HELEN LANG: Winter’s arrival means gardening with mittens

If you are going away for a winter holiday perhaps you should not start feeding the birds.

December already, and I’m not ready! It’s winter and it has snuck up on me when I still have bulbs to plant, the balcony to sweep, and pansies waiting to go into a long narrow container.

Now it is cold and you can’t do a lot of gardening with mitts on, but it’s got to be done. I remember giving bulbs to a granddaughter-in-law, which she never got around to planting. When found, they had shrivelled up to little brown pellets which no longer contained life. Very sad! I do not want to do that.

Today let’s talk about feeding the birds. Robins (there will still be a few around) will eat berries and slices of fruit, apples being a favourite.

Sparrows need a feeder filled with seed (black seeded sunflower being the most popular … and most expensive). This is also appreciated by finches, brown creepers and other seed eaters.

We used to throw a handful of cheaper seeds into one of the flower beds. This seemed to please those shy fellows, the veried thrush and the towhee that appear nervously and snatch a bite, only to disappear in a flash under the nearest shrub. Juncos will come to seed scattered on a deck or pathway, where you can watch them as they mingle with chickadees that are also hungry. Then there are the suet eaters, the bush tits, dear little brown birds that arrive in flocks of about 10, and cluster on a feeder, which I’ll talk about in a minute. The other suet eater that visited was a downy woodpecker, which clung to the bark of our hawthorne tree to feed on the chunk of suet nailed there.

One year I was amazed to see what appeared to be a tropical bird in the evergreens in a bed at the front of the house. He was a western tanager, the most colourful visitor we ever spotted in our yard. One of our neighbours used to feed the gulls, which were a noisy lot, and, of course, there were always crows lingering nearby, hoping for a meal. It really made for an interesting winter. We used to sit to eat lunch at the dining room table by the glass sliding doors and enjoy the antics that took place outside.

We used to make a very satisfactory feeder from a series of marrow bones, strung in a line with fishing gut, the finished product suspended from a branch of the hawthorne tree. It was rather hideous, but the birds certainly didn’t mind and the crows couldn’t get it to stand still long enough for them to get a grip and a meal.

I refused to feel sorry for them, as I witnessed the torn open black plastic bags put out for garbage disposal in the neighbourhood and knew they were the culprits who spread the ugly contents far and wide.

If you are going away for a winter holiday perhaps you should not start feeding the birds. They will become used to getting a free meal at your place and when the food suddenly stops, they could be hard pressed to find another feeder where they would be welcomed by the usual crowd of hungry birds that eat there.

Russell Nursery, 1370 Wain Rd., is holding those popular classes again this year on both wreath and centrepiece making. Call 250-656-0384 to learn when they will be held. Classes fill up quickly so please call soon.

Quick! Get on your nice clothes. Tonight, Dec. 7, is the night of the Christmas party of the Peninsula Garden Club.

Helen Lang has been the Peninsula News Review’s garden columnist for more than 25 years.

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