Column: In the garden with Dean Aylett

I HAVE now had the pleasure, or should I say dubious pleasure at best, as my wife sent me onto the roof to fix the hole that a pair of jackdaws had been nesting in.

Hors d’oeuvre were jangling a bit but two months of continuous squawking and screeching from dawn to dusk finally convinced me to fix it and the jackdaws, they chipped in a bit too!

As it is illegal to disturb a wild bird’s nest while breeding I took the chance to research the behaviour of corvids and found that the often maligned jackdaw is one of the most friendly and intelligent of birds whose diet consists of largely grain, insects, slugs and only a small portion of roadkill if food sources are scarce.

There is also a strict social hierarchy within jackdaw groups. Unpaired females rank lowest in the trains or clatterings as they are collectively called, this results in them being the last to have access to food and shelter during any shortages.

However, they can boost their status in society and once paired up with a mate the female will have equal stature and be accepted by all others as such for life.

Jackdaws can also interact with humans through eye contact. There are many stories told by individuals scooping up stranded fledglings in need and were rewarded with a bemusing trust and friendship, as observed by Cambridge zoologist Auguste Von Bayern. This I can vouch for.

While on the roof, I would often turn around to witness one or both of the birds watching me. Once eye contact was made, the birds would then fly to a new vantage point to observe my dubious roofing and rehousing skills, no doubt probably hoping that I would fall off as I climbed back down to the garden to prune back the roses that I had observed from above.

Pruning roses as the flowers fade will provide a second flush later in summer and is also the perfect opportunity to take cuttings of favourites.

This can be achieved by cutting soft and hardwood cuttings at eight inch lengths, cutting just below a side shoot before placing in a pot of seed compost to three quarters of its depth then place in a cool area and wait for between four and five months before re-potting or planting out.

Now is also the perfect time to remove excess fruit from apple and pear trees. The tree will do this naturally itself over the next month but by removing manually the tree can concentrate its energy into forming the remaining fruits.

The same can be done to cordon tomato plants – remove the growing tip after three trusses have formed and also remove any foliage beneath the first truss and any that do not have flowers. Again this will stop the plant from wasting energy and will give earlier yields.

Spring flowering clematis can be cut back by a third (Group 1) the other groups should be left until flowering has finished later in summer.

Salad crops can be continually sown at fortnightly intervals for a continuation of young leaves and just as important is keeping the bird feeders full. This is what I will be doing while walking in terra ferma, hoping for forgiveness from our corvid friends.

Happy, thoughtful gardening.

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