We all love creatures great and small, right. I would far rather employ the birds and bees than use chemical bug control and so we go to great lengths to entice them into our garden. But then there is the small matter of our six cats to consider. And so we constructed the Catio: By encasing the pergola surrounding our 27ft x 8ft patio with wire mesh, we created a safe outdoor environment for our cats to enjoy fresh air and exercise, whilst protecting the wildlife in the garden from their basic killer instincts!

Cats in the Catio

© Caroline Broome – Cats in the Catio.

It also allows us to enjoy watching the birdies on our several feeding stations, the main one being no more than a metre from the enclosure. And most pertinent of all, I’ve got myself an amazing micro climate in which I can grow tender perennials such as Cannas, Abutilons and Eucomis and extend the annual summer displays well into November.

All creatures great and small seem quite relaxed in each other’s company, especially the starlings: their manners certainly are! I think pigeons get a bad name; we have two ferals and one wood pigeon as regular visitors and they never mess on their own doorstep, obligingly hoovering up all the scattered bird seed that the aptly named chatter of starlings fling all over the show. 

Mealworms, that’s what’s caused all this riotous behaviour. In early Spring the bird feeder started getting regular visits from a pair of starlings, which I now recognise as a scouting party. Nature having taken its course, within a month or two the fledglings had joined their parents, squawking impatiently to be fed. Ahh, how cute they looked, isn’t nature wonderful. Then word got out to all their relatives and before you know it there were 17 of them (all under the watchful eyes of our cats, a mere paw’s snatch away, under the protective custody of the Catio!) I’m having to refill the feeders twice daily; it’s costing me more to feed the birds than it is to feed the cats, I swear. The chaffinches and tits love the white sunflower seeds, the robins favour the suet blocks as does the woodpecker. Black sunflower seeds, so popular last year, are last resort, so fickle! I’ve even managed to train the squirrels (yeah, right) onto their own bird feeder further up the garden. Yes readers, the caged feeders do deter the squirrels.

Regrettably however, the 25mm mesh surround does not keep out fledglings, frogs or mice. So far, our Siamese kitten Ethel (named after my beloved 106-year-old friend who died last year) has bagged two mice (deceased) and several frogs (survived – clearly more robust.)

Fledglings, frogs and mice

©Caroline Broome – Fledglings, frogs and mice have all made their way through the mesh of the Catio.

The last frog escaped with its life by crawling into the cup of my bra (not, I am relieved to say, while I was wearing it) in the laundry room. But the highlight of our wildlife adventure has been the Female Emperor Dragonfly resting on a Miscanthus grass in the front garden. (Good job that never got in the house.)

Female emperor dragon fly

© Caroline Broome – The Female Emperor Dragon Fly.

We’re very lucky to attract so many birds, due no doubt to numerous large mature trees surrounding us in neighbouring gardens and the church yard. But a mile away in the Hampstead Garden Suburb several Hort Soc friends’ gardens back onto Big Wood. One such garden regularly welcomes woodpeckers, parakeets and goldfinches on a daily basis. Unbelievable racket! Surely Alfred Hitchcock took his inspiration for The Birds from The Suburb! On our NGS Group Open Garden Day recently (we raised £9000 by the way, she mentions nonchalantly) another woodland garden attracted a very friendly bird. It seemed quite at home, hopping around on the drive, amongst the throngs. It even ate out of one visitor’s hand and another identified it as a White Eared Iraqi Bulbul: Many Iraqis owns Bulbuls as pets, and they are considered to be one of the smartest and most intelligent birds on earth. This one certainly wasn’t daft as it soon sussed out the best tea and cake in the group. Hope it was reunited with its owners though, no doubt it was mentioned in despatches on the Suburb Chatline.

 Iraqi Bulbul bird

© Caroline Broome – Me and my new friend the Iraqi Bulbul bird.

Talking of which, when the Hort Soc opened for the NGS in 2017 we held a children’s treasure hunt: a model bird or animal was placed in each of the Open Gardens for the children to find, (on loan – the ornaments not the children – from our very supportive local nursery.) Quite a few garden owners bought theirs afterwards, including our esteemed Chair Doc Page, whose eagle befit his status! Having perched it on the apex of his greenhouse he then posted a photo of it on the Suburb Chatline. Had several residents in quite a flap apparently………(pardon the pun)

Catch up with you all later……..Caroline

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