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

Country Living (UK) - - Contents - Words by paula mcwa­ters pho­to­graphs by an­drea jones

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

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