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Home made suet/ lard feeders for garden birds

Posted by Lewisham Gardens on February 4, 2013 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (0)

All winter I have put out loose feed for blackbirds, robins, tits and finches which regularly visit my garden. But it does gets so very messy!.

So, inspired by a conversation about 'black birds and fatballs with Chiller', an uproariously funny person I follow on Twitter, I dedcided to hang suet feeders from my fruit trees.

So on Sunday, accompanied by the daughters of a friend I spent an afternoon at  a local Garden Centre, checking out the squirrel proof bird feeders.

We liked the  the top of the range 'Squirrel Buster'.  Its a robust, weight sensitve pulley mechanism which keeps the squirrels out. 

It looked fun! See the video of the feeder in action here. 

But in the end we bought one of these for the girls. 

And after talking to staff we also bought a bag of National Trust wildbird seed.

Later in the day we decided to make our own and went to Tesco to hunt down some lard!

The bird seed ingredients: Sunflower hearts, flaked wheat, flaked naked oats, kibbled maize, flaked maize, raisins.

Its been specially formulated to appeal to ground feeding species. 

Using disposble plastic cups we made our own moulds and we also turned old water bottles into feeders.

We measured out the feed, then using a funnel we filled the cups three quarters full. 

To avoid too much mess we melted the lard in a pyrex jug in the microwave.

The smell of rendered lard is something we did not enjoy!

We allowed the lard to cool for five minutes and then took it in turns to fill the various cups and bottles of seed..

The girls took their cups home, but the bottles are currently solidifying in the refrigerator. 

This week, I'll cut out several small feeding holes, plus pencil sized holes for use as perches. 

Ta daa. I cut out six feeding holes yesterday everning and pushed in four short twigs for use as perches.

Its now hanging in my plum tree suspended by galvanised garden wire. 

Sydenham: tenders invited to write a business plan for award winning garden.

Posted by Nick on January 14, 2013 at 4:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Invitation to tender to write a Strategy & Business Plan for the De Frene Allotment Site

Sydenham Garden is an award winning charity in South East London providing a variety of horticultural and other activities for those recovering from mental ill health and becoming a well-being hub for the local community.

We now wish to extend our work to developing nearby underused allotments into an exciting resource for our clients and for the local community. We are looking for an experienced individual or company to tender to write the strategic/ business plan to underpin and guide our growth over the next 3-5 years.

For more information and to download a tender pack please go to our website: or telephone 020 8291 1650

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Community Garden focus groups

Posted by Nick on October 1, 2012 at 1:10 PM Comments comments (0)


Kasia Brookes, a PhD student from the University of Southampton, is looking for community garden groups who would like to participate in a focus group at some point during October and November, 2012. She is looking for groups of 2-10 gardeners/volunteers who can give approx. one hour of their time for a lively and interesting group discussion about their community garden.

She will come to you (the focus group will be held at your garden if possible), at a day and time of your choice, and is offering a £50 voucher to help with buying seeds etc for the coming growing season as a small thank you. She is also happy to share her findings with you afterwards.

Please email her at [email protected] if you're interested or would like to know more, or find her ProjectDirt page here 

Want to grow your own fruit and veg at home, but not quite sure where to start? Master Gardeners are here to help!

Posted by Sue Luxton on June 11, 2012 at 7:05 AM Comments comments (5)


I'd like to let you know about a great scheme I'm involved in to support people to grow fruit and veg. Run by Garden Organic (the UK's leading organic growing charity dedicated to researching and promoting organic gardening, farming and food) , the South London Master Gardeners are volunteers who support households, families,schools, hostels and many other groups with growing fruit and vegetables.

Master Gardeners have from two to many decades’ experience growing (I'm definitely towards the lower end of this scale and sometimes feel a bit intimidated by the 'Master Gardener' tag, but hey!). What we all have in common is an enthusiasm to share our passion for sowing, growing and harvesting with others. Lots of us also enjoy preparing, preserving and eating crops too!

