I have a dual nature. I put it down to being born on the cusp of Sagittarius and Capricorn. Indoors I can be terribly cavalier with the state of the house and then become obsessed with tidying and making everything neat and clean.
In the garden I am the complete opposite. I can be inclined, particularly in the autumn to, what people call, ‘put the garden to bed’. Tidying all the autumn detritus away, cutting back the dead plants and generally leaving it spic and span, a rather bare and inhospitable place to look at and, if you are a bird or insect, a desert over the months when you could really do with some help.
Over a number of years I have been trying to amend my ways. I have been trying to do it differently. Leave the garden be. Let it die back naturally
It’s never a great idea to leave the lawn covered in fallen leaves so they got cleared away and I regularly add compost to the borders, which I did this autumn, but the leaves that fell on top stayed. Think of it like a forest floor. The wonderful layers of fallen leaves create leaf mould that in turn feeds the trees. You can buy leaf mould at great expense or make your own (those that I collected off the lawn and the front garden gravel have all gone into a big bag that will gradually break down over a year or so into leaf mould that can either be used on the borders or as a potting compost).
I also decided to leave the ornamental grasses and herbaceous plants to stand over the late autumn and early winter. As the season advanced they started to look a bit scrappy but the benefits for wildlife are many-fold. Seed heads for birds, hidey-holes for invertebrates and other insects. I placed some broken flower pots in out of the way places as resting places. Anything that did fall and need clearing I left on the back edges of the borders.
Doing it this way does mean that the tidying and clearing happens in the late winter/early spring and with this year’s relatively mild winter I am slowly starting to cut back the old growth as the new is already coming through. I don’t want to leave it too late and risk damaging the delicate new shoots. Inevitably there will also be self-sown seedlings and if these are too many or not where I want them they can easily be hand pulled or hoed out.
It is probably a more work intensive way of gardening but on balance it is more in tune with the natural world and I have been delighted to look out on a garden that, in the low winter light, has interesting, structural silhouettes and is bursting with wildlife.