Borde Hill Garden

Rhododendrons, azaleas, woodland, sculpture, rare and unusual trees and plants.

We stand still and listen. “There’s a great tit…a chaffinch…a goldfinch…a robin.” I’m writing the names in my notebook, but the list is recounted faster than I can record them.

We are on a tour of Borde Hill Garden. And, what luck, one of our party is an expert on birdsong. The chorus of sound drifts through the trees. Such a beautiful melody, and a wonderful place to be. An English woodland garden on a spring day. Just glorious.

I spot a tree creeper. To my shame, it’s the first time I’ve seen one. A tiny bird, the size of a wren. My first thoughts are that it’s a mouse. Its speckly brown feathers perfectly match the tree bark it’s clinging to. It scurries up a few metres, and then uses its long downward-curving bill to fish out an insect from a crevice. Suddenly it moves to the other side of the trunk. It knows it’s been spotted. Then, making a “see-see-see” call, it flies away. A magical moment- and we’ve only just arrived in this woodland paradise.

We start our tour in the Garden of Allah, a dell created in 1925 where the the owners nurtured many of the species brought back from the great plant hunters of the time. Head gardener Andy Stevens points to a towering Liriodendron chinense (Chinese tulip tree) which was raised from seed collected by Ernest Wilson in central China. Borde Hill bought the tree as a 16ft mature specimen from the famous Veitch’s nursery in 1913. There’s a huge Magnolia fraseri which arrived in the garden as a seedling from the south-eastern USA in 1933. And further into the garden there’s a Davidia involucrata (pocket handkerchief tree).

I can’t decide whether to look up, or down. Up, into the branches of so many rare and unusual trees. Or down, at the ribbons of pure white wild garlic flowing into drifts of bluebells. It’s easy to see why Borde Hill has been described as “unforgettable.”

Leaving the dell, walking past rhododendrons and camellias planted in the 1920s, and magnolias planted as seedlings in the 1930s, we reach Warren Wood and Stephanie’s Glade. It’s here that many of Borde Hill’s fabulous collection of champion trees can be found.

There are many trees I have never seen before. We stop and admire a rare Meliosma Beaniana which is smothered in delicate creamy coloured flowers. Like many of the trees and shrubs at Borde Hill, there’s a fascinating history and story behind them. This tree came via Ernest Wilson who was plant hunting in China in 1908. It was planted at Alderman (now a boarding school) and transplanted at Borde Hill in early 1930s. Records show it flowered for the first time in its new home in 1933.

I found a particularly lovely tree, possibly a type of photinia. It is smothered in white flowers. A magnet for bees and hoverflies.

Borde Hill is famous for rhododendrons and azaleas which are reaching their peak now. I’ve never seen such a striking and colourful display.

Some of the azaleas are scented which adds to their attraction.

Walking out of the woodlands, suddenly you come upon a more formal scene, an Italian garden with topiary flanking a rectangular pond. There’s a statue and waterfall at one end, and large terracotta plant pots each side of the water.

There’s always a surprise around every corner. At the top of the steps, near the sculpture, I found this Peony Mai Fleurie.

Further along the walk, I found more peonies, looking at their best right now.

Tree peonies and perennial forms seem to do very well at Borde Hill and I make a note to plant more in my own garden.

This week sees the start of Borde Hill’s 20th anniversary Sculpture Exhibition (10 May to 30 Sept). Visitors can walk through the 17 acre gardens and enjoy more than 80 pieces by well-known and up-and-coming artists.

I love this one, which I think is Little Owl by Paul Harvey. The labels were being put out on the day of our visit.

And this one, which I’m guessing is Icarus by Nicola Godden. Such a perfect setting in front of the house. Checking the website, I see this winged figure was commissioned for the London 2012 Olympic Village. There’s also a wind sculpture by Will Carr to look out for.

There’s something for everyone at Borde Hill, and all-year-round interest too. But for me, the magic of the place will always be the peaceful walks through those magnificent trees. And the sound of birdsong. The very essence of spring.

Borde Hill: Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 1XP, opens from 25 March -3 Nov.

The garden, listed Grade II by English Heritage, is set within 200 acres of parkland.

Special events this year:

Roses. Talk and tour with Michael Marriott from David Austin Roses: 20 June 10.30-2pm

The Rabbit’s Eye View- long term plant performance, landscape masterclass by Noel Kingsbury, 11 Sept 10-4.30.

Practical Pruning – Juliet Sargeant 16 May 10.30-3pm

Designing a Romantic Rose Border – Juliet Sargeant, 11 July 10.30-3pm

Tasty Autumn Talk- Juliet Sargeant, 18 Oct 10.30-12noon.

Many thanks to Eleni and Andrewjohn Stephenson Clarke for hosting our visit, and to Constance Craig Smith and the Garden Media Guild for organising the tour.

