Next Door’s Garden

They say that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Or wall in my case. Not that it would be difficult seeing as there isn’t actually any grass in my garden except for what comes up at the edges of the paving stones. I’ve been advised by various people not to refer to my back garden as a ‘patio’ but to elevate it slightly to a ‘sun terrace’. It’s not a lie: designed for practicality and minimal gardening, our little patch sports a few shrubs and ‘easy maintenance’ plants in a couple of beds, but being on a hill it’s light and bright and, come summer time, a proper sun trap, the paving stones radiating warmth long into the evenings.

But it’s not great for wildlife, aside from the odd seagull attempting to eat my clothes pegs from off the table (I can only assume it thought they were chips?). We don’t have any trees, excepting a rather exuberant buddleia, which I think technically belongs to next door.

Their garden is roughly the same size as ours, but seems smaller due to its being so overgrown. Their ‘upper terrace’ is more of an ‘upper lawn’, but due to the fact that the house is inhabited by students of various persuasions the word lawn is a bit of a stretch. It’s nearly knee high at the moment, it being some months since its once-yearly trim. The landlord – or whoever it is – gives the whole garden a good hacking back in the two-weekly summer gap between lettings, but the rest of the time it’s pretty much left to its own devices.

It is their trees that provide the most interest from my vantage point where I sit in my window facing out over my kitchen roof towards next door’s garden. The buddleias’ leaves are mostly green still, having only just started to turn. The purple flowers that a few weeks ago were still attracting red admirals and some sort of comma butterfly now waggle like brown eyebrows at the tips of all the branches. Great tits, blue tits and coal tits flit in and out picking at the seeds, their bobbles of movement too quick for the eye to perceive or the mind to process as individual flicks of wing, dips of head and kicks of tail. Sometimes a magpie will land in the buddleia’s wavering arms, theatrical and huge compared to the tits’ small colours and diminutive hoppings. Occasionally there’s a wren (a fierce tic-ticking) or some other Small Brown, and once, a black redstart flashed its red underwear and was off.

The blackbirds stick to the apple tree. I’m not sure if they nest there, though it would be easy for them to hide up there when the branches are in full leaf. I had grand plans for the apple crop this year: some sort of eater by the looks of the fruits – smallish, yellowish and always neglected by the occupants of the house. But I was away when they were due to be picked, and then I forgot, and then they’d started dropping, and now it’s too late… Chutney will have to be put off for another autumn. Its leaves seem to have missed the proper autumn cycle and vacated their branches without changing colour or doing anything but look a little wilted. There are a handful of fruits left, weighting down the twig ends of the lower branches, over-ripe, wrinkled. The blackbird’s there now, one of two I see frequenting the tree, perched and pecking away at a clump of four apples. The pair of them – young male birds I think from their wood-shadow coloured feathers that are darker than brown, not quite black, and still quite freckly when examined through the binoculars – look more rounded as the apples look less. Despite the blackbirds’ size they’re surprisingly easy to miss in the mottle of branch-tree-leaf-shade when they are not moving. The second of them has appeared from across the wall, clacking a warning sound and flacking his tail. Perhaps there’s a cat about. Or some avian threat to his apple fest.

Oh yes, there’s the magpie, nearly too heavy for the apples’ twig but determined to get a look-in. Something brown shoots across to the boundary buddleia with a split-second noise like a wind-up wooden toy sped up. I just catch sight of the wren before its tiny brown becomes inperceptible in the branches.

More on this?

Check out Matt Sewell’s marvellous ‘Our Garden Birds’ from Ebury Press, ISBN 978-0091945008. Extracts from it as ‘Bird of the Week’ appear regularly on Caught By The River.


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