Autumn: the gardener’s friend

Autumn: the gardener’s friend

Andy Bartlett

The wind gusts in restless bursts, the leaves rustle at your feet, you notice a sharpening of the sunlight in the morning… and just like that, summer has gone. All around us, nature is signalling its preparations for the colder weather. That can only mean one thing to the gardener – time to think about autumn planting. Our Learning Manager, Lucy Hellier, reflects on why this is such an exciting time of year to enjoy nature on your doorstep.

I love this time of year in nature - it contains so much promise. This autumn I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the joys of nature with many of Bristol’s school children. We have explored their local nature spots, finding shiny black beetles under logs, spotting dragonflies hunting over seldom visited ponds and following the tell-tale trails of foxes across fields until the track vanishes into the brambles. I have also been supporting some schools to make their grounds better for wildlife, and therefore a more fun, creative and inspiring place for kids to learn and play.

Many teachers and parents ask us for advice on bringing more nature into their school grounds. Some playgrounds in Bristol make me sad – I visited a new build school recently where the main play area was more like a prison yard – but for schools that are blessed with some green space, here are some of my top tips for bringing more wildlife into your schools and your own gardens this autumn.

Firstly, get going with the planting. This reaps rewards in the future, allowing new plants to settle in and giving them precious growing time before the colder weather arrives. You will notice that their leaves will start to shoot as soon as the warmth of spring arrives, giving them a head-start over plants planted in the spring. As a result, you will get bigger plants and more flowers, ready to feed the hungry pollinators when they emerge.

What else should you be doing? Traditionally, the ‘advice’ has often been to tidy up. But we now know that the tendency to try to ‘civilise’ nature is not doing it – or us – any good. What looks appealingly neat to us can translate as a desert from a wildlife perspective. Here are some tips to follow if you want to create truly contented, balanced garden.

  • If you have anything flowering in your garden, leave it, as it is providing vital nectar.
  • Allow any fallen fruit & nuts to remain where it is. Such bounty is great for many insects as well as mice, voles, hedgehogs & badgers.
  • If you have wet and rotting logs and leaves, leave them be - they are brilliant for woodlice and beetle larvae.
  • You may have had annual plants in your beds over the summer. Allow them to stay where they are: they will be a great food source for underground creatures like rose chafer beetle and cranefly larvae, which as adults are an important food source for bats and birds.

You are probably picking up a theme here – less is more when it comes to autumn gardening. This philosophy is close to the hearts of my colleagues at Grow Wilder, Avon Wildlife Trust’s wildlife gardening and community hub in Bristol. Along with many wild edges where the grass is left long, there are also a riot of different native wildflowers on site, providing homes and food for many insects. These in turn become food for birds and small mammals. A family of ten blue tits keeps the parents busy gathering around a thousand caterpillars a day to feed them!

If you want some inspiration, our wildflower nursery at Grow Wilder is a great place to start. Open all year round, they are busy sending out plant orders for autumn planting. It’s a great place to have a cup of tea in the top-rated café (open at weekends) and get back in touch with one of the true joys of gardening: like the change of the seasons, it’s a continuing cycle and a reminder of the wondrous mystery of nature.

Find out more about visiting Grow Wilder or about visiting our online shop by heading to our website. You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram, where we post regular updates about events and what’s happening on site.