Robin Redbreast – The Cheeky Garden Charmer

Travel writer Pat Richardson shares the pleasure of her own little corner of heaven to come home to

I can tell you exactly when I went from being no more than a woman with a garden, to a genuine gardener. It was the day that Robin Redbreast (or, probably, his great-great-great-grandfather) sat on the handle of my garden fork as I stopped for breath. I held that breath, worried that he’d realise his mistake as soon as I moved again and take off, but he didn’t. Completely at home in his territory, he sized me up slowly with his bright little eyes and an appealing tilt of the head.  Two hands, two legs – yes, she’ll do. He then flew off, but not far, just to the stone bench from where he watched intently as I got back to work.

He was still there half an hour later, give or take a few forays into the Portugal laurel where, this year, he – or his great-great-great-grandson – and his missus built their nest, chivvying me along with an occasional string of high-pitched, whistling trills. Not until I got out the garden hose at the end of my session, and liberally watered the lawn, was he satisfied. Hopping to the ground, he began pulling up worms from the newly softened soil.

I found his company delightful. He found mine useful – putting a whole new twist on an old aphorism that I like: Dogs have owners, cats have staff. Indeed they do – and robins have gardeners!

We’re old friends now. He’s often on the fence or a nearby branch as I work, and frequently appears in the early morning, perching on the back of one of the garden-table chairs outside the kitchen window. ‘Are you coming out today or not?’ his tip-tilted stance seems to say.

For all their charming ways with humans who garden, robins are famed for their territorial aggression: that vivid breast may be the colour of a valentine, but it’s more ‘red rag to a bull’ than cheery greeting. Yet the image of this appealing little bird, on a snow-covered log or red letter-box is a perennially popular choice for Christmas cards. Proof, surely, that the sight of a robin brightens our day? No, a cynic may say, simply a safe, secular choice in this age of political correctness. 

One thing is certain – when I pull on my gardening gloves and head out to put my small patch in order, there’s none whose greeting I welcome more.

Pat Richardson has many years experience as a travel writer including 16 years as Travel Editor on Best Magazine. She has since turned freelance and writes mainly for the Daily Telegraph’s Escorted Travel and Cruise Supplements. As well as tending her own delightful Kew garden, she runs a writing and editing service and consultancy and, a website showcasing properties with a past.