As Fiona Law, the co-ordinator of the South London Garden Organic Scheme says:

"More and more people want to grow their own for a healthy diet and lifestyle, money saving, access to greenspace, environment-friendly organic gardening, and contribute to national food security and growing skills. Everyone can grow fruit and veg; young and old, whether starting from scratch or gardening for years, using a windowsill, balcony, garden, allotment, orcommunity space. It’s exciting and rewarding wherever the seed is sown."

Each Master Gardener supports 10 householders starting out or already growing food, offering seasonal advice/visits, demonstrations, local community network, andother engagement. NB: One thing it's definitely not is a free gardening service - the household has to do the bulk of the work, but we're there to offer encouragement and guidance as needed. Householders then feedback their successes and problems. They’re also offered free resourcesas well as discounted Garden Organic membership and Grow Your Own magazine subscription. Each Master Gardener promotes benefits of growing your own through events, community groups, talks, articles,demos, and other innovative engagement.

I've been a little slow off the ground since attending my initial training weekend last Autumn, partly because a lot of my time has been spent helping to set up a garden project at a hostel for young women in Brockley. However, I've signed the hostel up as my first 'household' and am holding my first stall at Hilly Fields Fayre on Saturday 23rd June, where I'm hoping we can promote the scheme a bit more locally and sign up a few more interested people. If you'd like to know a bit more about the scheme and how to get involved, whether to get some support or perhaps to become a future Master Gardener, do pop along to our stall at Hilly Fields on 23rd June, or check out the website for further info.

The Master Gardener scheme is funded with generous support from Local Food (Big Lottery Fund), charitable trusts and local authorities.There are strong links to community growing in South London, in the boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth (come on Lewisham!), and the fringes of neighbouring boroughs (Merton, Lewisham, Kingston Upon Thames, Bromley and Croydon). The South London Master Gardener programme started in June 2010 when the first cohort of 20 volunteers had their induction training. To date over 80 Master Gardeners have joined the programme. They’ve clocked up nearly 2000 hours with their volunteering, supporting over 800 people. They’ve also engaged with 6000 people in the wider community at events and shows.

At home with Garden Birds!

Posted by Tom on May 8, 2012 at 1:55 PM Comments comments (10)

Robin at home in the London Garden

Article by Hillyfields Birdwatch

Having or sharing a garden can bring us much closer to certain wild creatures with whom we share our daily lives - I refer, of course, to the birds. There are seven "regulars" who visit my garden every day: the Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, House Sparrow, Magpie, Robin and Woodpigeon. In this article, I want to say a little bit about them and their habits, mention some of the other birds you may see in your garden and talk about how you can help them.

The Usual Crew

The Blackbird - everyone knows the male blackbird with its bright yellow bill; the female is dark brown with a duller yellow bill. Apart from excavating worms and insects from lawns, they also eat some berries (eg. Cotoneaster), pounce on fallen apples and pears and will eat kitchen scraps from the ground or bird table. And they sing throughout the day - beautifully.

The Blue Tit and Great Tit - very common garden and park birds. The Great Tit is larger and has a black crown and black stripe down the breast. It "sings" mainly from January to June, deploying a wide range of short phrases. The most famous of these is the two-note call dubbed "teacher teacher" repeated so insistently that it may well drive you up the garden wall. The Blue Tit is a cute little bird, predominantly blue and yellow, which tseeps and churrs and flits acrobatically amongst the trees. Both these birds feed on insects, caterpillars, berries and love the nuts and seed mix in bird feeders.

Great Tits - male on right with broader black stripe down the breast


The House Sparrow - once ubiquitous, the "cockney sparrer" has declined sharply in numbers in London and other urban areas (by 65% since 1970). However, it is making a comeback and is now fairly common again in Lewisham. "Sparrers can't sing" said Lionel Bart, but they make up for it with excited chirping, fly around in small gangs and eat almost anything. Mainly chest-nut brown and black, with the male sporting a grey cap.

The Comeback Kid: House Sparrow

The Magpie - a large, bold bird with a striking black, white and dark blue plumage. Unlike its relative the Crow, the Magpie often comes into gardens and will sometimes build its domed nest in garden trees. They have no "song" as such, but "chatter" loudly. They will eat almost anything but their reputation for raiding nests and eating other birds eggs is, says the RSPB, "unproven". As for the famous rhyme: "One for sorrow, two for joy" - don't despair if you only see one. Magpies are not loners and it's mate will usually show up before long!

