Gardening: Autumn’s the perfect time to root around

Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) mushroom
Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) mushroom
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Autumn is upon us. In general, excessive tidiness at this time of year should be avoided: allow the natural senescence of vegetation the opportunity to take its course.

Tempting as it may be, don’t have a bonfire with fallen leaves. Compost them now and in 12 months, with some turning of the heap, you will have a magnificent mound of friable nutritious mulch material. Leaves blown into the corner of a building, meanwhile, will provide shelter for a myriad of insects and small mammals, such as hedgehogs.

You will undoubtedly be noticing the appearance of fungi around your garden. Far too easily ignored, fungi play an integral part of the way we lead our lives – from our beers and wines, breads and cheeses, to the penicillin that heals us. They are truly the world’s best recyclers and will help rot your garden waste. By the same token, fungi are also linked to tree diseases that result in the tree becoming a hazard. Certain species are clear indicators that the trees in your garden could be suffering from rot and action has to be taken.

There is, of course, another side to fungi. The foraging season is here and treats such as the elegant and tasty chanterelles can usually be found in the same locations year after year: check the mosses below beech or birch trees. Scots pine, oak and even sitka spruce can also be hosts to chanterelles. With their apricot aroma and subtle savoury flavour, they are a real delicacy at any table. Another easily identifiable delight is the aptly named hedgehog fungus. Occurring both in coniferous deciduous woods, they also have a distinctive flavour. Others to watch out for include ceps and chicken of the woods. The list goes on. Given toxicity of some species, however, you must take care and know what you are picking. For those who would like a boost of confidence, The Botanics organises forays to help identify the most common edible species and those to avoid.

• Tony Garn is garden supervisor at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.