Anyone who's been gardening for some years may well have noticed that, as time moves on, the wildlife which once frequented British gardens is becoming a rarer sight.
In May, the State of Nature report compiled by 25 wildlife organisations found that, for a range of reasons like loss of habitat, 60% of the 3,148 UK animal and plant species assessed have declined in the past 50 years. Hedgehog numbers have also reduced by a third since the millennium, and tortoiseshell butterflies, once common in gardens, have declined by 77%.
"What's most alarming is that many of the 'common' garden species - hedgehogs, house sparrows, starlings and common frogs, for example - are becoming much less common," says Helen Bostock, Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) horticultural advisor.
"Historically these species have done well in our gardens and so their decline is something we really need to sit up and take notice of. This is where gardeners can make a difference and help to halt the declines we're seeing by making their gardens more wildlife friendly. This should be a wake-up call to all of us."
With this in mind, the RHS and The Wildlife Trusts are spearheading a new initiative called Wild About Gardens Week. The event, backed by celebrity gardeners Diarmuid Gavin, Matthew Wilson and Sarah Raven, runs from October 25-31 and is urging the public, plus the RHS's 3,300 community gardening groups, 17,250 schools and 145 partner gardens, to hold wildlife gardening events during the week. A microsite (www.rhs.org.uk/wildaboutgardensweek) has been set up for groups and individuals to log events.
Chris Baines, vice president of The Wildlife Trusts, says: "The nation's gardens are hugely important for wildlife and as a habitat network they are second to none.
"Inner-city balconies and courtyards, the suburbs' hedgerows and lawns and the orchards and allotments of market towns and villages all have the potential to be incredibly rich habitats for wildlife.
"There are many simple ways in which we can make our gardens naturally richer. Nest boxes, birdfeeders, log piles, nectar plants, fruiting shrubs, wall climbers and ponds all improve the life chances for many garden creatures and, as each of us improves our garden habitat for wildlife, the plants and animals that we attract will bring more pleasure in return. It's a win-win situation."
Throughout Wild About Gardens Week, talks and events will be held at the four RHS Gardens and Wildlife Trusts visitor centres. There will also be wildflower seed giveaways by the trust and the public will be asked to 'Do One Thing' - whether to create a pond, build a hedgehog house or simply put out some bird seed.
Here are a few suggestions from the celebrities backing the scheme:
"This week gives you the perfect excuse to be a bit lazy and let the grass grow long - research has shown that the lawn contains more native species than any other garden feature," Diarmuid Gavin
"Nature isn't particularly tidy - the countryside is full of piles of leaves, rotting wood, dying plants, nooks and crannies. Taking a more relaxed and less tidy approach to our own gardens benefits wildlife by providing similar habitats and food sources. In turn this keeps the garden more balanced and a lot more healthy," Matthew Wilson
"Make a point of planting a pot of cosmos next year. They flower for many months and are stacked full of nectar at just the time our pollinators appear to be going short," Sarah Raven
"Get hold of a cheap sponge and soak it in a bucket of sugary water (dilute at about one part sugar to four parts water). Pop it out in the garden for butterflies to munch on - they love it!" David Domoney
The Wildlife Trusts and the RHS will be offering free advice and resources via the website www.wildaboutgardens.org.uk and via the RHS Advisory Service.
Best of the bunch - Stipa gigantea
Flowers may be fading, but many ornamental grasses are still going strong, providing structure, movement and colour to borders and pots. Among the best in autumn is Stipa gigantea, or golden oats, originally from Spain and Portugal, which forms neat hummocks of narrow mid-green leaves to 70cm (28in) long, carrying clouds of green flowers on erect stems to 1.5m (5ft) in early summer. In autumn the flowers turn a deep golden brown as they age and persist well into winter. Wait until early spring to cut them down, along with any dead leaves. Grow S. gigantea as a specimen or as a gauzy screen at the back of a border. It does best in full sun in fertile, well-drained soil.
Good enough to eat - Raspberries
You may have enjoyed your summer raspberries but savvy gardeners should now be harvesting autumn-fruiting raspberries, which ripen from late August up to the first frosts. Raspberries are easy to grow in fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of added organic matter. The soil should be neutral or slightly acid - they don't do well on chalky ground. Pick a spot which has sun for at least half the day. They can be planted from January to March with only 90cm (3ft) between rows as they don't grow very tall. Raspberries need to be watered well in dry spells when they are carrying a crop, or the fruit will be small. Protect the fruit from birds by covering the canes with netting. The plants should crop well for about 10 years before they need replacing. Prune canes in mid-February, cutting them all down to a few centimetres above ground level. Good varieties include 'Joan J', a spine-free plant with delicious fruits which you may still be picking in December if we have a mild autumn, and 'All Gold', an unusual yellow-fruited variety.
Top buy - New for lefties...
Left-handed tools are often hard to come by but now Burgon & Ball has launched a left-handed version of its popular Japanese razor hoe made from high-carbon laminated Japanese steel. This sharp, hard-wearing tool is brilliant for breaking up the soil and chopping and removing all weeds in its path. It's invaluable when you are hand-weeding, making light work of even the toughest weeds and cultivating the soil as you go. Available from from good garden centres and www.burgonandball.com, price £12.95.
What to do this week
Plant new climbers, shrubs and trees while the soil is still warm
Clear out summer containers, taking cuttings or saving tender plants if you have space to overwinter them
Check the greenhouse heating and insulate to save heat
Stop feeding and reduce watering for plants in the greenhouse
Make sure bowls of bulbs being forced for indoor flowering do not dry out
Finish pruning out all shoots from rambler and climbing roses that carried flowers as soon as they have faded
Continue blanching leeks, covering plants with tubes of cardboard or drainpipe
Pick crops at their best including marrows, runner beans, spinach, sweetcorn, beetroot and salads
Plant blocks of Dutch iris in sunny positions, to flower in early summer
Propagate new gooseberry bushes by taking hardwood cuttings from healthy plants before their leaves drop
Where grass growth is thin, over-seed now with a suitable grass seed mixture
Cut down marginal plants around pools that are dying back
Plant out hardy primulas raised from seed or divisions