IN the garden a few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to meet a lady who was for want of a better term “at sea”.

She told me she had recently lost her husband and that she was finding it difficult to see a way forward for herself.

These are difficult encounters, but she was kind enough to allow me to share an analogy.

In the fields at the back of my home were two wonderful ash trees that had grown up within a few metres of each other. They had stood there for more than a hundred years. When trees grow together like this they form a united tree canopy and are known as a marriage of trees.

One November day some 10 years ago after some fierce autumn winds, one tree collapsed ripping away half the canopy. The remaining tree looked somewhat forlorn and lost and it remained so until this year when new growth was noticeable. The tree was still part of the marriage but now, with time, space and light, developing into a recognisable independent tree.

While I hope this lady receives some comfort from the analogy, for the gardener trees are also a vital source of organic matter that can be used to improve the structure of your soil. Now is the time to be collecting leaves. The best to collect are oak and beech as their fibrous structure makes a more friable (that is easily crumbled) leaf mould. Ash and horse chestnut will also make leaf mould but are better shredded and placed in the compost heap. The same treatment works for evergreens such as holly.

At home you can collect by using a rotary lawn mower on a high setting that will collect leaves off the lawn and shred them for you. Shredding creates more surface area for bacteria to act, speeding up decomposition. If foraging away from your own garden, collect from side streets and parks as leaves from main roads can contain contaminates. Try not to remove from hedgerows as wildlife, particularly hedgehogs, will be using these falling leaves to make shelter for the coming winter. Store the collected leaves in black bin bags, punctured at side and bottom. Wet the leaves and loosely tie up the bag, leaving it in the shade in a quiet part of the garden.

Alternatively, if you have the space you can make a leaf mould bin from posts and chicken wire. Aim for a one metre by one metre size and locate in a sheltered spot so the leaves do not blow out. Left for one year, the resulting leaf mould can be used to mulch your garden, and is even better if left for two years. Added to your soil, leaf mould adds micronutrients and fungi that help plant growth.

But it is not a replacement for plant feed containing nitrogen, phosphate or potash. In a garden death is never far away but so is regeneration.