Bumper berries, thrushes and stinks

Bumper berries, thrushes and stinks


Apparently it’s been a great year for berries due to a warm, dry spring, followed by July and August rains.

On the local roadside slopes I’d noticed a huge spreading mat of red – which I believe is cotoneaster horizontalis! I’ve never seen it so noticeable everywhere before! Quite stunning!


A good year for berries, is good news for birds. A couple of weeks ago I took an early Sunday walk over Seaford Head and was delighted to see not one but three different thrushes feasting on the harvest! This weekend too at Sheffield Park, there were plenty more thrushes feeding in the trees and shrubs!

The first was a beautiful song thrush, a native bird that has declined by 50% in the 25 years to  1995. I rarely spot a thrush and its always a welcome sight


Continuing on my walk I spot a couple of redwings too. In my photos the red wing is not really visible but the marked eye stripe is unmistakeable. Redwings are generally Winter visitors, arriving in October/November so my redwings may have just arrived and be travelling north.


The third one was a fieldfare, also a Winter migrant. Often seen in big chuckling flocks!


On wet and cold November days it would be easy to get depressed about the onset of Winter but there are some advantages . We may have said goodbye for now to some birds such as these swallows busy feeding and preening before heading south..


But the arrival of other birds such as the lovely redwings and fieldfares can only be a bonus. One day I also hope to spot some waxwings feasting on British berries too, in a supermarket carpark or wherever they descend! Bring on the berry eaters!

Not all berries are eaten by the birds. This beautiful one is stinking iris (iris foetidissima) I believe,  found in open woodland, hedges and on seacliffs. Also known as scarlet-berry Iris, Gladdon, Gladwin Iris, Roast-beef Plant, and Stinking Gladwin.  The names come from the smell of the sword-shaped leaves when they are crushed or bruised – a smell that is said to resemble rotten raw beef! The plant has a long history of medicinal use but can be rather powerful.


Another advantage of the bare branches is that birds are getting rather easier to spot!


I’ve spotted a couple of blackbirds back in my garden too! Hurrah for that, they have finally forgiven me for getting rid of the lawn. Possibly tempted in by the rather pitiful crop of crab apples, and the cotoneaster. As the wind blows and the rain falls, I’ll be filling up the bird feeders and watching out!


Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

Autumn Fires

Robert Louis Stevenson

Winter gloom and the darkling thrush



So where has the time gone? One minute the Winter is dragging on and the next we are galloping towards Summer. So what has happened in my coastal garden so far this year?

Well this Winter wasn’t so bad. Not too much wind and rain, no real storms taking all the fences away (though there is still time!)  A couple of frosty spells, but nothing too severe. The Winter pansies I grew from seed last year hunkered down stubbornly refusing to bloom until Spring arrived. The rosemary bush seems to have doubled in size and most shrubs seem to have survived well except possibly the ceanothus I was given in October. It really needed more shelter from the wind than I could give it.

The potatoes I grew in a pot for Christmas dinner got forgotten in December. When I did find time to check them, I found a little bucketful of perfect tiny new potatoes. They were soon cooked and covered in home made aioli. Mm garlic!


The wagtails and wood pigeons made themselves at home. The starlings grew their coats of many colours, and came crashing into the garden at regular intervals for food and a bath (even on the coldest days where I had to break the ice with a hammer and boiling water)


Since December I’ve been working at home two days a week, and it’s been lovely getting a view out onto my garden, especially in the depths of Winter when otherwise I wouldn’t see it from one weekend to the next. I even got a glimpse of the black redstart venturing in, and posing cockily on the bird feeder station, and the fence.

A number of the plants in pots were dying/suffering, and after emptying a couple I found that most were infested with vine weevil. Quite a few of the little blighters were moved  to the bird table (a tasty snack much appreciated by the starlings) and I’ve had to empty the worst pots, and have drenched the rest with a nematode, and top dressed with gravel. From now on, no plant comes in the garden without a root inspection! It does explain why some pots like the trellis planter did badly last year regardless of which plants were in it, and where I put it. You live and learn. I was most worried about the crab apple tree in a pot, but it seems to have made it.

