Autumn Conundrum

To cut or not to cut?

As I write this in September, the leaves are already turning as the days move from warming afternoon sun slanting across golden fields to chilly evenings and fresh mornings.  A t-shirt is certainly not sufficient for the early morning blackberry-picking dog walk! For the gardeners, this time of year is associated with ‘putting the garden to bed’; a concept I always struggle with.  

Hack it back?

Do I cut everything down to give it all a tidy shape? An approach I’ve seen when people have a shiny new pair of secateurs or loppers and just can’t stop snipping!  While this leaves the garden looking neat it reminds me of scalped children leaving the barbers with the new-term haircut  – willing that fringe to regrow!  And, by removing all the foliage, the more tender plants can be more vulnerable to frost damage.

Scruffy round the edges?

Or, do I leave foliage and seed heads on to provide protection and to feed the birds? I’m always hopeful goldfinches will visit the garden, perching on the remains of echinops, sharp beaks tweezing out the seeds from the spiky heads. I love the fact that the collective noun for these lovely birds is a “Charm”!

I must admit to a compromise. Good seed providers, which look great, such as ornamental thistles, coneflowers (echinacea) and sunflowers, I leave well alone.  Others, such as delphinium, peony, hosta, phlox, and dahlia (if you are not lifting), I cut back to the ground, mulching the most tender to protect the crowns from frost. Remember to collect the seeds in labelled paper envelopes – or at least waft it around the garden a bit – before you compost or brown bin the remains.

Plan a new border

It’s a great time to plan and plant up a new border with perennials, shrubs and spring bulbs.  If that is on your to do list think about rhythm, height variation, colour palate, texture and seasonality.  And make sure you choose the right plant– habit, colour, perfume, hardiness, maintenance….for the right place– sun level, moisture, aspect etc.

For existing borders it’s time to lift and divide overcrowded perennials  – if you don’t want to replant the excess, pot it up and give it away. It’s also a great time to plant spring bulbs and some seeds sown now will givebigger, better plants that will flower/crop earlier than those sown in spring. Try antirrhinum, sweet pea and lupin under glass and direct sow broad beans, cornflower, larkspur and poppy – to name just a few!

Sow seeds like lupins now for stronger plants next year

If you would like help to design a pollinator friendly garden, please drop me an email –

Happy gardening.