Being nothing like as good as the birds at getting up in the morning, I tend to fill their feeders at night, to give them a timely breakfast.

Their favourite one is often half empty when I see it, suggesting that they start feeding at daybreak.  But no, having been up earlier, I now realise that they have a sing first. Starting while daylight is only just visible, tweeter tweeter up in the tall eucalyptus at the end of my neighbour’s garden … robins, wrens, tits maybe, plus the soft voice of the wood pigeon.

Ham & High: Some birds prefer a flat feeder rather than a vertical oneSome birds prefer a flat feeder rather than a vertical one (Image: Trudy Smart)

The fox is about, and the incorrigible squirrels, but it is another half hour before the sparrows and bluetits start whirring in to the birdfeeder.

This birdfeeder is called “squirrel proof”, which, by and large, it is.  It works because squirrels are heavier than small birds and so activate metal gates that come down to block the feeder-holes, while the featherweights can perch and feed with no trouble.  Squirrels, hungry and intelligent, are good at hanging upside down and fretting at these “ports” till at least some seed falls down.

I hear from a friend that the parakeets are as clever as the squirrels at taking on feeder defences, but luckily they have yet to move in here. There are some birds, like blackbirds and robins, that like a flat eating place rather than a vertical feeder, so at least the squirrels do well from seed on the table … as, perhaps, will the parakeets in due course.

Ham & High: A coaltit with a bird feederA coaltit with a bird feeder (Image: Ian Jones (South Wales Guardian Camera Club))

When we first came to this Holloway garden decades ago, there were hardly any birds and certainly no foxes or squirrels.  Instead there was a neatness that harked back to the respectability for which Holloway had been known, famously through the Grossmith’s late nineteenth century satire, “The Diary of a Nobody”. 

The gardens were long narrow rectangles, with long narrow borders, separated from a long narrow strip of grass by long narrow concrete paths, the borders planted with the occasional peony, hydrangea or lilac.  I consciously wanted to move from neatness to fulsomeness, not knowing how fast fulsomeness would lead to wildness, but I was not alone in letting in more growth.

Ham & High: A bird on a bird feederA bird on a bird feeder

Now that we have a row of mature sycamores on either side of the eucalyptus at the end of the gardens and many more thickly grown shrubs, hey presto, in have come the insects and the birds … rewilding really does work, although I wish that I had been better at pulling off the hard trick of combining wildness with cultivation.


Cut back last year’s growth gradually rather than in a great purge, to help birds keep safe and able to find insects.

Kalettes are a delicious vegetable bred from a cross between sprouts and kale. You can grow them from seed, but being an F1 hybrid it has to be new seed each time, home saved seed would not grow true.

Time to join a local horticultural society, in Highgate, Muswell Hill or Hampstead Garden Suburb – details online.