Red Berry, Yellow Berry

Virburnum opulus, the Guelder Rose

Viburnum opulus

I have always believed that garden birds generally take the red berries first followed by the yellow berries, then, if they are hungry enough, the pink berries and finally, almost reluctantly, they might take the white berries.

Sorbus hupehensis

Sorbus hupehensis

I therefore found it strange that this year the pink and white berries of my Rowans, Sorbus hupehensis and Sorbus cashmeriana are already stripped bare while the Hawthorns, Cotoneaster and Pyracantha are still laden with red and yellow berries!

Macro of pyracantha berries

Pyracantha berries

The Blackbirds, in particular, relished the white berries and performed incredible feats of balance and ingenuity to get them from the very ends of the wispish branches, bending them double and often jumping from one stem to another or taking them on the pass as they descended.

I read that flocks of Waxwings are coming to Britain this year due to the poor berry harvest in mainland Europe so I am hoping to see my first one this year. We have already had Redwings, Fieldfares, Blackcaps, Jays and Woodpeckers, partly attracted by the variety of food we put out daily, but also the wonderful feast of berries in Gloucestershire this year. Incidentally, we have found that one of the favourite foods is leftover raw pastry from the mince pies and the trimmings from marzipan.

Cat-pyracantha berries

Another idea I like the sound of is an old coconut shell filled with super-saver crunchy peanut butter (340g jar is 62p from Morrisons or Asda) mixed with birdseed and porridge oats.  It’s a different take on using suet and seeds but even more delicious! Watch out for squirrels though, they love peanuts so try to make it inaccessible to them.

Today’s Top Tip – Rooting Cuttings

Stock photo not relevant to post

I am in the process of taking semi-hardwood cuttings from various shrubs around the garden, something I do every year about this time as insurance against death and disease, to increase my stock of plants and to provide spares to sell and swap at various horticultural events. I was musing about rooting cuttings in water when I came across this amazing bit of advice on the internet:

“To promote faster rooting, cut small pieces of willow stems and place them in the water. Willows have a natural plant hormone (IBA). This is the same hormone that is synthesized in many rooting compounds, so soaking the stems in willow water causes rooting to occur more quickly. Willow water can also be used to water the new cuttings to promote root growth.”

Frankly, I was astonished at the simplicity of this idea and the science behind it, and wondered if it had been born from serious scientific research or whether it was just discovered by accident. Whatever the origin of the tip, I can’t wait to try it! If anyone has already tried and it works, let me know!

‘Handy’ hint!

A lot of gardeners use Felco secateurs, I am one of them and have two pairs. They are wonderful and I wouldn’t be without them. They are my constant companions and, thanks to Helen Yemm’s advice column in the Daily Telegraph, I now even send mine away each year to Burton McCall in Leicester to be serviced, sharpened and cleaned. BUT….despite their undoubted quality and celebrity following, there are certain issues……..

Firstly, like all precision tools, they are ‘reassuringly expensive’, although they do come with a lifetime guarantee. If they were a foodstuff, they would only be sold in Waitrose. I have seen them for sale in various outlets for between £30 for the Economy version which nobody would want to own, to over £65 for the all singing, all dancing No. 7 with one revolving handle which “spreads muscular force evenly over all fingers, reducing the effort by a third and preventing tendonitis and inflammation“.

Secondly, judging from their weight and size, they are generally made for people with a large hand span, although there is a compact version No.12 for just £55!

The third problem is that you really need a holster on your belt for the Felcos because they are too big and heavy to fit in your pocket. If you leave them lying around there is a real danger of losing them. Personally, I don’t use a holster, I slip them in my back pocket and just hope they don’t fall out.

My wife, who has small hands, finds my Felcos too big and heavy for cutting flowers for the house, deadheading the annuals and general pruning. Instead, she uses an ancient, but small pair of cheap secateurs we probably got free with a magazine subscription, now blunt and useless.

Then I came across the Pocket Pruner from Burgon & Ball, a beautifully crafted pair of secateurs weighing just 150g and only 17cm long. Guaranteed for five years and with carbon steel blades, a sap groove to prevent sticking, an easy to operate and reliable finger lock and cushioned handles make them almost as good as Felcos, and the smaller size fits my wife’s hands perfectly. Best of all they just slip into her pocket and, at the time of writing, are just £12.95 from Amazon!

Today’s Top Tip

I have just read a most exciting tip in the latest edition of ‘The Cottage Gardener’, the quarterly magazine of The Cottage Garden Society and I thought I would pass it on.

I am indebted to Jo Webber from Looe, Cornwall, who wrote about her successful experiment of increasing her stock of Verbena bonariensis by layering, a propagation technique more commonly used with shrubs such as forsythia, daphne, viburnum, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias. Jo explained that in October, when the plants had finished flowering, she cut off the seedheads and gently bent the tall stems to the ground, covering them with soil at each leaf node. Apart from making sure they did not dry out, Jo then ignored them until April when she was delighted to find lots of new plants! They were separated from the main stem and replanted where she wanted them.

A very unusual way of propagating an herbaceous perennial but I suppose it makes sense that in Spring, the growth hormones will be strongest in the leaf axils where side shoots would naturally form. Jo doesn’t say whether she wounded the stem at each leaf node before burying them, something you would normally do with shrubs, but maybe that is not required in this case.

I think this is an amazing and innovative idea and something I am definitely going to try for myself. I already have quite a few plants of this variety but I would happily have more. Normally, the stems would die back and new shoots would appear from the base each year but I have noticed that in mild winters, this species often shoots again from the previous years growth although a late frost can cut it down.

Thanks Jo!