I have two gardens – no actually, I have three really – on account of the garden wrapping round the house on three sides and each one being somewhat different and separate.
That sounds rather grand, but in reality, they’re each very small (each has an area approximately the same footprint as the house itself) and even their combined area wouldn’t qualify as a ‘small garden’ by landscape gardening and TV garden show standards.
On the kitchen side of the house is what we call the ‘railway garden’ on account of it being adjacent to a local railway line running a tourist steam railway. A rather grand name for a rather scrubby patch of land that we can’t do very much with. When we bought the house, in the late 80s, there were a few bushes and scrub outside the perimeter of this garden at the very end triangular tip of an area of woodland behind the row of houses and we got a lot of morning sunshine.
As the years passed, the scrub became trees and the light levels diminished and things consequently didn’t grow quite so well. The garden area was badly damaged in a freak flood that deposited tons of rubble on the lawn a few years ago and the buildings insurance covered it being re-landscaped.
We decided that it’s position under trees that we couldn’t trim (and didn’t necessarily want to) was best served by doing away with the lawned area and to landscape it as a bird garden. We’d always kept feeders in that area due to the surrounding trees, so covering the original lawn area with coarse gravel, with large stone slabs to take feeders and tables, surrounded by some potted planting and seats, suited us well.
We rarely occupied that garden, as the adjacent woodland made it a bug fest on summer evenings and it is actually open around the house, so not very private, so keeping it as one for viewing from the three large windows on that side of the house, rather than being out in, was the best use of the space.
I keep the hanging bird feeders filled (largely with sunflower hearts, all birds seem to like them) and take out loose food for the tables, as required, along with warm water in winter. I make up my own mix of sunflower hearts, sultanas, chopped peanuts and supplemented with occasional stale biscuits, crushed fat balls and grated cheese. I obviously have a reputation for putting out good stuff as some of the cheekier visitors will remind me at the window if there isn’t much left – or what remains doesn’t contain their favourite morsels.
I have a very good selection of feathered visitors, from regular and widespread garden birds like robins, great tits, blue tits, coal tits, blackbirds, gold finches, dunnocks and sparrows to slightly more rural visitors like nuthatches, bullfinches, collared doves, wood pigeons, wrens, long tailed tits, jackdaws, crows and woodpeckers. I occasionally see a tree creeper and tawny owl too.
At present I have at least three thrushes – in that I’ve seen three at once on several occasions – and they, like the blackbirds, are especially partial to some fruit. I put out a plentiful supply of sultanas in cold weather and they’re always the first thing to go – crows and magpies will also come down to the furthest table at the fence-line if they spot sultanas on there – but they’re more timid about venturing onto the tables closer to the house.
Between the 6 or 7 blackbirds I have, with the three thrushes and a selection of other occasional visitors, the sultanas are picked from the mix in a matter of minutes and then those that feel they have missed out will tell me so.
The thrush above is one such feathered friend. She stands on the front-most corner of the table near the kitchen window until she catches my eye and gestures with her head that there is a lack of dried fruit. If I take some out, she’ll return to feed and bob her head in acknowledgment from the same spot. I took the photograph above yesterday morning when we had a few moments of weak, wintry sunshine and she arrived for her elevenses. It amazes me how quickly thrushes and blackbirds can stuff their beaks with whole fruits and swallow them in the blink of an eye. Makes me wonder how they can become so partial to them when they don’t appear to even taste them.
So despite the diminutive scale of my bird garden, in which little grows, the very trees that make it dark also bring me these lovely visitors, so how could I possibly mind.