The Robin needs no introduction. The "gardener's friend" often appears when you are digging, knowing that worms are about to be served up. It will perch so close that you get the best view of any wild bird apart from the pigeon. The Robin is very territorial and in autumn/winter, you will often hear its warning call which sounds like a clock being wound up. A great songster, it is perhaps not quite as melodic as the Blackbird but has a wider repertoire of phrases. It sings most of the year apart from July-Sept when it moults and becomes rather furtive.

Lastly, the funny old Woodpigeon which waddles around my garden looking for clover, plant material, seeds, berries etc. I grow a few veggies and haven't been troubled yet by the Woodpigeon, but they are known to be fond of brassicas. Woodpigeons can be told very easily from the other common pigeon (aka. the Feral Pigeon, London pigeon or town pigeon) by the white collar or bar on their neck. They are also bigger and plumper with a pinkish breast.


Best of the Rest

Other birds that I see in my garden include Wrens, Starlings, Goldfinches, Long-tailed Tits, Feral Pigeons and occasionally that beautiful bird, the Jay. A neighbour once spotted a Coal Tit but I have yet to see it.

What you may see in your garden depends on its location, its size and what you have in it. Do you have a pond stocked with fish? Prepare for visits from a Grey Heron whose numbers in urban London have increased. (Yes, you can buy a fake "decoy heron" but do they work? At present, the reviewers on Amazon are divided!)


Heron in the Ravensbourne at Cornmill Gardens


Are you near a woodland or a park? If so, you'll get some extra visitors - perhaps Song Thrushes, a Nuthatch or two (they like bird feeders), a Great Spotted Woodpecker, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Dunnocks and perhaps those two increasingly common spring migrants, the Blackcap - which has a fine song but can be most easily identified by its pale grey body and black head (chestnut brown if it's a female) -and the little Chiffchaff which can't always be seen very easily, but punches out a unique song of between six to twelve notes. Once you've heard it, I guarantee you will always recognise it.


Male Blackcap singing


More exotic visitors could include the Sparrowhawk, which may drop into your garden to eat its lunch. Unfortunately, this consists mainly of smaller birds! The birds do keep a lookout for predators though and larger garden birds will sometimes hassle or "mob" them. Finally, how could I forget the Ring-necked Parakeet? - a bird which displaces others (nuthatches, woodpeckers) from breeding holes in trees and knows how to get the most out of a bird feeder. Luckily, I don't get them in my garden but they do "flypasts" now and then.

Attracting more birds 

There is a lot of information on the web about how to attract birds and other wildlife to your garden. In the case of birds, it can be summarised as:

  • put out suitable food and water for them;
  • install nesting boxes;
  • grow trees, bushes and hedges for them to hide in and sing from;
  • grow food-bearing plants with berries, seeds, fruits etc.


Well sited nesting box

Bird Feeders

Here are just a few tips from my personal experience with regard to bird feeders. 

If you put up a bird feeder for the first time, don't be disappointed if the birds don't flock to it straight away. It may take them a few days to realise it's there and also there are seasonal ups and downs. In spring, you won't be able to keep up. The males need to take food back to the nest for the female and fledglings, as well as feed themselves.

Store up extra packets so you can keep them going! In high summer, they may visit less frequently as the air is full of delicious insects. In winter, offer them all the food you can. Generally though it's safest not to try and second guess how the weather (or birds) might behave and keep your feeder stocked up all year round! And remember to put water out as well, particularly during dry spells.

Spot the bird feeder

If squirrels visit your garden, you'll need to buy a squirrel proof feeder, ie. one with lots of bars around it. On the whole, they work. Parakeets are a greater nuisance for us in South London and are ingenious at getting through such defences. There are one or two feeders on the market which claim to be Parakeet-proof. I'm sceptical, though happy to be proved wrong.

