Brighten up your winter garden with bird-friendly plants
'Birdscape' your garden by planting a few of nature's own bird feeders! A fine display of colourful berries will attract all kinds of feathered winter visitors, as well as providing you with some lively border interest through the colder months.
Birds have excellent colour vision and are especially attracted to yellows, oranges and reds. It's thought that plants evolved these clusters of bright berries especially to please a bird's eye, enticing the bird to the fruit and thereby using the bird to disperse the plant's seeds!
Nourishing as they are for the birds, most of the winter fruits featured here are either indigestible or toxic to humans, so please take care that small children aren't tempted by their bright colours. The crab apples are the exception, though they're generally too sour straight from the tree. Make crab apple jelly instead!
The showy berries of the pyracantha (main image above) are bird magnets! Give one of these glossy evergreen shrubs some space in the garden and dozens of wintering birds will drop in regularly to partake of the fruit.
Hardy pyracantha plants can generally handle any garden aspect, so long as they're not in full shade. Be aware, however, that beneath pyracantha's thick foliage lots of very sharp thorns lie hidden - great for a hedge to deter unwanted visitors such as foxes; perhaps not so great for your own pets or for near children's play areas.
Crab apple trees
A crab apple tree is a superb investment for the garden, repaying you year after year: gorgeous sprays of blossom in the spring, autumn fruits for preserves and, if you leave an amount of fruit on the tree, lots of wildlife visits during the winter months.
Tangy crab apple and rose hip jelly is a very British treat - just as good on a buttered crumpet with a cup of tea as it is with roast pork on Sunday afternoon.
Winter blues? Imagine sprays of fragrant yellow flowers lighting up your garden, providing nectar for late-foraging bees, followed by masses of juicy, bird-friendly berries. The striking architecture of the mahonia japonica is a boon for boring borders and wildlife alike.
Mahonia's spiky leaves make it another plant useful for 'intruder-proofing' the periphery of your garden. Happily, this plant needs little attention once established in a shady, well-draining spot.
Late cotoneaster (cotoneaster lacteus)
Bees and butterflies love the clusters of white flowers that appear on this cotoneaster before the small red berries draw in the birds in late autumn.
Wildlife-friendly gardeners recommend the evergreen cotoneaster as an excellent choice for informal hedging, being drought-tolerant, low maintenance and generally tough as old boots.
What says 'winter cheer' better than the fire-engine red of holly berries? At its finest in the dead of winter, this magical tree symbolises life and regeneration in British folklore - and provides a good feed to many hungry animals during the cold weather.
Holly bushes keep their berries year-round in many cases and can be pruned as hard as you like to any shape you want - re-growing even from a scrap of woody stem.
To grow berries for the birds, you'll need to plant a male tree and a female tree in close proximity.
Much maligned as a destroyer of walls, in fact an English Heritage study has shown that a well-controlled ivy plant on a wall or fence in decent condition will be of much benefit: both by covering a shady or barren area of the garden quickly and by providing lots of shelter and nourishment for wildlife.
The pretty, purple-tinted ivy berries ripen in winter when most other berries have already been eaten and are much appreciated by blackbirds and thrushes.