On a bitterly cold Saturday in February, we decided that some very old, ugly shrubs had to come out. They grew along the garden wall in front of our lounge and for half of the year they were bare, uninteresting twigs and for the other half, they grew uncontrollably and needed constant pruning. They didn’t even flower! They did however screen us from passing foot traffic. But they also screened us from what little light there was, since that side of the house had no sun. They were so unattractive, I always carefully excluded them when taking photos of the garden.
The weather hadn’t been conducive to gardening, constantly wet, windy and close to freezing temperatures. This Saturday was fine, if still icy cold, but at least the wind had dropped. My husband decided this was the day. As I could not be of any practical support, and I was somewhat apprehensive, I left him to it and went for a cup of tea and a chat with my neighbour!
The left photo is how things were, and when I came home, this was what I found, quite some transformation and not a little devastation!
It was quite a shock. The wall is old, cracked and missing a couple of stones on the top. It had been covered in ivy. What had we done? I thought with horror about the birds: the sparrows, blue tits, great tits, blackbirds and wrens loved those shrubs. I felt terrible.
And then, this happened:
There are two robins in the bottom photo. I had to take it quickly through the window before they split up, so it’s not very clear. One is in front of the stumpy shrub.
We have had a pair nesting behind the shed or in the ivy that covers its roof for many years; I don’t know if they are always the same ones, but it is early to see them together like this; it’s usually late spring, early summer when they are so busy. They are almost part of the family, they are so tame.
They sing so beautifully from the trees in the back garden, I often stand below the apple or hawthorn trees watching and listening to their melodious conversations. The two of them fly about collecting nesting materials or food, not caring about us sitting and chatting with cups of tea or when my husband is repairing bikes. one will often come and sit on bike or on his shoulder as he works. This day, they were following him around the garden, and to the compost heap at the back, helping themselves to insects and worms or just simply observing.
Frustratingly I missed the perfect photo opportunity, one I’ve been waiting for a long time to catch: I was talking to my mum on the phone whilst standing in front of the window looking at the bare stumps. Both robins appeared and sat on the wall facing each other. One sat with his head back and, opening his beak wide, started trilling with all his might to his partner. It was a beautiful, wonderful sight and I was frantically gesturing to my husband to fetch my camera, whilst trying to remove my iPhone from my back pocket and diplomatically end the landline call with Mum. None of those things happened in time!
They have been busy ever since. They seem to appreciate our efforts and there are many more shrubs along the other wall and in the back garden for the rest of the bird population. A friend is helping us choose new bird-friendly evergreen shrubs that flower to replace the old ones, so it won’t be long before we have a more attractive perimeter. And it is so much lighter in the lounge, even if we do feel a bit like we’re in a zoo when all the schoolchildren file past!
Meanwhile, we have the robins, my favourite birds, to entertain us: they always make me smile when they appear, so friendly, so sociable amd unafraid, and I am carrying my camera everywhere in case that photo opportunity ever arises again.
*Some of you will recognise this title as a pun on the old three-wheeler Reliant Robin cars, my brother-in-law had one as his first car, it used to give me the heebee-jeebies going round corners!
Copyright: Chris McGowan