The bird-friendly Batteleys Cottage garden
PUBLISHED: 12:40 22 January 2018 | UPDATED: 12:40 22 January 2018
© Anne Green-Armytage 2015
In just a few years the garden at Batteleys Cottage has been transformed into a mature, richly planted haven for birds. Annie Green-Armytage paid a visit
Set in the midst of sandy heath, pasture and woodland, the garden at Batteleys Cottage is off to a good start when it comes to attracting birdlife. Add a wide range of insect-attracting plants, mature tree cover and a generous splash of water, and you have a winning combination.
With more than 50 different species of bird visiting their garden, Linda and Andy Simpson are delighted that their bird-friendly strategy has paid off. “When we first came here the garden was hugely overgrown and there were already a lot of birds,’ explains Linda. ‘We were really worried that as we cleared, the birds would go, but thankfully they haven’t.”
The couple moved to the Norfolk-Suffolk border from Essex in 2010. The garden was initially full of trees, including many tall leylandii, laurel, and a large overgrown hazel in the centre of the lawn. Andy reached for the chainsaw for the first time in his life and started to clear these, but even so, in the early days Linda had reservations.
“Every time I came round the corner of the house, it was so dark you couldn’t see the sky and I thought, ‘What have we done?’” But after a few busy years the Simpsons have thinned the trees and cleared the undergrowth to create an open, sunny space with a variety of habitats. On the way they have rediscovered an old pond and added a new one, as well as creating a range of planting in curved island beds, woodland borders, and meadow-land in the old orchard area.
Right from the start the birds’ welfare was at the top of their agenda. “When we renovated the house a neighbour told us where the swifts come to nest each year, so we left gaps in the bird prevention material under the eaves where he told us, and waited with baited breath,” smiles Linda. “The next year they arrived and went in at exactly that place.”
Although Linda had been tending the family plot in Essex for many years, Andy is recently retired from a demanding job in the City of London, so this was his first hands-on experience. “I have discovered a love of gardening, it’s a great way to spend your time,” he says with a slightly surprised air. “Although Linda does most of the work.” They both laugh and Linda explains: “I’m still a little possessive about it – I’ve been used to having a complete say in what I was doing! He’s been learning and getting ideas.” “Above my station,” interjects Andy, smiling. “But it’s good,” continues Linda, “because I’ll have flights of fancy and Andy keeps me grounded.”
The couple have been absolutely united in their determination to develop the garden into a beautiful and peaceful space with bird life at its heart. To this end Linda has focussed on flowers such as Dahlia ‘David Howard’, hardy geraniums, and salvias, which attract a range of insects, which in turn encourage the birds. In addition, the new pond is connected to the existing one via a stream which has proved a real draw. “The birds love it,” says Linda. “We even saw a sparrow hawk bathing there once. We didn’t realise quite what an attraction the water was going to be.”
Andy and Linda’s enjoyment is in observing as much as doing, identifying individual pheasants by name and watching baby birds flapping madly to be fed, as well as noticing the rarer occurrences: a tree creeper nesting in an old apple trunk, and a kingfisher picking off spare fish fry. “Having the birds in the garden gives us so much pleasure,” says Linda. “You realise they’re real characters when you get to know them.”
Linda’s suggestions for plants to encourage birdlife into your garden
Native trees: rowan, lime, maple, beech, birch, willow and ash.
Perennials and biennials: salvias, foxgloves, hardy geraniums, alstroemeria,
Shrubs and climbers: Honeysuckles (Lonicera sp.), lavender, berberis, cotoneaster, pyracantha, apple, elderberry (Sambucus nigra), ivy (Hedera sp.).