It’s time to start romping through the garden, applying a broad brush. Fallen leaves may be stashed in bin bags, punctured for air to assist the rotting process. In twelve month’s time, you will have lovely leaf mould to use as a mulch. I am not above allowing the Council to sweep up and bag all along the street, then sneaking out and pinching as much as I can store. I’m cutting down most of the spent perennials, composting the soft stuff and sending the twiggy bits to the loving care of the local recycling depot. I’m leaving in place anything which still has a little structure, such as Dipsacus (teasel). Usually Cynara (artichokes and cardoons) give me some striking minarets of dead flower heads, bronze against azure autumn skies. Sadly the recent wet weather has made them all weak at the knees and they have fallen down and sprawled around the vegetable patch, like so many exhausted opium fiends.
Skimmia ‘Kew Green’
I leave a few heaps of hollow stems on the paths where I can’t see them from the house and where Attila is unlikely to trip over them. The recent fashion for encouraging suburban wildlife seems utterly laudable, so providing some shelter for overwintering creepy crawlies is a good idea. Should you be so fortunate as to be friends with a hedgehog, they appreciate a bijou log pile. They sleep through the cold season, so they need all the help they can get. If you are a pyromaniac and insist on burning woody refuse with great clouds of evil smelling smoke, please make certain that nothing is bunkered down in the stuff you intend to incinerate. Also ensure that your neighbour hasn’t pegged out a load of laundry, which will be tainted by your vile smeech. Better still, put it in the green bin and leave the fire starting to the arsonists.
Feed the Birds
British birds are a hardy crowd but will benefit from seeds and nuts in clean feeders. My equipment has been cunningly designed to explode in a shower of bolts and washers, the moment that they are taken off their branch. I find that the fat balls, tastefully netted in actinic green plastic, are roundly ignored by blue tits that clearly have better taste than we give them credit for. If you can, keep a bowl or bird bath full of fresh water, especially later on, when most standing liquid is frozen solid. Keep all nature stations off the ground out of reach of cats, which see any small animal as edible entertainment.
Ilex aquifolium ‘Ferox Argentea’ (Silver hedgehog holly)
This year I persuaded Reverend Smith to let me hew the sunflowers as usual but to leave the seed heads on the patio table for hungry creatures. I scampered about chopping down the tall stems, feeling hearty and no doubt looking pink cheeked in the brisk air. I think that I was singing, happy in my work, when I walked into a large and very elastic spider’s web. The resident beastie, large, brindled and sitting centrally, had no option but to land on my face. Now, bugs don’t bother me in the slightest but when the spider crept down the neck of my jumper, I was caught by surprise. I shucked the outer layer, whereon my uninvited guest shot up the sleeve of my t-shirt, which was a bit of a shock. I took off the garment, to see the monster looking at the top of my jeans in a contemplative manner. I have my limits, so I flicked away my squatter where he/she went crashing around the rose bed, breaking branches in irritation. In case you saw it in the paper, this is my excuse for standing in the Vicar’s front garden in my underwear, gesticulating furiously and swearing like a sailor.