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At the time of writing this (when the country has just gone into lockdown again) I am watching a flock of birds strip the berries on my holly. It’s as though they have left them for me over Christmas and then started feasting in the new year. The same thing happens every January and they are having such a wonderful time!!

The Birds

I managed to identify them many years ago as redwings but sometimes there are fieldfares but both are related to our thrushes. They migrate from Northern Europe and further afield to our shores in the UK and are often seen in large numbers in domestic gardens stripping all the berries on our plants! They rarely breed here so the important thing as well as encouraging our native birds is to provide a feast for the visiting migrants.

The Plants

In my garden it is the holly berries they come for every year so only the people who have holly in my neighbourhood benefit (or suffer depending on how you want to look at it!) I love plants that hold onto berries for the winter as they look so beautiful, especially paired with yellow Mahonia and bright Cornus stems, but I also expect the winter thrushes to arrive on 1st January regular as clockwork, in fact I look out for them now.

Ilex aquifolium is the native green holly which is either male or female and it’s only the female plants that provide the berries. There are also many many different species and cultivars to add interest to the garden as well as providing food for the birds. I love Ilex x altaclarensis ‘Golden King’ which oddly is female and as well as having beautiful golden variegated foliage is covered in berries at this time of year. An interesting fact is that the redwings have stripped the native hollies first, leaving the others alone!

Pyracantha and Cotoneaster are also very prolific berry producers and although birds prefer the red ones, other coloured berries can make a kaleidoscope of brightness in the winter months.

I was always told Callicarpa is left alone by birds because the berries are purple but on a recent visit to Wisley watched a thrush tucking into them greedily without a second thought about their colour!

Get planting!

So let’s get some berry plants in the garden this year so we can all enjoy the scenes I have just witnessed. If you are in doubt about the berry producing properties buy mature plants with the berries on already to be certain of a bountiful harvest next year. Plant one, plant 100 but just get planting!

Cathie’s Gardening School Services 

Consultancies are continuing and I can still help you in your garden. Unfortunately the gardening school has had to close but we’ll be up and running again in the Spring.

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