Gardening with Nature on the Edge of the Atlantic

Winter Berries
for the Birds

 26 December 2020

Storm Bella is on the way and I have been providing the birds with double rations of bird food to help them through the next few days. My five-year-old hedgerows are providing some shelter, but many of the small birds seem to live in the acres of gorse and brambles on my neighbour’s property and should be safe enough. I have always hated these two plants as they can take over a garden in a minute, but now look at them with different eyes as they are so essential to the small birds in this inhospitable climate. Currently I am using commercial bird food but would hope to grow most of what the birds need in my garden in the years to come. One of the stumbling blocks may be their voracious appetite. The six to eight holly bushes at the end of my drive were laden with berries in early November. It took the pigeons and blackbirds just four days to strip them bare. So much for leaving some for a rainy day! They may have been helped by other birds but even so they all must have been stuffed to the gills.

Holly berries must be one of the most popular food sources for small birds. However, in this garden the spindle tree above comes a close second. I have seen wrens, blackbirds and robins all feeding from my hedge at the same time. Sadly, the fruits are all gone by now and so are not much use in the coldest part of the year.

The Leycesteria formosa or ‘Golden Lantern’ is still fruiting and is one of the last shrubs to have any berries. It is popular with a number of small birds including blackbirds. Pheasants are supposed to enjoy the berries but they tend to stay behind the gate on the driveway to avoid the dogs. I must make a note to myself to plant a few of them in the hedgerow on the drive as a change from the commercial bird food they are gobbling up now.

The robins are the cheekiest of all the small birds in the garden and will now feed from the bird table as I am filling it. I have been surprised by the courage of the blue and great tits as they are rarely alarmed by my appearance now and will continue feeding as I potter about the bird table. Sadly, most of the rest of the birds move too quickly for me to get a clear photograph and I have a lot of colourful blurs on my camera. Perhaps photography lessons are in order.

2 January 2020

The sun setting in the last few hours of storm Bella

Storm Bella has quickly been followed by a series of hard frosts and I am very glad that the birds have their extra rations. This cold is unusual here even at this time of the year and the sodden ground has become an ice rink. At these times I wish I had paws, as the dogs fly around the garden with very steady feet and seem to expect me to do the same.

The frost covered shrubbery on the hillside

Other sources of colour in the garden

Despite the cold I have still managed to find some blossoms for the house on Christmas day. Some of the Hebe produce blossoms throughout the year and seem indestructible. This is in spite of the severe frosts that have been a regular occurrence in the last month. There are even a few battered hydrangea blossoms in my ‘bouquet’.

Abelia grandiflora still providing colour if not flowers

This Hebe is like a full bouquet in miniature

Christmas tree

This year I have continued with my tradition of cutting a branch from a tree that needs pruning and using it as a Christmas tree. I can’t ever imaging buying or cutting down an evergreen tree again for the purpose. This year I am using a hawthorn tree. As it did last year the branch is starting to produce leaves in the heat of the house. It also comes pre-decorated with lichen so the effect is very natural.

My Christmas ‘tree’ branching out

The end of 2020

It has been a very difficult year for everyone and 2021 starts with another lockdown here in Ireland. Somehow the storms, frosts, flooding and ‘crop’ failures in my little corner are put into perspective when compared to the effects of Covid-19. However, it is not all doom and gloom. I am still using vegetables from the garden and the new garlic plants are thriving. The tulips and daffodils are above ground. The shortest day has passed and having the space of a garden is a blessing in these times even if it is too cold to work outside for long. With luck 2021 will be a much better year for all.

The evening winter sun on the bay below the house

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