Wild birds have difficulty finding food at this time of year; seed feeders and fat balls provide a lifeline for gold finches, blue-tits, robins and sparrows – and will help them survive through to spring. Make sure the feeders are placed out of the way of predators.
As we move through the last of the winter months there is time to complete work left over from autumn (weather permitting). Finish tidying beds, prune trees and shrubs – before the bird nesting season; hedges can be clipped to neaten any straggly growth. Hedges can also be planted during February and March; they are invaluable as a refuge for wildlife, provide a wind break around the herb garden or vegetable plot (or around houses on exposed sites). All sorts of plants are used to make a hedge – plain evergreens such as Box, Yew or Holly are common, more formal choices and are clipped regularly to maintain the required height.
There are decorative evergreen hedging shrubs – Osmanthus burkwoodii with fragrant, jasmine-like flowers; Photinia with vibrant red evergreen foliage. Purple Beech has dark green/purple leaves that turn a coppery shade in winter.
Escallonia is an attractive low growing plant producing dark pink bell-shaped flowers (also used as ground cover). Oleaster (Elaeagnus) has silvery-green leaves and scented flowers. Cherry Laurel has thick foliage, and is a useful barrier to deaden noise pollution. The Golden Privet is commonly used where a dense hedge is needed for privacy (it produces little white flowers in summer).
There are some flowering trees/shrubs to look out for during February such as Witch hazel or the Camellia; but a rarer sight is the striking Acacia dealbata, also known as Mimosa. Acacia has feathery evergreen leaves and bears a profusion of fluffy, fragrant yellow flowers. Tall and graceful it reaches a height of 40ft (12m). Two Acacias grow as street trees in the north of the Borough.
Garrya elliptica or the Silk Tassel Bush, provides winter interest; it is an evergreen and as the name describes, has eye catching silken, silvery tassels. Garrya is tolerant of a range of conditions and does not mind some shade; it grows quickly and will reach about eight to ten feet. Worth planting alongside the Witch hazel and Camellia – if there is space.