Jacob helps wildlife and makes a whistle

Now that my grandson Jacob has started school, it’s a time to get his mind focused on learning, so his mummy will help him keep a diary about his garden, which will be good writing practice and great fun. 

He’s already noticed that there’s still plenty of butterflies, which he has found feeding on his flowers and fruit juices in over-ripe pears, plums and apples that he’s left on the lawn.

As Jacob’s garden is new, he will plant flowers like Michaelmas dasies, which they love, and top up the short food supplies by putting honey-soaked cotton wool in saucers around the garden

His mummy plans to make a herb garden so that bees and other beneficial insects will visit to forage on the sweet nectar of sage, thyme and valerian, which she is going to plant and to bring in the birds she will make room for angelica, lovage and fennel, which produce seeds that they will enjoy.

Before he goes to sleep at night, Jacob and his dad take a peak through the curtains to check for night-flying moths that flutter around the street lamp. In the garden he has already seen some big, fat caterpillars, which will change into Elephant Hawk Moths and also the spectacular garden Tiger Moth, whose furry caterpillars his daddy calls Woolly Bears.

Tiger Moths overwinter as caterpillars but Jacob has been warned, not to pick one up, as the hairs will irritate his skin!

At the weekend, when they take Jet the dog for a family walk around Ferry Meadows, they keep eyes and ears peeled for bats swooping and squealing as they leave their roosts and go hunting for insects. Eating these help them to build up fat stores to help them survive the winter.

Last weekend Jacob also balanced an upturned dustbin lid on two piles of bricks to make a quick-fix watering hole for the hedgehogs and foxes that visit his and other gardens in the neighbourhood at night.

During the cold winter, it’s essential to provide wild birds with fruit and nuts to keep them healthy

On their next visit to the garden centre, they are going to buy a few shrubs that are laden with berries to keep any birds coming back during the lean times. On his list are cotoneaster, pyracantha and viburnums. His dad is also going to build a bird table, so you can enjoy their entertaining antics whist they feast on tasty titbits such as peanuts, suet cakes and sunflower seeds.

Jacob is proud of the giant sunflowers he has grown this year

Jacob will let his home-grown sunflowers run to seed so that they attract birds like this goldfinch to come and feed

Experts are warning that blue tits are disappearing from our gardens because bird feeders are no longer suited to the acrobatic little bird.  You may remember the time when these tiny birds liked to feed from upside coconut shells full of fat, or perch on strings of monkey nuts. They were also a mother’s nightmare as they often stole the cream from milk bottles, that used to be left on the doorstep…fortunately they still like sunflower seeds, so to enjoy their perfomance when putting on an acrobatic show, make sure you hang a sunflower head in view of your winsow


The flowers provide nectar for a variety of insects and the berries are eaten by birds and mammals. During Anglo Saxon times it was thought that if you burned elder wood you would see the devil, but if you planted elder by your house it would keep the devil away.

Fragrant and refreshing, springtime elderflower cordial is easy to make. Simply heat the cleaned blooms in sugar and lemon or lime juice with a sprinkling of to make a syrup then bottle and mix with sparkling water to create elderflower pressé, or add to prosecco for a celebratory summer drink

All parts of the plant contain cyanide so flowers and berries are mildly poisonous, so should always be cooked before eating. Elder flowers, which appear in June, have been used in traditional medicine all over the world in many different cultures due to its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Make a compress with the flowers to help reduce pain and swelling in arthritic joints and is to stop bleeding after injury.

It’s claimed that a quick rub down with elder leaves will keep flies at bay, even on animals, and this useful plant has also been used to make natural dyes, which have been used historically to make brightly-patterned Harris Tweed. Blue and purple from the berries; yellow and green from the leaves; grey and black from the bark.

From around August to October elderberries are in season and ready for picking

The berries are nutrint and vitamin-rich and as well as making all kinds of tasty treats like crumbles, pies, jams, although you must add lemon juice to ensure a good set, they can even be used to make a fruity syrup that when taken regularly will keep colds and flu at bay. Use the prongs of a fork to remove the berries from the stalks  and be sure to wear an apron as the inky juices will stain clothes.

Elderberries also a delicious country wine and liqueur. And for a tasty Christmas tipple, simply steep 225g elderberries and 115g sugar in 600ml gin or vodka, with a twist of lemon peel then keep in a sealed bottle and leave for 3-4 months before drinking.

Elder wood’s hollow pithy stems means that it is particularly suited to making a whistle (www.jonsbushcraft.com)

For best results pick a suitable stem and leave it to dry out before attempting to make a whistle then remove the soft pith to create a hollow tube before fashioning the mouthpiece.

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