VAL BOURNE’S GARDEN WILDLIFE
Think about giving wildlife a break before you clear up
WE’RE all in cutting-back mode at the moment because the garden’s fading away before our very eyes. My mini-meadow, containing wildflowers and cultivated hardy orchids, got its yearly trim in early September. The debris was left for a day or two, to allow any seeds to drop, and then all the material was added to the compost heap before it began to rot down.
This mini-meadow is not a large area, about 20x15ft (6x4½m), so we hand-clip it rather than mow it. This may seem onerous, but one year we caught a frog in the mower blades. Strimmers cause similar injuries – so it’s snipping for us. A friend went to a summer barbecue and the techie owner – a chap, of course – had one of those mowers that cuts on its own. It made short work of a hedgehog, so I won’t be having one of those!
Last year, we were late cutting back the meadow and it was the end of September. Every tussock seemed to contain a ground beetle and even handsnipping was difficult because I didn’t want to cut off any of their legs. I leave garden edges alone until spring so these creatures have some refuges.
Once the meadow is cut, I tidy the spring garden because bulbs in that area spurt into growth in autumn. If I tidied up in spring I’d trample them to death. Once the spring garden is tidy, I move on to the summer borders where I have lots of herbaceous peonies. They begin to enter dormancy in August and their foliage looks tatty by then, so I’m happy to cut them back. Peonies are not good additions to an autumn border for this reason – they fade early.
My autumn border contains late-summer and autumn plants, and many have woody stems able to persist through winter, so tiny insects roost in them. I don’t cut this down until early spring and I prop the stems up at the back of the border in the hope that any insects can find shelter in the stems. Those stems stay in place until spring arrives.
Having three main areas dedicated to spring, summer and autumn helps to spread my workload. The spring area is tackled in September, the summer borders follow, and the autumn border waits until February or later if the weather’s cold. Some gardeners try to make borders that cover four seasons, but this isn’t sensible when it comes to garden maintenance.
“Peonies are not good additions to an autumn border as they fade early”
The autumn border lingers late and keeps the garden going. It’s cut back in spring, says Val
Leave some garden edges, so insects such as ground beetles can find shelter