Wednesday 31 December 2014

Review of the year

New Year's Eve and looking back over 2014 there have been highs and lows with our garden:

  • The greenhouse tomatoes were great. This year I sowed all Alicantes and they gave us consistently delicious tomatoes right through till early November. The green ones ripened on the kitchen windowsill but didn't quite make it till Christmas.
  • Raspberries were pretty good, especially the early ones
  • Beetroots were spectacular - 2 sowings. Plenty of beetroots for salad and soup.
  • The Bramley Apple was loaded with good quality apples. Bramleys are notorious for "one year on one year off" so probably get none in 2015. Have quite a few in store (mice willing) and lots of tubs of cooked apples in the freezer.
  • The little Elstar Apple we planted 5 years ago has just got into its stride. Only about 10 apples - but really delicious and seem to keep well.
Not so good:

We had quite a few failures or problems with vegetables:
  • Potatoes were generally a bit small. But the biggest problem has been when we have come to used them Some of the Colleens and a few Desirees have nasty brown cavities in the middle. No sign of ingress by worms and generally only the larger potatoes are affected. Looked up on Google and identified this as Hollow Heart - not caused by a bug, bacteria or rot but by rapid changes in growing conditions. Indeed this we had see post So, in future need to be more rigorous about watering during dry spells.
  • Runner Beans sown directly into ground were infested with bean fly so we had to plant a second sowing in pots. These grew well and we had a good crop.
  • Broad Beans grew quickly and we had a good crop. But some of the mature beans had brownish markings on the bean. I usually save beans for next year so have picked them over carefully.
  • Leeks again suffered with allium leaf miner. Managed to get a few early ones for eating 
  • Brussel Sprouts were a disaster. new variety this year and we netted them against butterflies and pigeons, but they didn't thrive and some had big swollen stems with only tiny sproutlets.
  • The blackcurrants were completely stripped by pigeons and blackbirds, presumably to spite us because we netted the redcurrants.
Couch grass was everywhere. The rhubarb patch is completely overrun with couch grass actually boring holes through the roots, However much I dug up it was there again a week later. Bindweed seems to have reduced a bit though.

Looking forward now to planning the sowing and planting for 2015.

Monday 29 December 2014

End of year snow

After a really warm few weeks in the run-up to Christmas we had snow on Boxing Day night. The days have been sunny and bright and very cold so the snow is still lying, crispy and crunchy to walk on. The snow provides some interesting images with stark, leafless trees, bushes and grasses.

Raspberry canes poking through the snow.

Footprints in the snow - cat, fox?

Amazing "reverse icicle" emerging from one of the many hollow iron scaffolding poles
we use as supports for the blackcurrant bushes and other soft fruit.
The water in the poles freezes and expands creating an interesting ice sculpture.

Another view of the "ice sculpture" with a plane trail up in the early evening sky.

View across the fields to Clay Lane and the cottages on Zion Hill.

Wednesday 3 December 2014

Pheasants and carrots

Definitely winter now although after the frost early last week the weather reverted to grey, foggy days. Last night got down to minus 2.5 C and this morning bright and sunny. The days are short so can't get much done in the garden.

Last week our farmer neighbour brought round a brace of pheasants, so on Sunday I took them up to the greenhouse to pluck. I plucked pheasants in the conservatory once and the feathers were blowing around for weeks. At least in the greenhouse stray feathers will act as compost.

.. so roasted the two pheasants with stuffing made from bread, pheasants' livers, home-grown thyme and parsley with a little shop-bough dried marjoram. Laid bacon over the breasts and legs and foil over the lot. Must do some dried marjoram next year since it grows wild all over the garden. Along with our own potatoes we had a very few carrots. I've been growing these in a big pot - disease and pest free but not very productive.

Here they are:

Carrots from big pot in our garden.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

First hard frost

This morning we woke to the first serious frost of the Autumn with the water in the fountain well frozen and all the plants and grass edged with silvery white. The overnight temperature went down to minus 3 deg C - which probably seems quite tropical to those poor souls in New York State who've been digging themselves out of 6 foot drifts this week.

