westerly quarter of the compass. Ah, clean-up time again!
The fence also collects the last of the deciduous trees’ leaves, of course, remnants of the autumn leaf drop, that rather splendid natural process which allows deciduous trees to survive all but the most severe winter weather.
The leaves … or, in many species, the so-called ‘needles’ of evergreen trees … are either thick and waxy or very slim and waxy, protection against these appendages being split open by the expansion of the sap in the leaves as it freezes.
(As generations of science teachers have demonstrated to their young pupils, water expands when frozen.) But the leaves of deciduous trees do not enjoy this protection against winter frosts. Their thin leaves are susceptible to freezing and rupturing, rendering them unable to perform their proper function of converting light energy into chemical energy that can later be released to fuel the trees’ life-style.
So, as average temperatures start to fall in the autumn, deciduous trees stop producing chlorophyll, causing the pigmentation of the leaves to degrade and allowing the natural red and yellow colours to be revealed as the green mask fades.
At the same time, what we might call the trees’ veins … the network that carries water to the leaves and sugars to the rest of the plant … are closed off and a seal develops ... a cork, if you like … which separates the leaf stalk from the twig on which it has grown.
The redundant leaves drop off or are blown off, greatly reducing the weight of snow which can accumulate on the trees and reducing the surface area of the trees exposed to high winds; and, as an added bonus, the nutrients in the dropped leaves are recovered as the leaves decay.
But the extreme shortage of worms in my garden means that the decaying leaves are not dragged underground to make these nutrients available to the roots of my plants. So I
have to perform this function myself, gathering the leaves for consignment to my compost bin, adding chemicals to encourage them to decompose and returning the resultant nutrient-rich compost to the soil.
And, as well as this additional outdoor work, I find I have to collect discarded needles indoors! These are not, I hasten to add, needles from hypodermic syringes, for neither I nor any of my friends are drug users – our reliance on prescription drugs does not justify categorising us as ‘people who cannot stop taking illegal drugs.’
No, these needles are leftovers from the festive season, reminders of the Christmas paraphernalia with which we had our home colourfully decorated and which was dismantled and returned to storage by Twelfth Night.
It doesn’t seem to matter how enthusiastically I vacuum clean the carpets, there are always Christmas tree ‘needles’ there the next day.
But we had an artificial tree!