Blackbirds eating berries. Photograph: Nik Taylor/Alamy
Across my garden comes the bittersweet scent of almonds. It emanates from a ragged, overgrown bush that I leave unpruned. A thicket of stems that begins upright is swept over by the westerly winds till the branch tops reach the ground on the other side. Underneath is a cave of leafmould darkness where I pile autumn debris for the hedgehogs.
This pink-flowered shrub is an elderly Viburnum farreri, named after the planthunter Reginald Farrer, who introduced it from northern China. The old wood is green-grey with lichens, the new is the colour of dried blood. Young stems flake and peel to glow when backlit by the winter sun. Where the ends touch the ground they turn upwards, snagging me when I cut the lawn in summer. Still, I leave it untouched as it shelters so many forms of life.
Robin, dunnock and blue tit skit about in the impenetrable lattice. Blackbirds nest deep in the interior. In winter the viburnum is a staging post, a safe place from which the blackbirds can fly up into a nearby hawthorn. Here they land with an upturned flick of the tail to teeter on the thinnest twigs and snatch the berries, seesawing back and forth, tail feathers spread for balance.
As I look out the window, I count nine blackbirds. I watch them feasting on the haws, sometimes dropping the ripe berries to the ground. Suddenly, a svelte shape hurtles towards the house and the birds dash for the safety of the viburnum. A kestrel lands on the roof above me where I can’t see it. I often spot it hunting over the haugh, hovering above the tussocks of purple moor grass. From its rooftop view it will be looking for the voles that scurry between the drystone walls. Meanwhile the songbirds hide in their tangled sanctuary. It reminds me why I try not to be too tidy with my planting and of the title of Mirabel Osler’s garden book A Gentle Plea for Chaos.