'The marigolds are blurring the boundaries between seasons'
The wooded hillsides seemed to move particularly sharply from green to red, yellow and gold this year and like most years, I wish I’d had the foresight to start a nature diary long ago.
Searching around the internet, I came across the Nature's Calendar Website which includes maps of events like ‘first autumn tinting’ for a range of tree species. Scrolling through the historic observations I’m both intrigued and disappointed – the maps aren’t quite smothered with the datapoints that I know our 60million + population could provide. So I’ll get observing, and encourage you to do the same, though I’ll still need a nice field notebook of course!
As we’ve yet to have a proper frost, some of the more summery plants are carrying on regardless of the seasonal changes. The Ceratostigma are still flowering nicely, along with the ornamental thistle (Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum') and, spectacularly, the row of French marigolds (Tagetes patula) which amaze visitors whenever they pass them. We didn’t plant the marigolds particularly as a great wildlife friendly plant, but rather as companion planting in the vegetable beds (they’re smelly and repellent to a number of ‘pests’). Still, the bees, butterflies and hoverflies enjoyed them over a long season, so I think they have earned their place within the wider context of the garden.
To help the plants and animals that inhabit the garden through the winter we’re doing various things, and indeed, we’re not doing several others. Food and shelter are critical over the winter months and many of the plants have been chosen not only for their pollen or nectar rich flowers, but also for the seeds that follow them. We’re therefore leaving the seed-heads on until spring, and this allows both the provision of food for seed-eating birds, plus the hollow standing-stems provide overwintering places for garden insects (see also our advice on making insect homes).
We'll be feeding the birds throughout, and we’re using a variety of black sunflower seeds (they have the highest oil content), sunflower seed hearts (easy, mess-free and energy rich) and high-quality peanuts (some peanuts contain aflatoxins, which can kill birds, so it’s important to source wisely). These are fed in appropriate feeders but we broadcast some sunflower seeds across the paths much to the merriment of the chaffinches!
For more information on feeding your garden birds overwinter see here - I’d recommend paying particular attention to the advice on hygiene. Oh, and if you want to get your hands on any great birdy stuff, from binoculars to birdfeeders it’s well worth checking out the RSPB shop.
If you would like to visit the garden over winter, we're open on Thursdays only, from 9:30am to 3pm, weather permitting. See the garden homepage for more information.