It might help if you can hang the feeder where Parakeets won't spot it as they fly over. I have a large wild cherry tree in my garden and I use a long pole to hang the feeder from one of its branches - a branch that curves upwards so the feeder doesn't slip off. For two-thirds of the year, it's half-hidden by foliage. The local birds know where it is, but the passing Parakeets don't notice it. Of course, you should only ever hang feeders - this goes without saying, but I'll still say it - in a cat-free zone.

Incidentally, recent research has found that birds can pick up diseases from bird feeders including salmonella poisoning and avian pox, so wash them regularly using a disinfectant. Again more detailed advice can be found on the web.

In Conclusion

If you want help with bird identification, the RSPB website is an excellent resource and they have particularly good audio clips of birdsong. If you want to hear for example what a Chaffinch or a Chiffchaff sound like, play their clips!

This has been a very compressed article on a huge subject. Entire books have been written about garden birds while I've used less than 1500 words! However, I hope that it's been useful. I would be interested to hear about other peoples experiences and in particular if you've had any birds in your Lewisham gardens which I haven't mentioned.  

Tom, the Hillyfields Birdwatcher

Useful Links:

RSPB Bird identifier

RSPB Birds in your garden booklet (Free)

RSPB Wildlife on your doorstep (Free)


Posted by Nick on April 15, 2012 at 3:10 PM Comments comments (3)

Hearing about the cool clear nights and areas of low pressure heading towards us this week,  I thought we could put up any cold weather warnings until the dangers of  frost have passed by at the end of May. 

So  protect your plants tonight! 

The hosepipe ban starts today.

Posted by Lewisham Gardens on April 5, 2012 at 3:30 AM Comments comments (6)

A parched, brown lawn- wehad better get used to seeing them

Time to pack the hose away in the shed.

Hosepipe bans affecting about 20 million customers have been introduced today by seven water utility across southern and eastern  England. 
Despite Nick's article from the Telegraph, people who flout the ban could face fines of up to £1,000. The bans  have been imposed after one of  the driest two year periods on record. 

Thames Water introduced its tempory ban from midnight last night, we as consumers are being asked to be 'smarter' about how we use water. Owned by the Australian bank Macquarie, Thames Water met its Ofwat leakage targets last year, but it still has the worst record on water leaks nationwide. 

Terms of the ban.

Thames Water Utilities Limited gives notice to all of its customers, that the water it supplies throughout its entire area must NOT be used for the following purposes:


1. Watering a 'garden' using a hosepipe;


2. Cleaning a private motor-vehicle using a hosepipe;


3. Watering plants on domestic or other non-commercial premises using a hosepipe;


4. Cleaning a private leisure boat using a hosepipe;


5. Filling or maintaining a domestic swimming or paddling pool;


6. Drawing water, using a hosepipe, for domestic recreational use;


7. Filling or maintaining a domestic pond using a hosepipe;


8. Filling or maintaining an ornamental fountain;


9. Cleaning walls, or windows, of domestic premises using a hosepipe.


GPs prescribing gardening for depression

Posted by GK_BIll on April 2, 2012 at 5:40 AM Comments comments (0)

I always knew Gardening wasgood for you!

Article: The Telegraph

Doctors are to swap pills for the potting shed under plans to prescribe gardening on the NHS as a way to help patients beat depression.

Time spent planting, pruning and propagating can be more powerful than a dose of expensive drugs, according to Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians.

"Drug therapy can be really expensive, but gardening costs little and anyone can do it," said Sir Richard, who is a patron of Thrive, a national charity that provides gardening therapy.

Read more here

Container Growing Weekend Course: 21 - 22 April, Islington

Posted by Phil on March 22, 2012 at 8:00 PM Comments comments (2)

Container Growing Weekend Course

Date: 21 – 22 April, 10am – 4pm

Venue: King Henry’s Walk Garden, London, N1 4NX

Overview: On this course you will learn everything you need to grow food successfully in containers in a small space.

 photo ©

On this course you will learn everything you need to grow food successfully in containers in a small space.

