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How to attract birds to your winter garden. Part two: winter flowering shrubs for you and the birds

wintersweetI think that I get more pleasure from winter flowering shrubs than any other shrubs in the garden. When they flower it’s like a surprise visit from an old friend. The birds like them too; the flowers attract insects and these in their turn attract the birds.

My Mother advised me to plant winter flowering shrubs near the house, this was good practical advice as we don’t spend much time pottering in the depths of the garden when it’s chilly. She also pointed out that it would be a good idea to put the most scented shrubs in the front garden so we could enjoy the scent in a part of the garden that we walk through every day.

How to attract birds to your winter garden. Part one: setting up

This wise advice has paid dividends. Also the guidance of my main supplier, R&R Saggers Nursery Garden in Newport. They gave me so much help and encouragement when I set up the garden fourteen years ago. The nursery is delightfull and well worth a visit.

We had a lovely Hamamelis Mollis in the back garden. It sat in its own box-edged circular border. A glorious fountain of gold in November through December. It died this summer and I was gutted. It wasn’t wildly attractive in the summer but we filled the border with cosmos and the old fashioned tobacco plants (nicotiana sylvestris) that grew quite tall, and into the branches of the shrub. We still haven’t decided what to replace it with. Now I know a bit more about gardening, the pressure is on. My mind is a blank. I’d like a shrub with summer and winter interest that doesn’t grow taller than six feet. Any ideas would be more than welcome.

A tall Mahonia Charity (Lily of the valley bush) grows near the back door. Sweet smelling, its flowers are dramatic. The flowering fronds, falling with great bursts of flowers, are accentuated by the dark evergreen foliage and are always unexpected. We also have a mature Viburnum Farreri that flowers on and off all winter. This is at the entrance to the pond garden. The small clusters of scented flowers are exquisite, and heartening in a vase on a dressing table.

Our best friends live in the front garden. Wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) grows ten feet from the house. It’s just on the edge of the grass and for years Danny used to reverse into the drive at phenomenal speed, often giving this shrub a bit of a tickle up when he parked just a millimetre away. My complaints were ignored until one day he opened his car door and sniffed the spicy, sweet aroma. It does look a bit nondescript in the summer but comes into its own throughout the winter with its creamy yellow flowers.

My favourite shrub is a winter flowering honeysuckle that grows beside the front door L. Winter Beauty. This has a shrubby nature, so doesn’t need training. It thrives in a warm dry spot and is clipped back hard twice a year (although I note that the BBC gardening site does not recommend this practice). It should grow to maximum five feet but ours romps along and needs a firmish hand. It flowers on and off, in mild patches throughout the winter with heady, lemony scent. A small bunch of these will scent a warm room and lift spirits even if the telephone bill has just dropped through the door.

I found three nests in the shrubs at the front of the cottage towards the end of the summer when I was painting the house. Tiny apartments for blue tits, I suspect. Lined with moss and the tiniest of down feathers. Never destroy nests. Occasionally I’ve seen little birds roosting in them in cold weather and often nests are used again the following spring.

The earliest bulbs, snowdrop, aconite and crocus all attract insects so plant loads of these if they are not already established in your garden. We have a super pale blue crocus that has spread over the front garden here. It even pushes though the gravel. I always marvel that such a delicate flower can push through the stones and survive. If you divide clumps of snowdrops after flowering, when they are still “in the green”, they will spread much faster, give you a better show and attract more wildlife.

We hang bird feeders in the honeysuckle bush by the front door, positioned carefully to give us a good view from the kitchen table. It’s the combination of bird food and insects that attracts them. The range of birds is much greater in the front garden than on the bird table at the back. Perhaps this is a territorial thing.

It’s so easy to take this busy bird restaurant for granted. Sometimes I spot a lunch guest gazing, goggled eyed at the shrub filled with birds and I realise how lucky we are.

***The RSPB online shop has a great selection of feeders and bird food*** 

How to attract birds to your winter garden. Part one: setting up

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