No, I’m not suggesting putting the birds to work (although I do sometimes feel Robins could spend less time posing on garden spades and more time digging with them.) I know that autumn and early winter tend to be the times when many gardeners find their work less than thrilling. It all seems to be a bit negative: putting sensitive plants into the greenhouse, turning the soil over to let the frost in and of course endless tidying up, especially of fallen leaves. Well, I suppose if I wanted to be really bold – or do I mean lazy? – I’d just like to say ‘don’t bother!’ The fact is, by and large, birds do not appreciate or prefer a tidy garden. So, if you leave everything in an autumnal mess, you can easily convince yourself that you are doing the best thing for nature.
On the other hand, even I can’t allow my little garden to go totally and literally wild. But I do recommend what I’d call ‘constructive’ tidying.
Leaf and log piles make great places for animals and insects to hibernate. So construct them solidly, and don’t disturb them during the winter. Ponds should definitely be covered with a net so as to prevent them clogging up with leaves and potentially going stagnant.
On the other hand, do make sure there is a bit of open water for drinking and bathing. Definitely don’t get rid of seed heads and berries. These are great bird food, especially if you have planted native flowers and bushes. I’ll be honest, I personally don’t go in for proper ‘soil care’, but if you do go digging and turning at least your aching back should earn you the close attention of the local Robins, Blackbirds and Song Thrushes.
Console yourself that not having to dig up their own worms is saving them a lot of effort and energy.