 This course is for you if you:

  •  Want to grow food productively but only have a very small space – a balcony, patio or window sills.
  • Want to learn all about growing organically in containers – what compost to use, what container to choose, how to water and feed your crops.
  • Wonder what will grow best on a shady balcony – or very hot patio.
  • Want to learn how to grow from cuttings and seeds.
  • Are looking for tips and ideas to grow food on a small budget.
  • Have slugs, pigeons and other urban pests that you want to keep at bay safely and organically.
  • Want to discover which crops are productive, delicious and beautiful.


The course is perfect if you have no or limited experience and want to master the essentials of container growing.

Details here:

Sarah Raven March offers and Newsletter

Posted by Lewisham Gardens on March 14, 2012 at 11:30 AM Comments comments (1)

Here is Sarah Raven's March Newsletter.  Her stock is quality and really good value.  

While I almost always buy locally- Phoebe's and Shannon's - Sarah's nursery is one of the mail order places I use often. 


March Newsletter

With the arrival of spring there is lots to do in the garden in early march. Seed sowing really starts to get underway and you'll want to plant roses

and lift and divide perennial plants.

Tidy and Mend

Check your terracotta pots for frost damage. The hard winter may have damaged them, so check them over.

Sadly you can’t mend them, but you can break them down further and use them as crocks.

Shrubs and Trees

There’s nothing like the scent of shrub roses in the summer garden and even better when they are spectacular

climbers covering a fence or wall. Here’s how we recommend planting them:

Planting Roses

You can plant bare root roses in March but wait till there is no frost on the ground.

Or you can pot up your bare root roses into large pots to grow on and plant them into the garden almost any time –

as long as you keep them well watered.

* Soak the root in a bucket of water overnight.

* Dig a hole at least as deep and wide as a spade head.

* Fork the base of the hole over well to break up the soil and add a handful of all-round fertilizer (e.g. Blood, fish and bone or chicken manure pellets).

* Mound a small pile of soil - mixed with a little compost - in the centre of the hole to support the crown of the rose.

* Place the rose in the centre.

* Lay a bamboo cane across the top of the hole to make sure that the ‘union’ of the rose (ie the union between the root plant and the graft,

which looks like a knee) is slightly below soil level. If it isn’t, dig the hole more deeply. This is crucial. If the union is above soil level, you

promote the formation of suckers from the root material. These may then outgrow the grated rose on top.

* Fill in the hole with soil mixed with well rotted manure (or home-made compost).

* Firm down with your heel, mulch well and water.


Grow Your Own Flowers

March is the moment for sowing your undercover hardy annual seeds. If you have a greenhouse, windowsill or conservatory you can sow nearly everything in our hardy annual seed range. The bestselling and favourite Ammi majus is a must. It has wonderful lacy, white flowers, like a more delicate form of cow parsley. It’s the best white filler foliage you can grow and is spectacular arranged in a vase on its own.

You can sow some half-hardy annuals too, but wait until the middle of the month when the light levels are better and the nights are less cold.

Grow Your Own Veg and Salad


At last you can get going on your veg. It’s so exciting, especially if you love sowing seeds and messing about in the potting shed or greenhouse. Varieties to sow now include borlotti beans, broad beans (sow direct outside), Brussels sprouts, cabbages, courgettes, French beans, leeks, squashes and tomatoes.

Cover soil with plastic to dry it out, then direct sow carrots, parsnips and radishes.


If you want to get going with some salad, sow now undercover or in gutters in your greenhouse or conservatory, Corn Salad, Rainbow chard, Mizuna, Rocket, Winter Purslane and Mustard and plenty of Lettuces.


Direct sow Chervil, Chives, Coriander or sow Dill, Fennel and French Sorrel under cover.


Harvesting Flowers – Lovely things to pick and arrange from your garden in March

Bulbs: Narcissi, grape hyacinths, hyacinths, early tulips e.g. Purissima, plus freesias and anemones under cover

Hardy annuals: Euphorbia oblongata and by the end of the month, cerinthe and schizanthus (inside)

Biennials: honesty and wallflowers

Perennials: artichoke leaves, hellebores and polyanthus, plus alstroemerias (under cover).


Contact: Sarah Raven's Kitchen & Garden Limited

1 Woodstock Court, Blenheim Road, Marlborough, SN8 4AN

Telephone 0845 092 0283