In November, we plan for the coming seasons. If you haven’t cut it back already, much of the vegetation in your garden will be dying off naturally. This clearing of your garden gives you a clean slate to work with - a space in which you can let your imagination think about where next year's plants will go.
Mild spells may still occur and as such, I still try to mow my grass to stop it from getting too high in spring. Equally, November brings about the start of this year’s frost and therefore, it is a good idea to place some sheeting over the less-hardy, non-native species that can be damaged by frost.
As always, there are some tasks that will not only help you in the future, but will greatly benefit the wildlife that visits your garden. So, let’s get into it!
Seed your lawn
We all know that wildflowers are a great attractor to pollinators looking for an easy meal of nectar, but you can also enhance your lawn with flowers without losing its function as a lawn. The trick is to sow the seeds of low-growing plants - most of which you will already have such as Tormentil, Self-heal & Speedwell.
There are other more well-known lawn hitchhikers like Daisies, Dandelions and Clovers, all of which are excellent for bees. And, there’s the Birds-foot-trefoil that provides food for Common blue, Silver-studded blue and Wood-white butterflies.
If you love a vibrant garden, and want to turn an otherwise green monoculture into a cacophony of colour, you can try planting early-flowering bulbs such as Snowdrops and Crocuses. These species flower early, often before the first cut of the year, and offer some early colour for your spring garden.
Get the feeders ready
I generally avoid feeding the birds too much during summer. There are plenty of natural offerings around and most birds generally switch to soft insects to feed their chicks. But as the cold creeps in, it's a good idea to start putting food out again. I like to use a mixture of seeds and fat balls to entice as many species as possible. This has the added benefit of building a routine for birds to come to feed and in turn provide a heap of photographic opportunities (like we discussed in February's Garden Blog).
An important note on bird feeders - at the time of writing, we’re currently seeing a rise in Tritrichomonas. The disease, which affects birds, makes their feet look deformed and it is largely spread by unclean bird tables and feeders. There’s also a rise in bird flu (small passerine birds are currently less affected), so to help limit the spread of both diseases, you should clean your feeders at least once a week.
Don’t disturb some areas of the garden
There are parts of the garden that often get neglected or overlooked. They’re quiet spaces you might find hidden behind a water butt or in the space between the shed and the fence. And, you know what? These are some of nature’s favourite spots.
Nature tends to thrive in our absence. We attract the common with the food we put out or the plants we choose, but it’s the spaces that aren’t often tended or aren’t in sight that can attract some of the shyer and more secretive critters. A fox could make a home under a shed or birds may find shelter in some old, long-forgotten plant pots. Self-seeding plants often take hold in these areas and allow different wildlife to thrive.
Now, the other obvious bonus of this intentional neglect is less work for the gardener and more time to spend on other parts of the wildlife garden. My little slice of neglect is behind my raised fish pond which is now a tapestry of sticks, bramble and hawthorn which makes a nice little mini hedgerow.
Embrace the decay
With twigs being pruned, fruit falling and leaves dropping, it’s safe to say we’re seeing the first sight of winter. It can be quite tempting to get rid of it all, but why not make use of what nature is throwing away? I’ll rake up the leaves into a pile (and any other garden waste like grass cuttings, weeds and branches) and place it on my compost heap to decompose and others into a pile in the corner. As we discussed last month, hedgehogs and frogs could well use this to hide away and if not, the local invertebrates will make use of it. As for any fallen fruit, I generally leave and let the army of slugs, snails and beetles take their fill along with blackbirds, robins and wood pigeons.
There’s a rich colour pallet here for the photographer to play with. Each leaf offers a different opportunity with yellows, reds and browns, all in exquisite detail. Fungi may well be popping up amongst it and if you dig down, you will no doubt find such treasures as millipedes, woodlice and springtails!
Starlings are greedy and often noisy birds found in many gardens across the UK. Although they may hoover up quite a bit of birdseed, they are also a beautiful subject to photograph - especially the males with their oily, iridescent sheen. They’ll enjoy fat balls and seeds both on the bird table and feeder. You may get an influx in the winter with migrants looking for food but many stay and nest in gaps in roofs. My neighbour has a pair that return each year and are excellent mimics, flawless copying the call of a buzzard.
Worms are great! They really are the clean-up crew, breaking up the dead leaves in our gardens and - unfavourably to the worms - are a great food source for a variety of species like hedgehogs, frogs and birds. During the damp and moist nights, they’ll be out on the surface avoiding the flooding of tunnels and in search of food. They might not offer the most challenging or exciting of photographic opportunities, but are definitely readily available! And think - when was the last time you saw an incredible image of a worm? Might as well give it a go, right?!
You might not think of them as an autumnal creature but another you may come across is the Red Admiral butterfly! On a mild day, adults will emerge from hidden cracks on the hunt for food - mostly rotting fruit that hasn’t been snapped up or late flowering ivy blossom. Now, while this is the time of the year for them, they are somewhat illusive, hence the lack of a photo?! But, if you live in southern England, your chances of an encounter are much higher.
This month is a time of colour with a mixture of fruits, berries and leaves. October certainly encapsulates autumn in a relatively short period and next month is when winter starts to knock on our doors with the first proper frosts and hardships for our garden wildlife.