Last week I had the great pleasure of visiting the Isles of Scilly, 30 miles off the tip of mainland UK and yet a world away. An archipelago of white sandy beaches, rare birds and wild winds, and where shorts are order of the day in October. Paradise.
In terms of gardening, the islands are astonishing in terms of the range of subtropical plants that can be grown, thanks to how rare frosts and snow are on the islands.
And if you're a fan of visiting gardens, I'm sure one name has already come into your mind - Tresco. Not Tesco, which is a very different experience altogether and not quite as relaxing, but instead the amazing gardens at Tresco Abbey.
Of course I had my wildlife eyes and ears on, as I always do in a garden. The creatures that grab your attention most immediately are the Golden Pheasants (introduced, of course) and the Red Squirrels (also introduced). But for me I was most interested in seeing which wild birds and insects I could find.
I enjoyed Siskins drinking at the ponds, and bumblebees and Peacock butterflies enjoying some of the exotic blooms, but for this blog I'm focusing on this - a stand of Rudbeckia.
And did you spot what was visiting the maturing seedheads? Let me ask him to turn round a little...
Yes, Goldfinches feeding on the developing seed cones.
I'm always on the look out for plants that help birds in gardens, and the one you often hear touted as perfect for Goldfinches is the Teasel, so it was nice to see them using something else.
But here's the thing. After growing Teasels in my gardens for over 10 years, the number of times I'd actually seen Goldfinches visit them could be counted on one hand. What had I been doing wrong? After all, my Teasels were full of seed.
The reasons I think were two-fold. Firstly, my seed feeders offer the birds a fast-food outlet without all the inconvenience of having to extract the seed one by one from a seedhead.
The second is to do with abundance. One or two Teasel plants offers only a snack, and for a flock of Goldfinches there's plenty of chance for ending up in little spats as they fight for the best perch when there are only a few seedheads to go around
So I decided to grow seedy plants en masse. For example, I've been doing it with Chicory this year, with great success. So to boost your chances of having Goldfinches or indeed other finches feed on the seeds your own garden has produced, my suggestion is to grow in bulk, as much as your garden will allow. It could be lines of lavenders (avoid the hybrid cultivars which are sterile and don't set seed), or dot Verbena bonariensis throughout all your borders, or put in a patch of Chicory or indeed Rudbeckia rather than just the odd plant. Growing in this way can look very effective, too. And a charm of Goldfinches to brighten up your flowerbeds as they go over? Well, that's also paradise to me.
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