Frost-edged ferns

Pretty, frost-edged Japanese anemone leaves
Frosty grasses and reeds obscure the pond

Sunday 16 November 2014

Clearing out the greenhouse

Cleared out the tomatoes from the greenhouse today. It was wet, murky and foggy all day so this was a job in the dry. I picked a kilo of green and slightly pink tomatoes to keep on the kitchen window-sill and these may last till Christmas. I find tomatoes keep better and are much tastier stored out of the fridge.

I weeded (lots of small stinging nettles) and dug over the bed in the greenhouse and used the soil from there to partly fill two large tubs ready for potatoes. I planted 4 Santes which do very well in pots and will sort out some Colleens for the other one. The Colleens in store in the garage are already sprouting with the warm Autumn weather.

The tubs will stay in the greenhouse over winter, though they'll need a bit of insulation if the temperature drops below freezing. It provides us with a few potatoes in the Spring well before the ones in the garden are ready.

When it stops raining I'll get a couple of barrows from the compost heap to replace the soil in the greenhouse beds and think about growing something there over winter. It would have to be a frost-resistant crop -  maybe a winter lettuce mix or pak choi. I'll need a visit to the seed shop.

Monday 10 November 2014

Sale and cyclamens

Our local conservation group - the Coleorton and New Lount Volunteer Group  - hold occasional "Table-top sales" to raise funds to help with their work. So this Saturday I had a table and stocked it up with garden and house plants, home-made jam, marmalade and chutneys and some rose-petal potpourris. It's as much a social event as a money-making exercise but it's a fun way to contribute to the volunteer work.

Froggarts Cottage plants & preserves at the Table-top sale 
I had already potted up some suitable plants for sale including pots of thyme which I grew from seed last year and are now maturing nicely, but I wanted a bit more colour.

It's difficult to find garden plants in flower at the moment. There are still some little cyclamen in bloom in the bank under the cherry tree. I had to work hard to dig up a patch, and thought I must have been tugging at cherry-tree roots. But when I got the clump into the greenhouse to separate into pots I found I had dug up an enormous corm about 20cms in diameter and 7 cm thick which was supporting a number of smaller corms. I'd never seen one so big and I'm wondering what's under the soil in the front garden which is carpeted with pick and white cyclamen.

Pretty pink cyclamen emerge each Autumn from corms - some of which can be enormous.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Cold and bright Guy Fawkes day

Another bright Autumn day with a cold, slightly frosty start and glorious sunshine all day until the shock of sunset at 4.30 pm. Every year after the clocks go back it's difficult adjusting to such short days. But it's just Winter - can always get up earlier to get a bit more light-time. Tonight is Guy Fawkes night and fireworks are banging, popping and swooshing already at 6 o'clock and there's a big moon smiling at all the festivities.

Because of the threat of frost I've brought in all the tender plants like geraniums,begonias and oleanders and filled the conservatory window-sills. The tomatoes have been stripped and the grow-bags removed from the small conservatory leaving just 4 pepper plants (capsicums) with a few fruits left. We picked 6 red peppers on Saturday and had them stuffed with minced beef, garlic, onions, mushrooms and served with thick tomato sauce created from the aforementioned tomatoes.

Last week-ends strong winds (see Coalville tornado) stripped all the leaves from the walnut and maple trees and the silver birch and the big cherry is just hanging onto a few pinky-yellow leaves. Everything is just a bit soggy with damp leaves everywhere. But there are a few bulbs peeping through already to remind us Spring is on it's way after whatever Winter we get this year!

Monday 27 October 2014

Allium Leaf Miner

After having had a few good leeks in a lamb casserole a couple of weeks ago I was disappointed that the main crop were looking a bit weedy. They weren't getting fat and started to show bumps and breaks in the stem. So I checked them over - yes the dreaded Allium Leaf Miner again.

