SEEDS TO FEED THE BIRDS
Planting to provide a bountiful supply of berries and seeds will add sculptural form to your winter garden and nurture wildlife throughout the leaner months
Planting to provide a bountiful supply of berries and seeds will add sculptural form to your winter garden and nurture wildlife through the leaner months
the pure, skeletal beauty of a garden left to hold its own through winter has many advantages. As the frosts arrive, mixed borders that would once have been chopped back and cleared in the zealous pursuit of ‘tidying’ offer all sorts of unexpected pleasures. Eryngiums, rimed with frost, sparkle as the sun comes up and catches their spiky heads. Cardoons, still standing tall, despite the ravages of autumn rains and plunging temperatures, offer a lasting glimpse of the bounty they held during the summer months. Lower down, grasses in soft shades of beige and tan take on a magical sugar-coated outline and even the humble dog rose reveals renewed charm as droplets of water freeze to form glistening ice beads under each hip. We are not the only ones to appreciate these late-season riches. Resident birds, as well as those tempted in from the countryside beyond, enjoy the display, too, but for different reasons. Birds can struggle to find all the food they need in winter and, as the RSPB has calculated that the total area of gardens in the UK is more than three times that of all its bird reserves put together, it’s clear that garden plants can play a vital part in providing a natural food source, particularly in the sparse winter months and on into early spring.
Stocking the larder for them through your choice of plants, or setting up your own “cottage garden service station”, as wildlife expert and author Chris Baines calls it, is very rewarding. It has long been thought that native species are best for birds but more recent research has revealed that a greater variety of cultivars offered in a garden can provide the varied diet that birds need.
“There are four different features to consider: fruits and berries, obviously; seeds; nesting material and provision of cover,” Chris says. “In addition, when you do come to cut the garden down, you can chop up any hollow stems into short lengths and pop them