Birds play an important role in the ecosystem of our gardens. During the spring and summer months they eat pests such as slugs, snails, caterpillars and aphids and feast on unwanted, bruised windfall fruit. However, as the cooler months approach, many of the insects they eat start to disappear, and birds instead rely on the berries, nuts and seed heads found in our gardens along with the food we put out on bird feeders.
Throughout summer I spent time improving my garden for butterflies and bees, and now I want to concentrate on what plants I can include in my garden to provide natural food for birds to forage from during the colder months.
These are my top 10 plants that will help to turn your garden into a natural food larder for birds this autumn and winter;
- Mahonia x media ‘Winter sun’ – Spikes of vivid yellow flowers appear on this evergreen shrub from November to March. The flowers are followed in early spring by deep purple berries which are hugely enjoyed by birds and perfectly fill the early season feeding gap. Plant in full or partial shade and in well-drained or moist soil.
- Pyracantha angustifolia ‘Saphyr red.’ French name: Buisson-ardent ‘Saphyr rouge.’ The small white flowers of this evergreen shrub are followed in autumn by a profusion of orange-red berries which are adored by birds. Plant in full sun or partial shade and in well-drained soil.
- Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea. French name: Berberis Thunbergii pourpre or épine-vinette de Thunberg naine pourpre. A dwarf, deciduous shrub with sumptuous deep purple leaves which turn blaze red in autumn. The pale yellow flowers of spring are followed by deep red berries which are enjoyed by birds, particularly thrushes and blackbirds. Plant in full sun or partial shade and in well-drained soil.
- Sambucus nigra ‘Black lace.’ French name: Sureau ‘Black lace.’ Deep purple, almost black leaves contrast beautifully with the pale pink, musk scented flowers which adorn the shrub from May to June. In autumn blackish-red berries appear which attract birds and provide a late autumn snack. Plant in full sun and moist, well-drained soil.
- Sunflower, Helianthus annsuus. French name: Soleil. From 1ft to 12ft, from the brightest yellow to the deepest crimson, whichever style of sunflower you love, they are equally adored in autumn by the likes of sparrows, finches, nuthatches and long-tailed tits when their centres turn into huge, natural feeding stations full of plump seeds. Plant in full sun and moist, well-drained soil.
- Viburnum opulus, Guelder rose. French name: Viorne obier. The creamy-white flowers of this deciduous shrub are followed by bright red berries from November to March which are loved by bullfinches and mistle thrushes in particular.
- Ilex, Holly. French name: Houx. We have a large holly bush growing next to our house that blackbirds in particular love picking the bright red berries from during January and February. The berries are equally enjoyed by song thrushes, fieldfares and redwings. There are many different varieties of Holly, some which need both male and female plants in order to produce berries, so read the labels carefully before choosing yours! Plant in moist, but well drained soil in sun or partial shade.
- Hedera helix, Ivy. French name: Lierre grimpant. We’ve had the Holly so now we need the Ivy! From November though to January black berries appear on this evergreen climber which are enjoyed by blackbirds, thrushes, starlings, jays and waxwings.
- Cotoneaster horizontalis. French name: Cotonéaster horizontal. This deciduous shrub is packed full of small red berries from autumn onwards, and is perfect for growing up against a wall. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade.
- Seed heads. OK not a plant, but a suggestion. Leave flower seed heads in place throughout the autumn and winter months. Not only do they add interest to your winter garden but they are also a great source of food for birds. Favourites with the birds include; Teasel, Aster, Cosmos, Rudbeckia, Zinnia, Echinacea purpurea, Echinop and Evening Primrose.
Whilst these naturally foraged berries, fruits, hips and seed heads help to feed the birds, it’s equally important to continue putting out bird food, whether it be shop bought, or created at home from leftovers. To add the finishing touch to your garden bird haven, why not include one of Le Jardin Perdu’s bird feeders.
If you’ve already included plants in your garden to help feed the birds, I’d love to know.