JENNY STEEL  Managing Your Garden in October

 

           

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MANAGING YOUR GARDEN IN OCTOBER

October is a wonderful autumnal month that spans the seasons, when we might experience the odd reminder of summer added to a dash of the winter ahead.  I may see an occasional swallow passing over my garden in the first few days.  If the weather is warm bumblebees will still be taking nectar from late flowering Helenium and Echinacea in the borders.  Butterflies, especially red admirals and small tortoiseshells, continue to visit the Verbena bonariensis and ivy flowers and may also feed on fallen plums and pears.  But by the end of the month frosts will have changed the landscape around me and my hedges will have the russet colours of autumn.

This month all kinds of bird species return to my garden to take advantage of wild seeds, honeysuckle and cotoneaster berries, windfall fruit and of course peanuts, sunflower seeds and other foods I provide for them.  Last year fieldfares and redwings, the Scandinavian cousins of our song and mistle thrush, arrived early to quickly demolish the holly berries and they made quite an impact on the hawthorn too.  It is a time when birds are moving from their breeding territories and searching for food further afield so I am more likely to see small flocks of birds such as pied wagtails which visit the pond, or whole families of bullfinches feeding in the hedges.  Birds that had been moulting, and therefore less in evidence, also reappear this month and our yellowhammers in particular sit on the hedge tops in all their canary-yellow glory. 

The days are quickly getting shorter which means I can expect to hear the local tawny owls calling throughout the evenings.  These birds start to nest as early as February, so a lot of territorial hooting goes on now.  Other creatures are preparing for winter too, and the local grey squirrels are busy burying hazelnuts from the adjacent wood all over the lawn.  Each spring I pot up any that manage to germinate.  I grow them on to fill in gaps in the boundaries.  But in general it is the birds in the garden that attract my attention this month.  As the species around the garden change and the leaves begin to fall, I can no longer ignore the fact that winter is on its way.

OCTOBER PROJECT

Plant Wildflowers into Grass

If last month you cut areas of long meadow grass in your garden, or are planning a meadow-like effect, you can add wildflowers (or wild bulbs) this month.  Wildflowers are best added to grass as ‘plugs’ – small plants with a compact root ball – which establish and grow away quickly.  Larger pot grown plants can suffer from lack of water and competition from the grasses.  Small plants will also give a more natural effect as you can squeeze more into a tiny area.  Choose your plants carefully as not all wildflowers will grow in grass.  Oxeye daisies, field scabious, salad burnet, knapweed and birds’ foot trefoil are easy to grow in sunny grass but choose red campion, tufted vetch, betony and meadow cranesbill for shadier positions.  Remove a tiny area of turf with a pointed trowel or bulb planter, push the plug plant into the hole and firm soil around it.  Water if the weather is dry but they should need no more attention.  You can mow the grass on a high cut in March and April but after that allow the wildflowers and grasses to grow away with abandon.

PLANT FOLKLORE

Look out for: Teasels

Even those who would say they know little about wildflowers know a teasel when they see one.  This biennial plant, which often springs up on roadsides and in waste places, produces its large green spiky-leaved rosette of leaves one year and sends up a branched flowering spike the next.  Few plants provide food for so many different creatures, but the teasel has pollen for bees, nectar for butterflies and seeds for finches, often all at the same time.  The flower head itself appears in July, and is made up of a collection of tiny pale mauve or pink blossoms, opening in succession from the bottom of the prickly head up to the top.  As the lower flower heads die the seeds begin to set.  These are large and nutritious, and much loved by goldfinches. 

Teasels, known as sweeps-brushes in many parts of the country, have long been commercially important plants.  The variety known as Fuller’s Teasel was used for carding or ‘teasing’ wool prior to spinning.  This particular form had more curved spines on the flower head than the common plant. Teasels can also be dried for winter decoration in the house.  In all a most useful plant to look out for this month.

BOOK REVIEW

Gardening for Birdwatchers by Mike Toms and Ian And Barley Wilson.  British Trust for Ornithology 2008  ISBN 978-1-906204-30-3

Buy a book from the British Trust for Ornithology and you know you will be getting something excellent.  Written by experts but always wonderfully readable, all BTO books are packed with great photos, good, accurate and interesting information, and this book is no exception.  In spite of the title this isn’t just about the birds in your garden.  It includes information on attracting all sorts of wildlife from bumblebees to moths.  Several planting plans are included with lists of wildlife friendly plants, plus information on creating ponds and meadows. 

However, as you would expect, birds are featured heavily with details about how to attract more species to your garden by providing natural berries and seeds, nest sites and roosting places plus there are sections on how and why birds use our gardens, An excellent book for any on interested in the birds in their garden.

© Copyright Jenny Steel 2017