It’s a dreary grey dawn but there’s a blaze of red outside the bedroom window and it’s twittering with sparrows all ready for the day.  After a proper hot summer, the autumn display of our rampant Virginia creeper has never looked more spectacular but I have mixed feelings listening to all that bird life.

Virginia Creeper covering three storeys

Our new next door neighbour has asked us, very politely, if he can remove the leafy blanket covering his house and we cannot blame him for that especially since he has willingly agreed to wait until the leaves have dropped.

We knew it was coming. In the last couple of years the creeper has gone wild, recklessly spreading across both sides of our house, working its way along the gutters, snaking across the roof.  Given the chance it would run riot down the whole street in no time at all.

I know we need to get it under control.  Unlike ivy, the tendrils of Virginia creeper (or Parthenocissus quinquefolia to give it the Latin name) cause no structural damage but once the plant gets going it can cover walls, windows, drainpipes, trees and telegraph poles with astonishing speed.   In the wild, says Wikipedia, it can reach heights of 20-30m (66-98 ft). Or, we can vouch, the top of a tenement house in the city.

Close up of crimson leaves

Birds and bees seem to love it.  All summer long the back of our house has been buzzing with bees and fluttering with young birds.  It’s a vertical wildlife sanctuary, as I’ve been saying for a while, so I’m pleased to read that wild gardens could be helping to restore the numbers of British house sparrows.

In the last 30 years the population of sparrows has more than halved. The reason is not certain but it’s likely to be a toxic  mix of pollution combined with loss of food and habitat,   This year the BTO Garden Birdwatch cautiously reports good news: “Given that gardens are thought to be a particularly valuable habitat for our House Sparrows, it is encouraging that the latest BTO Garden BirdWatch data indicate that numbers are stabilizing, which is also reflected in data from the wider countryside.”

But that doesn’t mean the sparrows are out of danger. Gardeners can help, suggests the BTO ecology team, by letting an area of garden grow wild to encourage more insects. In fact there is a fair amount of evidence to show that urban and suburban gardens are richer habitats for wildlife than the countryside – that’s if people can be persuaded not to turn their plots into paved parking lots. As I wrote a few autumns ago (Social Climbers) vertical gardens are an important habitat for our disappearing wildlife as well as  being part of innovative green approach to environmentally sustainable building.

Once we get the creeper under control perhaps I could get our back wall listed as a nature reserve?

window framed with creeper