Tidying your garden in autumn

by Kate Bradbury

In the October issue of Gardeners' World magazine, I ask Richard Jones and James Alexander-Sinclair for their views on autumn tidying in relation to the harm it can cause overwintering wildlife.

One of Kate's frogsIn the October issue of Gardeners’ World magazine, I ask Richard Jones and James Alexander-Sinclair for their views on autumn tidying in relation to the harm it can cause overwintering wildlife. As their recent blogs demonstrate, they don't see eye to eye.

Whether you go out of your way to help wildlife in your garden or spend hours tending a perfectly manicured plot, you’re sharing your pride and joy with wild creatures. These could be a family of hedgehogs or bumblebees, frogs, earwigs, whatever. Some you will like, others you won't. It's nature. Like us, they snuggle down in winter, but often do so in what we consider 'mess': among dead stems, beneath fallen leaves and log piles. Then along comes the gardener, who chops up the stems, sweeps up the leaves, burns the logs and piles everything in the compost.

Our Facebook poll suggests many of you are willing to compromise your gardening practices for wildlife. Christina Goozee suggests "it is about time we leeches on the natural world gave back something to the wildlife", while Andrew Littleford says "it is important to remember ... that a garden is a personal kingdom and so should be managed in the preferred way of the owner." Christopher Strickland thinks it's possible to be tidy and care for wildlife: "move any debris to a corner of the garden out of sight, but where it can still benefit insects and mammals."

Kate's gardenMy garden is just 4m² and less than a year old, but I’ve managed to attract a host of wild creatures, including blue tits and great tits, froghoppers, moths, butterflies and bees. (The frogs I rescued and brought in.) I’m determined to make sure my garden provides the perfect home for wildlife over winter, and if I have to compromise a little on aesthetics, so be it. I've already made hibernaculums for creatures: last year's Christmas tree branches are bundled behind pots for insects and there's a cardboard box full of grass clippings. When the trees in the local park lose their leaves I'll be gathering bags of them to cram into corners for the frogs, slugs, snails and other frog food. I'll let my borders rot down into themselves.

Following Richard's advice I've also ‘created’ a jumbled pile of pots (it looks hideous), I’ve left straggly clematis stems unclipped and there are plenty of patches of long grass around the edges of the lawn (which has no straight lines or clipped edges). I’m also far too soft with my frogs. When I cut down my tomato haulms the other week, I found five frogs snuggled together in the grow bag. I couldn’t bear to turf them out, so covered them up again and placed the recently felled stems over the top, for extra privacy. It’s become a focal point of my garden for all the wrong reasons.

Luckily, all this unsightly business is nearest my flat, so when I look out to the garden I can't see it. And no-one else is going to see my garden this winter, even I’ll only see it on the weekend once we’re back to travelling to and from work in the dark. What are a few flower pots, straggly clematis stems or tatty bits of long grass? Actually, they’re irritating me already, but I’m sticking to my guns.

Discuss this blog post

Talkback: Tidying your garden in autumn
Your comment will appear after a quick registration step

Gardeners' World Web User 15/10/2010 at 14:59

i think that we should learn to live with the wildlife in our gardens as it helps us and we help the wildlife not only that its great to be able to look out of the window and see all the different birds about on the feeders in your garden you help them they help you to get rid of the pests in return.me and my husband put in a pond early this year and weve had alot of wildlife in it already and weve got a frog which seems to love it in there .the only thing that upsets the frog is that all the birds that come in the garden they all have a drink and a bath in it.

Gardeners' World Web User 15/10/2010 at 16:35

As I pride myself on being almost self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables I fail to see why I should not encourage the wildlife in my garden as they are necessary for a good crop and to keep down aphids and other pests but I also get great enjoyment out of adding to the beauty of my garden. I think butterflies and dragonflies are as beautiful as my flowers and have many wildlife adventures. A heron hovering over my head in search of a frog for breakfast was so close it sounded like the whirring of a helicopter. The frogs struggle of course and I often have one who has lost a leg hopping round the garden. It is the survival of the fittest in my garden and after nearly fifty years of my care the eco system is in balance and it is a very productive garden for me - the top of the food chain.

Gardeners' World Web User 15/10/2010 at 22:17

I must admit i do not tidy up my garden too much for autumn.I left my cornflowers self seed and lots of other annuals as i like the more natural look.I was very happy to see some birds at the bird feeder the other day.They didn't stay very long and i've filled bird feeder again so hopefully they will be back.

Gardeners' World Web User 16/10/2010 at 08:59

I'm all for a bit of untidyness but I hadnt really thought about the wildlife hibernating value of the mass of pots piled at the end of the garden. Clearing them out was going to be one of my winter jobs too. I was looking forward to that and you've completely thrown me now.

Gardeners' World Web User 17/10/2010 at 08:02

Your new focal point is wonderful, not a wrong reason at all! Our wildlife is extraordinary and beautiful and we are so lucky as gardeners to be close to it. This year a have seen numerous frogs, the occasional toad, a dozen busy hedghogs and much more. But special - whilst harvesting onions I found a hawkmoth catapillar (onions left insitu!) and when trying to clear a pile of old hardcore and weeds behind the greenhouse, two young newts curled around one another. Truly their skin looked like velvet. The hardcore hasn't moved either! I say leave alone where you can, or create a hidden environment if you have to be tidy - you can hide old garden pots etc behind a winter display of containers for example. A neat pile of logs can have pots, bracken, clippings etc within. Please give nature a hand!

See more comments...