There’s no question that even a town garden can be a tiny safari park in the autumn, particularly if you make it an appealing destination for wildlife by using the right plants.
All small garden animals like somewhat messy gardens, preferably with lots of plants, a pond, trees and shrubs such as buddleia or forsythia. Grass is a bonus, as are some scattered pots, planks and garden waste. An out of sight junk corner is therefore ideal if you want to keep the rest of the garden moderately smart. Otherwise it’s a matter of going with your gut. Most animals are very adept at survival, but obviously you can lend a helping hand. Or not, of course, depending on whose side you’re on when it comes to caterpillars: the plants or the butterflies. We know you won’t object to ladybirds that eat aphids! Leave plants that are still in flower in place so that the little ones can eat their fill before winter comes.
Hedgehogs keep slugs and snails off your plants
If you hear loud scurrying and rustling in the twilight, it’s very probable that a hedgehog has moved in with you. They sleep during the day, and when the evening comes they go off in search of food. Adult hedgehogs start their hibernation at the end of November or beginning of December, but adolescents don’t start until January when it gets really cold. You will really help them by not tidying your garden because they like to nestle in leaves from deciduous shrubs such as privet, Japanese maple and elderberry. They also drag moss, straw, wood chips, hay and parts of exhausted sunflowers to their nest. Hedgehogs like cat food and dog food, bacon rind, muesli and peanut butter. In return for your hospitality they will eat all your slugs, snails and caterpillars next year, so they can’t attack your plants.
Leaves and roof tiles around the pond please
The colder it becomes the more sluggish frogs and toads become until they start their hibernation. Toads do that on land, preferably under a pile of leaves or in a hollow under stones, planks or a stray roof tile. Frogs and salamanders also hibernate, but in a damp spot. They can also survive in the water in ponds with a depth of at least 80 cm, provided an aeration pump is running. They also like generous planting on the edges of the pond with marsh marigolds and bistort to shelter in. When the temperatures start to rise again they will awake of their own accord and will then eat mosquitoes, slugs and snails for you. So they’re very beneficial for your garden and help ensure that you get a good night’s sleep next year.
Fairytale: winter moths in your garden
It’s lovely to see moths fluttering around in your garden but be aware of the fact that as caterpillars they can gobble up your plants. Geometer moths are greyish brown moths that are particularly common in the autumn, just like the large yellow underwing moth, the silver Y moth, the hummingbird hawk moth and the convolvulus hawk moth. They eat the overripe berries of prickly heath and checkerberry. Additionally they appreciate rotting fruit and a bowl of honey water. Winter moths last until around mid-December. They don’t eat nectar, but rely on the reserves that they have built up as a caterpillar.
Mice are a mixed blessing
Some mice hibernate, whilst field mice and wood mice build up underground storerooms to last them through the winter. The mouse that needs our help is the shrew mouse. They eat insects of which there are fewer and fewer of those around in the colder season. Luckily they enjoy the same foods as hedgehogs, so you can make both types of animal happy at the same time. Although we would warn you a plague of mice is no fun at all. Mice are extremely cute, but they do procreate very quickly. If you don’t want mice in your garden, plant spearmint or sprinkle peppermint oil in the autumn. If you do want them, they love sunflowers and bird seed.
Tip: Cute to look at, but blessed with an irrepressible libido and matching appetite. If you don’t want mice in your garden, plant spearmint or sprinkle peppermint oil in the autumn.
And the rest?
For a squirrel you really need a woodland garden; their diet includes acorns, nuts and berries. Bats prefer to spend the winter upside down in a slightly damp space: under a tile on the roof or in a crack in the chimney. You don’t need to worry about them, and next year they will greedily hunt down insects and spiders for you.