Most of us have put our gardens to bed for the winter and there’s nothing much to do in the open garden and allotment in the present cold weather, except perhaps a little work in the greenhouse. Currently, we are keeping leaves off the paths and lawn, but alongside this, let’s have a think about our local bird wildlife.
As well as stocking up nature’s bird larder with seeds, nuts and a little fruit, let’s plant some shrubs that we know the birds will visit for the berries that the plants will provide in the coming months. These friendly birds that have kept us company with their colours and song through the summer deserve a little help from us now that winter has arrived.
So, now that the cold winds are blowing and ice is on the paths, let’s make sure our wildlife are fed by growing plants and shrubs from which they can feast when the going gets tough. It looks as if we have lots of frosty weather and snow ahead of us.
Although these days, our garden is relatively small, there are still the old faithful shrubs that are fabulous “doers”, providing spring flowers, autumn berries and often fruit, not just for me and my winemaking, but for our lovely birds. For years I’ve been ‘growing for the birds’ and I’ve drawn up a list of home-grown bird food in the form of the shrubs I grow. These are my six favourite shrubs that provide the most splendid and colourful berries.
1. Holly (Ilex aquifolium). Although holly can be a little painful on the fingers when weeding, I love growing the female holly species which produces abundant berries. We do have a male version growing nearby.
2. Ivy (Hedera helix. Robins and wrens seem attracted to common old Ivy, particularly when the black berries appear in mid-winter. Thrushes, waxwings, starlings and jays also seem to be drawn to this plant.
3. Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). As a winemaker, I love this shrub, often grown as a hedge. The shiny red clusters of haws can remain on the branches until February or March and the blackbirds, redwings and chaffinches adore them.
4. Cotoneaster (Contoneaster species). Their berries are a glorious red, but birds to also favour the orange pyracantha, too which bristles with berries from the autumn and they they are quickly stripped off by the thrushes and blackbirds.
5. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia). Depending on which species you plant, the Rowan provides berries for the birds from late July till November. Starlings and backbirds feast hungrily on the berries and it’s rather odd to note that they give the rather exotic white-berried forms, such as Sorbus cashmiriana and Sorbus glabrescens, a miss.
6. Shrub Rose (Rosa species). Rose hips are also used by me in preserves, but I am happy to share them with mistle thrushes and blackbirds who can manage this rather large fruit. Smaller hips of Rosa canina are eaten by a wide range of birds and remain juicy until the end of winter.