First of all, say if I want birds but I don't want a garden like a "jungle" and I don't want too much maintenance. Am I asking for too much?
All birds need is a bit of variety and somewhere they feel safe to feed and breed. There are lots of ways of enticing birds to live in your garden without turning it into one big hedge though.
For example, consider creating a mixed deciduous and evergreen shrub area to give your garden year round interest. This not only provides places for birds but gives you something to look out at all year around. Providing pockets of dense vegetation where plants create a tight canopy is a good way of making your garden work for both you and the birds.
This mixture of plants will also provide a habitat for insects - which birds love to forage around for. Including thorny plants like wild rose will also help to keep birds safe from predators like cats and magpies. However these plants will need a certain amount of training in the first few years to get them established. We call this medium maintenance!
Remember that lawns too provide plenty of worms for birds. A healthy lawn is like one big buffet for birds such as blackbirds, robins and thrushes. Where space allows, we try to include a lawn in our designs. We feel it is central to attracting a variety of birds.
What species of plants do you recommend?
Flowers, trees and shrubs fulfill a variety of needs for birds - most importantly, shelter, shade, and food. So look for plants that provide foods and plenty of cover.
If you are up for a bit of maintenance and want to attract the widest number of species then a mixture of plants and feeders is essential. Sunflowers and grasses provide a readily available snack with fleshy berries of garden cherries and coronet apple trees will bring up the fruit content. Shrubs such pyracantha (not the yellow-berried varieties), berberis, and female varieties of holly provide berries.
When it comes to trees, you have to consider the size of your garden. More often than not we see gardens that have become overgrown with trees which are too big and unsuitable for the small space. Always take advice before planting a tree. We see the result of impulse planting far too often. Random tree planting will upset the birds more when you end up cutting the tree down, leaving the birds homeless.
Some of the smaller flowering plants and painted feature walls act as colour beacons for passing birds. One of our clients told us recently that since we redesigned their garden, (making it super low maintenance - but high on striking colour), the local birdwatchers have noticed a rise in bird numbers and a few new visitors too. That is a really nice thing to hear.
Any advice for small gardens?
Birds and wildlife love climbers. Climbing plants don't need loads of ground space (even a large planter on a balcony will support a climber on a trellis) and provide a perfect habitat for animals of all sorts. If you have the space, try growing native ivy and honeysuckle along with fragrant wisteria as these are great for wildlife. Clematis, another popular climber also provides excellent shelter, but will need a good amount of space and training to let it knit together.
Climbers will take over so careful management - medium maintenance - should help to keep them in check. We always point this out to our clients as the lovely soft fluffy red jasmine you can buy in the supermarket for EUR5.99 will run riot in a very short time.
What about attracting butterflies?
These are the real sign that Summer has arrived. Buddleia is not called the butterfly bush for nothing. Its flowers are packed with nectar which the butterflies just adore. It will need a bit of maintenance and a good pruning as it can get quite wild if left unkempt. And do not be afraid to attract bees. Give them the right plants and they will be busy doing their bit for Mother Nature.
Bees love lavender, and any large open flower which is easy for them to get at - like daisy or foxglove.
We always have wildlife as a concern when designing our garden rooms. We recently planted a small grove of olive trees in Dublin City Centre. It provided a crop of really fat fleshy black olives in the first year. We thought the city birds would not know this strange new fruit - but they plucked every last one off. So, not only are the people of Dublin very cosmopolitan, the blackbirds and song thrushes are right up there with us too.