Inside my heated propagator and sunny windowsills were filled with little trays of seeds and I’m dreaming of Summer.

The song thrush had been and gone, clearing the bushes of berries through the dusky afternoons, and moving on again.  


The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate

When Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter’s dregs made desolate

The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

Had sought their household fires.


At once a voice arose among

The bleak twigs overhead

In a full-hearted evensong

Of joy illimited;  

By Thomas Hardy

 Just when it seems that Winter will never end, come the first buds appear. Behold the joy of Spring.







Tumbling toms and thunbergia


T is for tomatoes. I may not have a greenhouse or a lot of space, but I do still like to squeeze in some Tomato plants. Tumbling Tom is a favourite so I grew that one and a new one maskotka. Hard to choose between them really, both did really well in some bargain big £1 tubs from Ikea, in a corner that doesn’t get a huge amount of sun, but is more sheltered from the wind than most of the sunny side. Plenty of cherry tomatoes, and enough  green ones left for four jars of chutney.


Walk a few yards up the hill behind our houses and you’ll soon spot some Thrift (often known as sea pinks) growing on the slopes and edge of the cliffs. It feels most at home there and in my garden where it is most welcome


In the Spring of course a succession of bulbs start to cheer up the pots. The tulip bulbs probably need replacing, they weren’t as great this year, they really don’t keep all that well.


We usually head out to some National Trust or other gardens in the Spring to get the best displays!



A new plant for me this year is this fantastic Thunbergia (superstar orange). It grows from seed to a substantial climber in one season. What gorgeous orange flowers they are. It did quite well in my garden, but not as well as the one I gave my mum. She’s not really a gardener (My Dad always used to do the garden) but following directions, she kept it in her conservatory, then planted it in her front garden against a warm wall, and it positively blossomed, far longer than mine did! Quite stunning




Another stunning T is a visitor to the garden in January, a Thrush. I only ever see them in January for a short period, while they (or possibly just the one!) clear the berries from the shrubs at the bottom of the alley way. A lovely way to cheer up my cold and frosty January!


New birds on the block


New birds on the block

He who shall hurt the little wren / Shall never be beloved by men.” William Blake

New to my garden this year, is a beautiful thrush which has been busy digging worms out of the lawn, and waking me up before dawn with flute like singing when we have the windows open.


Also for a couple of months I’ve had a wren, that darts all around the patio, and garden pots, flicking its tail looking for insects. Apparently these are Britain’s most common breeding bird, which is a little surprising. I wonder if it will nest nearby! These are also good singers, and very loud for such a tiny bird.

I’m also nearly certain I saw a goldcrest fly from my garden to a nearby pine tree so will be keeping a close eye out for that one! I’ve changed my birdseed to a no-mess mixture and as a result the sparrows have been in a lot less, but it’s possible it will attract other birds. I’ve already seen the robin on the feeder which is unusual.


And the kittiwakes are back. Marking out the best nesting spots on the cliffs, and cosily pairing up.


There are bees (early mining bees I think) on the willow branches overhanging from next door, and even a butterfly or two

In the garden the bulbs keep coming, a wonderful display and I’m looking forward to the garden bursting back into life. The shrubs are doing well and putting on a lot of growth, especially the euonymus fortunei that I‘m trying to grow into a small hedge, and the box plants. The bamboo is looking very brown though, probably a combination of winter wind burn and lack of water as it’s difficult for the roots to get enough water even when its wet. Must cut it back and give it a feed to see if we can revive it.


And the camellia is back in flower, glorious


Also went into Brighton and bought some more nice pots back for Mr W to drill drainage holes in. You can never have too many pots!

I’ve been busy in the mini greenhouse, and on the warm window ledges with my heated propagator so there are plenty of seedlings on the way, but I must say a lot have been very slow to grow, only finally speeding up this week! The exception is the rampant sweet peas that are now around a foot high and getting too big for the little greenhouse.

Enjoy the sunshine!