Guest blogger Michelle Storm writes a regular blog on increasing wild flower meadows in UK gardens and public spaces.
A winter wildlife garden
In mid November a carpet of leaves covered the garden. The stalks of summer perennials were brown and shriveled and the seed heads of Hollyhocks, Lavender and a host of summer flowers haunted the failing stems of withered plants.
To many this garden may like it needs a good tidy up, but to me an untidy winter garden is a happy wildlife friendly garden. Think of an untidy garden as an invertebrate metropolis. Each hollow herbaceous stem is a tower block of winter accommodation, each seed head a high rise winter apartment. If you don’t believe me start looking inside seed heads you’ll be amazed at what you find sheltering there.
If leaf fall makes you want to run out with rake in hand to sweep it all away just remember it’s the equivalent of a Glastonbury campsite for beetles, woodlice, worms and spiders and provides a welcome winter lunch for garden blackbirds. So if you really don’t like leaf litter then brush it onto your borders and under your hedgerow it will feed your soil, offer great shelter for invertebrates which in turn will provide a much needed winter food source for birds.
Last winter when the garden was covered in snow for a few weeks, a flock of hungry goldfinch stripped the lavender heads of their seeds.
My mother had suggested pruning my lavenders in April after winter rather than in September as I had done previously. I’d moved to a colder higher altitude garden a couple of years earlier and was struggling to keep my lavenders alive over winter. Not only did the seed heads help the goldfinch but my lavenders survived the harsh winter for the first time and bloomed beautifully in summer providing a rich nectar source for a variety of pollinators.
So if you get the urge to tidy tidy tidy, just spare a thought for all those homeless creatures you’ll be responsible for. What you regard as messy is a valuable wildlife winter habitat. Try gardening in step with nature and benefit from a garden that is alive and thriving all year round, especially in winter.
Michelle Storm, founder of Meadow Project, RHS qualified specialising in wildlife gardening and habitat creation.