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1 December 2018 - 12:00am

A very special visitor!

We’ve had a very special garden visitor in recent weeks – a kingfisher. Such beautiful, unmistakeable birds with a real wow factor. Inevitably I went to the internet to find out a bit more about them and found that they are territorial. The size of the territory depends on the amount of food available, and on the local bird population. Kingfisher territories tend to cover at least 1km of river, but may extend much wider. Small fish such as stickleback are their favourite food, but they will also nosh aquatic insects and tadpoles. The visit to us is fairly typical in the winter when they may have to go a bit further afield for a decent meal. Our newly refurbished pond is looking magnificent but will be a big disappointment to our wonderful visitor as we have decided against having fish in it, preferring a more wildlife friendly pond this time. Water in the garden is a must if you want the widest range of wildlife possible. It doesn’t have to be huge, we’ve a mate in Lady Bay with an old washing up bowl submerged as a liner, there are frogs in residence as well as marginal plants and looks just fine. About now I wonder why I haven’t planned for more winter colour in the garden, but we do have some stars to keep us going throughout the darker months. Multi stemmed dogwoods with both bright lime green and red stems add some structure. We will cut them back hard in March to keep the young, brightly coloured stems coming in time for next winter. Hollies in my view are a much underrated shrub; I was given a gift of Ilex ‘Golden King’ earlier this year and it is already brightening up a dull corner with its green and yellow variegated spikey leaves. The Mahonia is looking fabulous as I write: it stands around 3 metres tall with many gorgeous spikes of yellow flowers, gently but beautifully scented. Two Daphnes grace the front garden: not actually that graceful a shrub to be honest but the perfume is stunning, it invades the whole garden early in the year with a heady scent. Hardy cyclamen are still looking good and have seeded around. You can buy the little pots in garden centres now, they make lovely, long lasting Christmas presents as they can be planted outside after you have enjoyed them in the house. Don’t plants the bigger cyclamen outside though; they are tender so won’t survive. Other ideas for the gardener in your family for Christmas: Peter bought me some Niwaki secateurs for Christmas last year. They are brilliant, really sharp, light and easy to use. I also have a Niwaki spade that is awesome, it cuts through the heaviest clay like a knife through butter. Now I’m old and so have rather less than agile knees, a decent, thick kneeling mat is a must. That, plus a good trowel and a decent sized trug and I can while away many happy hours planting and weeding. As long as I have regular and large mugs of tea that is! I’ll be back in February when the daffodils, crocus and snowdrops will be coming up and Spring will be round the corner. Very best wishes to you and yours for the festive season.