Links :

For more information about Borde Hill : https://www.bordehill.co.uk/

More on birdsong : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2019/04/identify-bird-song/

RSPB Let Nature Sing: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/campaigning/let-nature-sing/

Announcing my prize draw winner. CJ Wildlife bird feeder.

I’m pleased to announce that Chloris has won my prize draw for a bird feeder kindly donated by CJ Wildlife.

Thank you to everyone who left a comment and took part in this draw.

Look out for my next prize draw which will be for a copy of Emma Mitchell’s new book The Wild Remedy. I’m enjoying reading this beautiful book, and a review will follow shortly.

Shropshire company CJ Wildlife kindly send a selection of bird feeders and nest boxes for me to try out,

The items arrived well packed in a cardboard box, with recyclable shredded cardboard and paper packaging inside.

Inside the box was an Apollo feeder, HighEnergy No-Mess feed, a Shannon peanut butter feeder and jar of special Peanut Butter for Birds. Also some suet and seed hearts. And a bird table scraper and some disinfectant to keep everything safe and hygienic.

APOLLO FEEDER

The Apollo feeder is made from UV stabilised polycarbonate materials which should be long lasting. I found the feeder easy to disassemble in seconds, with no tools needed, making it simple to clean and refill. There is ventilation in the lid part, which prevents condensation in the tube, helping to keep food fresh for longer.

My feeder has three port holes. There are five and seven-hole- types available. The distance between ports ensures birds don’t feel stressed by being too close together. I like the perching rings which allow birds to feed in a forward facing position.

HIGH ENERGY NO-MESS FEED

This was very popular with the birds in my garden and disappeared quite quickly. The seeds have been de-husked which minimises wastage and mess. This is great for ground, seed feeders, and bird tables. It contains kibbled sunflower hearts, kibbled peanuts, yellow millet, and pinhead oatmeal. It’s interesting to see that 100g gives 550 K/Cal energy. Some other feeds have a lower energy value.

SHANNON PEANUT BUTTER FEEDER

This feeder made from polypropylene hangs in a wall, fence or tree. Mine is on the front of the potting shed. The Peanut Butter for Birds jar slides under the roof. I found this was very popular with bluetits and great tits. There is a perch for them so they can feed in a forward -facing position. Simple to use, and clean, with no mess.

CJ Wildlife have a variety of peanut cakes containing seeds and insects, berries and mealworms. The robins love the little heart suet and seed cakes.

BIRD FEEDING TIPS

Common garden birds can be divided into three groups: seed eaters, insect eaters, and birds that eat both. Seed eaters such as sparrows and finches love food that consists of sunflower seed, corn, oats, and chopped peanuts. Insect eaters such as robins will prefer food containing mealworms or dried fruit. Tits are among the group of birds that will eat both seeds and insects.

Birds have an energetic lifestyle and need lot of calories each day just to survive. By providing high energy food we can help them through difficult times, such as when there’s bad weather, and when they are building nests or feeding their young. Sunflower hearts and peanuts have a high energy value.

Most seeds have a kernel- the part the birds are going to eat- surrounded by a tough outer case that is discarded by the bird. In some feeds the outer case is removed, meaning there is less waste. If you buy sunflower seeds for example that haven’t been shelled, birds use more effort to take the husks off and don’t get as much energy.

In a recent BBC Gardeners’ World magazine report it was revealed that we spend, as a nation, a staggering £813,698 a day on bird food. The figures come from the Horticultural Trades Association.

I was surprised to read, in the magazine investigation by Marc Rosenberg, the RSPB claim that dried peas, beans and small pieces of dog biscuits can be added to low-end mixes. It says birds will not choose to eat them. If you see coloured pieces in the mix, red, green and yellow, it might possibly be reconstituted dog biscuits.

So, from now on, I shall buy from reputable suppliers. I’ll choose kibbled sunflower seeds, knowing that birds lose energy removing the husks. I’ll clean the feeders out once a week, using hot water or bird- safe disinfectant, rather than just topping up the feeders as they get low. And I’ll remember to put out fresh water each day. Birds need water to keep their plumage in good condition and it’s fun to watch them splashing about.

I wrote about my low bird count for the RSPB BigGardenBirdWatch here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/01/30/nest-boxes-and-bird-feeders-for-the-garden/

Climate change is having an impact on all our wildlife. Caterpillars are not emerging until later in the season due to cold, wet spring conditions. This is having an impact on birds such as bluetits who hunt caterpillars to feed their young.

I’ll certainly be doing all I can to provide a lifeline for all the birds visiting my garden. I just hope numbers increase before too long.

Nest Boxes and Bird Feeders for the Garden

#BigGardenBirdWatch – My survey results.

