Autumn is a great time to take stock of your garden and make improvements, or at least start planning for next year.
Even after planting a garden from scratch, some attention is required after a few years and more mature gardens may need more drastic action if they have not been maintained regularly.
In mainly perennials borders, if the border needs a big overhaul it might be best to lift all the perennials and any small shrubs, divide the perennials as necessary and start again. (They can be left in bags of moist compost in the shade for several days.) This also allows you to clear any weeds and fork in organic matter which will improve the soil, and thus plant health, before replanting. Take care that you do not damage any roots of existing shrubs and trees in the process.
Consider whether the borders are the right shape and size. In very thin borders only one row of plants may be possible. A wider border will allow you to layer plants of different sizes, shapes, forms, textures and colours.
Equally, if you have very wide borders that you find difficult to get into, reducing the width can make the garden more manageable.
Plant renovation or removal
I believe that you shouldn’t keep a plant if you don’t like it, and of course, anything dead or diseased should be removed. However, do consider the following if you are thinking of removing trees and mature shrubs:
• They provide a habitat for wildlife, not only birds and bees, but insects, lichen and fungi – all essential parts of the ecosystem.
• They provide a wide range of other environmental benefits: carbon capture to reduce climate change, cooling of the air, preventing flooding and erosion, creating shade, and capturing dust and pollution.
If you would like to keep the plant but its shape is a problem e.g. it is overgrown, first consider whether it can be pruned.
Many shrubs can be hard pruned almost to the ground and will regenerate e.g. Hypericum, Choisya and Laurels. Some are best done over two or three years e.g. Yew.
Some evergreens can be crown lifted, that is, the lower branches removed. This opens up the area at ground level allowing more light to planting below it and also creates structural interest.