AN IMAGE NINE YEARS IN THE MAKING

Robin on garden fork

I made this image of a robin perched on the handle of a garden fork in my garden a few weeks ago whilst I sat quietly in the garden. In some ways there is nothing new about an image of a robin perched on the handle of a garden tool, it is typical behaviour for these birds that has been photographed many times before I made this particular image.

It is believed that robins evolved in the wild wood to follow wild boar. As the boar turned the soil looking for food, the robins would follow and feed on worms and insects that had been exposed by the  boar. When the boar died out and the wild wood was cleared, robins evolved to follow humans as they worked the newly cultivated earth. When I work in my garden, it is always a pleasure to have the company of the resident robins, as I turn the soil over, they will follow and come down to feed where I have worked. When I rest and leave a garden spade or fork in the soil, a robin will frequently perch on the handle, surveying the area I have worked and its wider territory.

When my wife and I moved into the house over nine years ago, after the builders had finished converting the previously derelict shell that had stood empty for many years, the garden was ecologically much poorer than it is today. Whilst there were a few aging trees, save for an initially pristine lawn, the builders had only planted a few “builder’s plants” – the really hardy types (plants that will grow anywhere even on heavily contaminated land) that you typically see on all recently finished housing sites. The lawn soon deteriorated (laid on top of a thin layer of top soil that the builders had scattered over the heavily compacted subsoil, pools of cement and other building rubbish they had left buried behind them) as the grass rapidly became water logged, starved and died. Save for the odd bird that would perch temporarily in one of the trees, the garden was mostly empty of birds and other noticeable animals.

After nine years, whilst the garden is not finished nor will it ever be, it now has a much greater ecological diversity. Two of the four trees that were originally present have been removed letting in much needed light. The soil has been dug over with the sub-surface pan and compaction caused by the builders machinery removed. The borders in the garden have all been double dug to two spade depths deep – the other name for “double digging” is “bastard trenching” which is an apt name especially in heavy clay soil such as that in our garden. The soil has also been enriched by the addition of much needed organic matter. As a result of this work, the soil is no longer compacted and waterlogged. New plants have been planted: native yew hedging around the borders of the garden together with flowering shrubs (buddleia, hydrangea etc….) and nectar and pollen rich herbaceous perennials (cat mints, fox gloves, lavenders, aquilegias, sedums etc….). Bird feeders have also been erected.

The garden is now home to a wide variety of insects including solitary bees which can be seen feeding on the flowers together with wild honey bees. Many different types of birds are present, nesting in the trees and hedging and feeding on the food provided for them. It is particular pleasing, given their declining numbers, to have a small flock of tree sparrows visiting the feeders together with amongst other birds: great spotted woodpeckers; gold and green finches; blue, coal, great and long tailed tits; gold and green finches; chaffinches;  black birds; and wrens. There are also the resident Robins that have their territories in the garden. One of these Robins is perched on the handle of the garden fork that I use in the garden and which has temporarily been left amongst a group of box balls with the Yew hedging as a background, in this image that has taken me nine years to make.

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