The winter garden

Redwing feeding on hawthorn berries in winter hedgerow © Chris Gomersall

Our gardens form a vitally important network of habitats for wildlife – much like the hedgerows that wind their way across the landscape of Wales.

Visiting birds are paying close attention to garden hedges at this time of year ... and we should celebrate them, too!  They extend all over the country as a network of natural highways, allowing creatures to move in shelter along their length whilst also offering vital food supplies such as berries, nuts and seeds and perhaps a few insects if active.

Winter is also the best time of year to use bare-rooted plants to plant your own hedge. Young hazel, hawthorn, blackthorn, dwarf maple and beech can form a strong backbone, supplemented by occasional holly, elder or guelder rose to fill any gaps. This variety of species creates a much better habitat than a rapidly growing hedge of Leylandii or laurel ... remember, slow and steady wins the race for wildlife!

This Christmastide, you might also want to bring a few sprigs of hedgerow holly into the house to celebrate winter’s natural wonders; use a few hazel twigs to form a star shape to hang from a cord between your curtains; or take a walk to your local forest.  The pine you collect looks and smells wonderful when simply arranged in a bowl on the table, or can be bound into a beautiful garland above the fire.

Female blackbird drinking at garden pond

Female blackbird drinking at garden pond © Richard Burkmar

Finally, as the nights draw in and temperatures drop, our own opportunities to (willingly!) go out to the garden decline.  However, it's still important to remember to venture out often enough to feed the birds – and to ensure that plentiful supplies of clean, unfrozen water are available. You might even have a surprise visitor – the range of species visiting gardens is at its most diverse at this time of the year as our feathered friends venture further from their natural habitats to look for food.