You don’t need to live in the country to be among wildlife. It is all around us getting on with its own life amid the bustle of ours and in order to enjoy it you just need to stop and look and wonder. I love wildlife in all its forms. Things which run on six legs or eight, squidgy worms, elegant snails and I even have time for the generally loathsome slug. They are all welcome in my pesticide free, anti-discriminatory environment.
It is winter in the garden; December, getting close to Christmas. We have had our first frosts and the shrubs are limp but not defeated. The rose bush has only recently thrown out some new pink buds in defiance. The miniature apple tree, which was placed on the rockery to attract the birds, bears only two stubborn leaves. Each is in a game of dare with the other over who will jump first. Perhaps they will go together when the first snow falls. The side branches of the tree have been lobbed leaving it looking like a gangly teenager with overlong limbs. The branches to the right hung too far over the neighbour’s garden and the ones on the left stopped us from getting in the shed. We suffered this for some time, ducking and diving between them, but eventually they had to go. We townies all get pruned to fit the space available in the end.
Between the bare branches of the tree a Mallow has woven a route to the stars. Like a magic beanstalk this plant grew up virtually overnight and took over the space occupied by the tree like an Israeli settlement. I blame the tomato feed which I put down to help the tree cope with its brown spots. No idea what happened to the brown spots but the tree went on to produce a fine display of apples beneath that haze of purple blossom.
The branches of the tree provide the birds feeding station and on this damp winter morning I shuffle down the garden in my crocks to fill up the seed feeder and spread mealy worms and nuts on the ground. As usual, there are a few pigeons waiting on the fence for the soup kitchen to open. They fly up onto the roof as soon as I throw open the back door and watch me with their staring bird eyes as I dip in an out of the shed fetching worms, nuts and seeds. They have told all their mates – bird brains, so now they have to fight it out between them once I retreat back inside.
I have time to make a cup of tea before they decide that it is safe and I sit down in the kitchen to watch the pigeons fluff out their chests in a display of dominance while the sneaky sparrows and robins nip in between them to take all the best seeds. The pigeon appears to be the most stupid of birds but the fact that they have achieved world domination leads me to believe it may all be an act. They walk round in circles randomly pecking at the ground. Peck, peck and a toss of the head, then peck, peck again at absolutely nothing. The other day I watched a group of them practise for a barn dance. Circle to the left, circle to the right, fluff those feathers with all your might – yeah ahh!
A swoop of starlings arrive to polish off anything that’s left. They cover every square inch with their starling beaks and keeping their heads down they use the pigeons as their early warning system. Then with the menace of the mafia a single magpie arrives and everyone else takes off. No-one messes with the guys in the monochrome suits.
Once the birds have finished I go outside to re-pot my geraniums and put them under some frost-free netting to over-winter. The garden looks bereft of life but I know all the usual characters are still there. The snails have made a Ferrero Rocher pyramid on the outside of an upturned flowerpot. They have huddled together with their backsides deep into the soil. In the shed the mice are probably snoring in their nests somewhere under the concrete floor where I cannot see them. They come out each night and take the seeds I leave behind and then they probably play hide and seek among the bikes, boxes and garden paraphernalia, but by the morning all is quiet.
I tried to over-winter the geraniums for the first time last year. I took eight plants who had all lived healthy and useful lives over what passed for summer. I put them into small pots and placed them inside a covered shelf unit. It was protected by an old spotty shower curtain from IKEA held on with clothes pegs. I remembered to give them some water from time to time and they all seemed to be doing well, but winter has a way of saving the best till last and sometime in March the frost slid its way into my shelter and the brave soldiers who stood guard at the front suffered the consequences. So this year I have placed them all at the back of the shelves and put a new frost-resistant fleece under the spotty shower curtain which has a zipper and mittens. Ok, not really mittens, but the zip does go down to the floor which should keep them all safe and cosy.
I took the soil from an old potato bag to use as compost and as I was clearing up I found a tiny curled caterpillar tucked up tight in its green onesie pyjamas. I look at it for a few moments, turning it over in my hand. I wonder if it will be a stunning butterfly or a rather more homely moth. It has survived losing its mother, finding enough green stuff to eat and then, as it got sleepy, it found a nice warm bag of soil to hibernate in. Good for you I thought and popped it back into the bag tucking it up into its brown soil covers with the tarpaulin lid pulled tightly over the top. ‘I’ll see you in the spring,’ I said quietly, so as not to wake it.