Are you familiar with the term shabby chic? The idea of using worn, used items to decorate a house or design a room, has been popular for decades. Rather than insisting that items of furniture remain pristine or as new, or face a trip to the local tip, the shabby chic style embraces the lived-in look. Unkept can be cool, when given careful thought.

Encouraging people to adopt a similar approach to their gardens can take more persuasion. Not so much with items of outdoor furniture: what wooden bench or table’s paint doesn’t erode during that first winter? The difficulty comes with convincing seasoned gardeners – casual ones and disinterested homeowners included – that keeping at least part of their garden untidy is a good thing.

Judging by the number of front gardens that have been slabbed over or tarmacked to park cars in recent times, convenience and tidiness appears to be the greatest challenge to urban wildlife. The combined benefit of a patchwork of lawns has now been lost to low maintenance gravel and sealed driveways.

Autumn is the time when tradition dictates that a garden is tidied. The more elaborate the plot, the more there will be jobs to do, especially deadheading flowers and gathering leaves. Unfortunately, a tendency towards neat borders and manicured lawns at one end of the spectrum, or asphalt drives and artificial turf at the other, makes the chances of survival for our native insects, birds and mammals even more of a challenge.

If you are lucky enough to have access to a garden with a patch of lawn or a flower bed, the good news is that helping your local wildlife isn’t a matter of letting your patch go wild. Thankfully, simply delaying the deadheading of spent flowers on plants such as Sedum (stonecrops) can provide a place for spiders and insects to lodge. The same is true of common ivy. Often maligned and removed from gardens at first sight, ivy provides nectar rich flowers for pollinating insects during autumn and into winter, when food for them is otherwise scarce. 

Postponing your pruning and deadheading till late winter or early spring when there are other food sources emerging, could be a lifeline for animals visiting your garden. In the meantime, consider leaving an area of your garden covered in the leaves that fall. They will offer a blanket for hibernating insects like butterflies, and birds are likely to spend time searching for food beneath the cover.

Treat yourself to this light approach to gardening. Adopt the shabby chic method and see what cool wildlife comes to visit you this autumn and winter.


Written by Jolyon Watford,