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Preparing for winter

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 21 Oct 2013 at 02:39 PM

The weather is still mild, but autumn has suddenly arrived and a few winter preparations are in order. Not many, though, as I’m of the ‘don’t tidy up too much’ school of gardening and prefer to leave plenty of shelter and foraging opportunities for the wild life. Stems holding seedheads will be left in place, unsnipped, for birds to pick amongst, their deft beaks easily opening up the pods to find the seeds within.

Seed pods of Oenother biennis - Evening Primrose - have been picked open by finches.

Honey bees have been busy amongst the flowering ivy that grows along the top of the wall and in a couple of months, the seeds will make a welcome meal for blackbirds and thrushes. If you look closely, you can also see that ivy provides a useful structure for spider webs.





Not that spiders have much trouble finding places to build their webs – it’s at this time of year, when the mist and dew can be at their densest that we see just how many spiders there are.

Many leafy plants, like the Euphorbia below, will be left to stand so that tiny creatures can find shelter amongst them. Unless they’re being looked for, we don’t often notice the countless number of small beings that live between the petals and leaves in the garden and it’s often only on examining a digital photograph that they are noticed, crawling along the edge of a leaf or tucked into a flower. Sometimes they are flies but, more often, they are beetles. It brings to mind what the biologist and geneticist J. B. S. Haldane is reputed to have said, that "God has an inordinate fondness for beetles."





Elsewhere in the garden, some of the young newts have left the pond and are making their way around the garden. They’ll be looking for likely spots to hibernate – in gaps in the wall, in leaf piles, under stones, in the compost heap or the log pile. I came across this one the other day. It was so small, 15mm at the most, and blended in so well with the soil that I was lucky to see it at all and glad that I didn’t tread on it. Where there is one young newt, there will be others (probably frogs as well) so from now on I’ll keep a watch out for them.





The other job is to remove fallen leaves from the pond so they don’t rot down and turn the water into abiotic gunge. Apart from raking leathery Magnolia leaves off the lawn, so it doesn’t die off under the million leaves that appear to be still on the tree, that’s pretty much it. 


Is there anything you do or don't do in the garden to prepare for winter? 


EvaInNL said:

A lovely article Miranda and great pictures as always. I too leave my garden to get on with it over winter, this year I even dragged a couple of huge branches onto my plot under the bramble hedge. Should serve a lot of little critters as a good shelter.

on 21 Oct 2013 at 09:59 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

That's a good idea with the branches, Eva. There ought to be shelter for all sorts under there and if the branches stay there long enough, they will make habitats for beetle larvae and solitary wasps.

on 22 Oct 2013 at 09:27 AM

Phot's-Moll said:

I'm with you on the not tidying up too much - in fact I grow several plants mainly to feed birds over the winter. Sights such as goldfinch eating seeds from teazle's and sea hollies are more interesting to me than a tidily put away garden.

on 25 Oct 2013 at 11:42 AM

Miranda Hodgson said:

I leave Evening Primrose (Oenorthera biennis) standing for the birds - that's what the seed pods are in the picture. Also Eryngium, Rudbeckia and Echinacea - they all get picked clean by the end of winter. Agree that tidily put away gardens don't look right!

on 26 Oct 2013 at 10:43 AM