Q How can I help my garden birds to help themselves?

Introduce shrubs, berries, feeders and nest pouches, says Sara Edwards

A garden design that helps birds to help themselves

by Liz Potter |

Have you ever hung a bird feeder in your garden only to find the birds just don’t seem interested? It might be that it doesn’t feel safe enough to use. The slightest noise or movement, or the arrival of a neighbour’s cat or sparrowhawk, can trigger an alarm call that sends the birds scattering into nearby hedges and trees.

Making the birds feel safe is key to them feeding confidently in your garden. While you can’t necessarily stop a neighbour’s cat from prowling around, you can offer the birds more cover to retreat to whenever they feel threatened. Here I’ve brought together a number of ideas to make a more welcoming garden for birds – largely by increasing the available habitat for them.

Although the garden is large and enclosed by surrounding trees, most of those trees belong to neighbouring gardens. Introducing a mix of native and ornamental trees, evergreen shrubs and hedging around the central interlocking lawn and wildflower meadow instantly makes the garden more wildlife friendly.

Birds are not only looking for shelter: they also want high branches where they can keep watch, as well as safe nesting opportunities and something to eat and drink. Here I’ve chosen trees and shrubs that offer a va-riety of autumn berries or fruit that last long into winter, providing a natural food source as well as a place to perch and roost.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a beautiful brick wall boundary, but any solid fence or garage wall lends itself

to training prickly, autumn-fruiting climbers along wires. This not only offers birds food to eat but also safe places to roost and breed because the prickles deter any would-be predators. And while you’re waiting for the climbers to grow, you can fix nesting boxes and roosting pouches securely to it.

Adding a small patch of wildflower meadow next to the lawn makes any garden more wildlife friendly. The aim is to let the grass grow long over summer, leaving the seedheads in place to create a habitat that’s ideal for insects, beetles and the like. Birds such as robins, thrushes and blackbirds can forage for these critters and enjoy the wildflower seeds too.

Like many gardens, this one has a shed tucked away in the corner. The curved path takes you on a journey to-wards it, past a low water bowl with rocks placed inside where birds can drink or bathe. The path leads on to a climber-covered metal arch and fence, which screens the shed from view.


Planting plan for bird-friendly garden
Planting plan for bird-friendly garden ©SARA EDWARDS/BAUER MEDIA

1 Betula pendula Our native silver birch has delicate diamond-shaped leaves dangling gracefully from its branches, spring catkins and attractive peeling white bark. Sun/dappled shade. H15m (49ft) S4m (13ft)

2 Pyracantha ‘Soleil d’Or’ Dense thorny evergreen shrub, perfect for training on a wall. White flowers May-June; profusion of orange berries that birds love in autumn. Sun/part shade.

H2.5m (8ft) S3m (10ft)

3 Achillea ‘Apfelblüte’ (‘Appleblossom’) Large pink plate-like umbels above ferny foliage, May-Oct. Attractive to hoverflies, bees and butterflies, plus birds eat the seeds. Full sun. H80cm (32in) S40cm (16in)

4 Helianthus annuus ‘Autumn Beauty’ Annual sunflower with 15cm (6in) bicolour blooms in bronze, lemon, mahogany, cream and gold, July-Sept. Shade tolerant. H1.8m (6ft) S45cm (18in)

5 Foeniculum vulgare Ornamental herb fennel with finely divided foliage. Often used in herbaceous borders. Yellow umbel flowers May-June produce seeds that birds enjoy. Full sun. H1.8m (6ft) S60cm (2ft)

6 Anemanthele lessoniana Evergreen grass ideal for winter interest as its slender foliage is streaked with yel-low, orange and red as it ages. Sun/part shade. H and S1m (3ft 3in)

7 Echinacea purpurea ‘Rainbow Marcella’ Single petal apricot-orange flowers fade to a soft pink July-Sept. Attractive winter seedheads for wildlife. Full sun. H50cm (20in) S60cm (2ft)

8 Rosa ‘Kew Rambler’ Thorny rambling rose with fragrant pink single flowers, July-Aug. Orange-red hips in autumn. Sun/part shade; happy on a north-facing wall. H and S6m (20ft)

9 Sorbus aucuparia Our native mountain ash has pinnate leaves turning red and yellow in autumn. It has white flowers Apr-May and red-orange berries into winter. Sun/part shade. H6m (20ft) S4m (13ft)

10 Lonicera periclymenum Native deciduous woody climber with fragrant tubular flowers July-Aug and glossy red berries in autumn. Sun/part shade. H7m (23ft) S3.5m (11ft)

11 Viburnum opulus Vigorous native shrub with lacecap white flowers April-May. Leaves turn red, and it has glossy red berries in autumn. Sun/full or part shade. H8m (26ft) S4m (13ft)

12 Ilex aquifolium ‘Argentea Marginata’ This holly has silver-edged dark green leaves and masses of red ber-ries if a male is near. Sun/part shade. H15m (49ft) S3m (10ft)

13 Malus ‘Winter Gold’ Perfect crab apple for small gardens with dark green leaves, white blossom April-May, good autumn colour and golden fruit. Sun/part shade. H and S6m (20ft)

14 Buddleja weyeriana ‘Sungold’ Butterfly bush with fragrant yellow flower clusters attracting pollinators all summer. Sun/part shade. H4m (13ft) S3m (10ft)

15 Sesleria autumnalis Evergreen grass tends to put on new growth in autumn and spring; dies back in sum-mer when it flowers. Sun/part shade. H1m (3ft 3in) S60cm (2ft)

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us