Autumn gardening jobs

by Kate Bradbury

Last year [...] I left my garden untouched over winter, leaving hibernating creatures snuggled under a duvet of fallen leaves and rotting stems.

Frog in autumn leaves - photo taken by Julie WatsonLast year I wrote about autumn tidying and the effect this can have on wildlife. I left my garden untouched over winter, leaving hibernating creatures snuggled under a duvet of fallen leaves and rotting stems. None of my plants died or were ravaged by slugs and snails, and I spent many hours watching blackbirds foraging among the debris.

In spring I tackled the garden in one go, removing leaves spiked on emerging bulbs, clearing spent stems and staking perennials. Only the still-sleeping frogs in their bespoke hibernaculum kept me from tidying one corner - everything else was set for summer within a few hours.

This year I'm even more determined to leave the garden alone, because I want to encourage bumblebees to nest in spring. As a general rule, bumblebees prefer to nest in messy gardens (although they will feed anywhere with suitable flowers), so I want to give nest-searching queens the illusion that I don't garden at all. The grass will grow long, the borders will rot into themselves and there will be leaf and log piles aplenty. Come spring, there will also be food in the form of primroses, snake's head fritillaries and hellebores. I'm hoping a bumblebee queen will stumble upon this winning combination of mess and nectar and set up home forthwith.

In the meantime, hungry birds will make short work of seedheads and do a much better job of finding slug and snail eggs than I ever could. The frogs will bed down in their hibernaculum and among leaf piles, and the mouse, worms, slugs and beetles will stay warm and dry in the compost bin.

So instead of removing plant debris, digging over borders and mulching this weekend, I'll be out foraging leaves from the park to top up my leaf piles, planting snake's head fritillary bulbs, moving foxglove seedlings and taking softwood cuttings. I think that will keep me busy.

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Autumn gardening jobs
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 23/09/2011 at 16:48

just read your post and its lovely to hear that i'm not the only one who leaves there garden messy over winter.there are so many animals who benefit from this and it also saves my back ache in autumn!

Gardeners' World Web User 23/09/2011 at 17:29

Sounds lovely, Kate. When we got our (v overgrown) allotment around this time last year, there was a lovely old toad living in a hollow in the ground. Having inadvertently exposed him, I hastily piled all the leaves back on top but it was too late: next time I went back, he'd moved on. Gardens are much friendlier places for wildlife, methinks, than allotments. Having said that, I'm hoping to put a pond on mine next year. Hopefully I won't get drummed off by the allotment association!

Gardeners' World Web User 23/09/2011 at 19:45

I'm right there with you on this.....I have always felt it right to let things alone in autumn, too. Thanks for the vindication of what have been called my "lazy" habits!

Gardeners' World Web User 23/09/2011 at 20:18

My friend calls my garden "uncontrolled" but I call it wildlife-friendly. The beauty of it comes not just from the plants but from the birds, bees, butterflies, amphibians, mammals etc which have been made welcome by my creating habitats for them. Everyone can do the same by just being a little bit more uncontrolled. After the harvest, relax and enjoy the fruits of your labour and leave the garden to look after itself and the wildlife. Being too tidy is the eighth deadly sin.

Gardeners' World Web User 23/09/2011 at 20:39

I am looking for something to grow at the front of my house which is in the shade. I have tried various climbers but not much success and would like some kind of flowering plant. Any suggestions? thanks

See more comments...