Looking out of my potting shed window, I can see plenty of pigeons and a few robins. But where have all the song birds gone? Last weekend I took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, and I was shocked by the results. Hardly any birds in my garden.

The Big Garden Birdwatch is in its 40th year, starting out in 1979. Over half a million people take part; it’s the world’s largest garden wildlife survey. But what it has shown over the years is a downward trend, a drastic decline in the number of thrushes, starlings and sparrows.

Results show:

  • Song thrushes down 75 percent
  • Starlings down 80 percent
  • Blackbirds down 41 percent
  • House sparrows down 57 percent
  • Greenfinches down 57 percent
  • Robins down 31 percent

Birds on the increase are

  • Wood pigeons up 950 percent
  • Collard doves up 307 percent.

In my one hour survey I spotted:

1 great tit

3 blackbirds

2 robins

1 wren

1 pheasant

1 chaffinch

5 pigeons

It’s about five years since we heard the tap- tapping of a song thrush breaking open a snail shell on the garden path. And I can’t remember the last time we spotted a sparrow. It must be 10 years at least.

So, with plummeting numbers, what can we do to help. One positive action is to put up a nest box. Loss of habitat might be a factor in the decline of the sparrow. We are all keeping our homes in better repair, meaning there are fewer gaps under the tiles where sparrows like to nest.

I asked Shropshire company CJ Wildlife for advice on buying and siting a nest box and here’s some hints and tips I’ve gathered.

Each bird has its preference for a particular nest box. The entrance opening is a determining factor.

  • 28mm hole- suitable for blue tit, coal, great, crested, marsh and willow tits, pied flycatcher and tree sparrow
  • 32mm – house sparrow, tree sparrow, great tit, crested tit, nuthatch
  • Oval entrance hole – house sparrow, nuthatch and redstart.
  • Open fronted box- well hidden in foliage- robin, wren, spotted flycatcher, redstart, black redstart, pied and grey wagtail, song birds.

Buying a bird box

  • Choose one made from high quality wood, up to 18mm thick, for insulation.
  • Look for an FSC label – certified products contain wood in accordance with Forest Stewardship Council regulations. The council promotes responsible forest management
  • Birds will often return year after year to the same box, choose one that is going to last. WoodStone is a mix of wood and concrete which has good insulating properties and a long life. A 10 year guarantee is given.
  • Metal or some ceramic nests might not be suitable, as they could have low insulation properties.
  • The best bird boxes come with a metal plate protecting the entrance hole from predators. These plates can also be purchased for a few pounds to protect existing boxes that don’t have this feature.

Maintenance of bird boxes

Bird boxes should be emptied every year between the end of October and January 31st. This will help to prevent parasites building up. Wear gloves and a dust mask. Wash the bird box in hot soapy water, or use bird-safe cleaners. Leave to dry for a few days in a garage or shed, and return the bird box to its original position.

Bird boxes can be painted, outside only, with non-toxic water- based paint.

Siting a bird box

  • Chose a north or east- facing position, as bright sunshine will overheat and possibly kill young birds
  • If mounting bird box on a tree, use the dry side and avoid the side where water rushes down in heavy rainfall.
  • Choose a secluded place, away from patios and barbecues
  • Site near vegetation so that young birds making their first flight will have some cover
  • Protect open nest boxes with thorny vegetation around them
  • The best height for bird boxes is between 1.5m and 5.5m
  • A clear flight path into the box is needed
  • Avoid sites such as the top of a fence, where predators can easily access the bird box.

In my garden, I’ve started off with boxes for robins, sparrows and great tits. And I’m hoping to attract a nuthatch or two. I’ll keep you posted on how I get on. I’m saving up for one that has a camera inside. I’d love to watch nesting birds in action.

Many thanks to CJ Wildlife for supplying bird food, and feeders, which I’ll talk about next time, and substantial, high quality nest boxes. I’m looking forward to attracting more birds to my plot, and doing my bit towards reversing the downward trend in garden bird numbers.

Here are some links you might find useful.

BTO https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/gbw

Woodland Trust https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/animals/birds/

CJ Wildlife https://www.birdfood.co.uk/bird-feeders.html

CJ Wildlife nest boxes https://www.birdfood.co.uk/nest-boxes.html

Big Garden Birdwatch https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

 

 

Please leave a comment below to be included in a prize draw for a Jupiter feeder and 1k suet pack, currently on sale for £18.99. Names will be randomly selected and there’s no cash alternative. Sorry, UK entries only. CJ Wildlife decision is final.

Photos of birds credit :CJ Wildlife.

Don’t forget to use the hashtag #BigGardenBirdWatch and #Winterwatch on social media to share your findings and stories from your weekend survey. And please feel free to share this blog piece on any social media platform. It all helps. Thank you.