Well the wind and the rain and the frost have all duly arrived. The dahlias, cut down by the first frost are all now lifted and being washed and wrapped up ready for overwintering in the Orchid House. Leaves are wet underfoot and plants are dying back, ready to reappear next spring. Although my personal plant of the month, Hesperantha coccinea (formerly Schizostylis coccinea or Crimson flag lily) is still flowering away in the Long Border.
So it is a huge temptation to tidy the garden within an inch of its life and get rid of the old foliage and leaves. Here at the Garden, work goes on chopping down the Hot Border and I have worked steadily to completely overhaul one half of the Long Border. But, and I take a deep breath here, we do this because we are a Garden open to the public and we need to be ready for them when we open again next April. We are gardening throughout the year so that we can provide a show from April through to October.
However, I don’t do this at home in my own garden and I’d like to make a plea to you all not to be overly rigorous in the tidying department either. Leaving plant stems standing, or heaps of leaves at the back of borders or perhaps making a bug hotel (more of that later) can help wildlife to make it through the winter. Hedgehogs hibernate under clumps of leaves or in compost heaps over winter. I had a surprise one year clearing up leaf debris in the Hot Border when said clump started to move and grunt! I put the leaves back and apologised and no more was said.
Ladybirds, lacewings and other useful insects shelter in hollow stems and under bark over winter so leaving plants uncut over winter provides valuable habitat. Or you could build a bug hotel from offcuts of wood. We have one on the wall here at the Garden and as you can see they are easy to make and you can let your imagination run riot. If you need help then a quick trawl through the internet will give you plenty of ideas and know how.
Even your compost heap has a part to play, providing shelter for hedgehogs, toads and maybe slow worms. So take care if you are turning it or perhaps leave turning it till spring. If you can, leave a part of your garden wild and tussocky , or plant it with some native wild flowers and grasses such as foxtail, cock’s-foot, yarrow, oxeye daisy and lesser knapweed. This provides great habitat for invertebrates such as beetles, butterflies and dragonflies. Carder bumblebees will make their home in an area like this and leaving the clover in your lawn will provide a rich source of nectar for all bees.
This is just a tiny selection of things you can do to support diversity in your garden. So instead of going outside in the cold, why not put your feet up with a cuppa and a seed or bulb catalogue safe in the knowledge that by doing nothing you are keeping your garden rich in wildlife. Happy Christmas.
Tricia Harris December 2017