For pictures and advice see the RHS site >>

We haven't grown onions or leeks for 3 years to try to clear the soil of pupae but they seem to be endemic now. I planted a second batch of leeks in a different part of the garden and covered them with a fleece tunnel during August & early September when the adult moth is supposed to fly. So far they look OK (need a bit of weeding though).

Leeks - plus chickweed & leaves!

Saturday 18 October 2014

Surprise pink lilies

One of the delights of having such an established but somewhat neglected garden is that it often rewards with surprises. During our first few years at Froggarts Cottage we found many plants and flowers emerging from the undergrowth that we hadn't seen before.

This morning I was walking past our shrubbery patch in the front and spotted what looked like a floppy pink agapanthus peeping out from under the pieris.  I remembered seeing a patch of them in the front garden of a cottage in Dorset where Mum used to live. They provided a striking show every autumn.

Anyway I Googled "pink agapanthus" - and yes, they do exist as well as the usual blue, but I could see that wasn't what we had.  But one search result answered the very question I was asking - "Pink agapanthus??" This was an interesting site called Planters Corner run by Malcolm Hockman.

Nerine Bowdenii
Here is an image from his website and is just like what we have. Malcolm explained they are Nerine Bowdenii and are from South Africa. They are also called Bowden Cornish lilies.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Rainy spell

After our "proper summer" and the driest September since 1910 we're having a week of wind and rain. The rain-water butts are now full and the ground well soaked - except under the large rhubarb and marrow leaves where there are still dry patches.

While tidying up the yellowing rhubarb leaves I discovered an abandoned pheasant nest with 10 perfect grey eggs. What a shame they didn't hatch, but I suppose the hungry family would have plundered anything green and edible in the veg patch so probably best they nest in the field.

There's still a lot of produce to harvest. Yesterday I picked 2lbs tomatoes from the greenhouse, 6 courgettes and 2 squashes plus half a punnet of rather soggy raspberries. These are a late variety and still have plenty of flowers and unripe berries as a promise of early winter fruit. The eating apples are not quite ripe yet. With the rain they should get to a decent size and will probably be red and ripe in a couple of weeks.

We're still trying to get on top of the cooking apple glut. We've given some to neighbours and stored some in the cool, dark storeroom behind the garage but they are going off so quickly we're trying to use the apples in as many ways as possible. Last week I made 8 jars of apple chutney and on Sunday an apple crumble, apple cake and apple flap-jacks (like nutty, oaty health-bars).

Monday 29 September 2014


Roses still blooming and bee grateful for the late nectar
It's the end of September and Autumn is well under way. The warm Spring and Summer (with the exception of a rather chilly August) has continued into September. No frosts or cold evenings, and very little rain. This has resulted in trees turning a bit early and plenty of flowers maintaing the colour in the garden. the bees are still busy, especially on the late roses and raspberries.

There's lots of work at this time of year. The apples are ripening early and need picking and processing. The warmth has meant the apples aren't keeping well. Some Bramleys I stored 10 days ago in the cool, dark store room behind the garage have already gone black. So we've been cutting up, cooking and freezing apples. This week I'll be making some chutney using the marrows and squashes that are ripening in abundance.

The trees and shrubs have grown tremendously this year so there's a lot of pruning and cutting back. The branches and twigs, along with couch grass and seedy weeds have provided a few great bonfires, one of the fun activities that we're lucky to be able to enjoy in our country garden.

Autumnal red leaves

Tuesday 9 September 2014

Crab apples

Crab apples in pan
Chopped crap apples ready for cooking
On Saturday we picked crab apples and hubby spent most of Sunday cleaning and chopping, then cooking up two huge pots of apples and yesterday squeezing and pressing the juice ready for a big cook up today to produce crab apple jelly with assorted flavourings - plain, sage and rosemary. We made 20 jars.

The sage and rosemary flavours go really well with roast meats like pork, lamb and chicken and also cheese.

Our crab apples are a red variety which produce a rich, dark jelly.

Crab apple jelly - 20 jars

Sunday 31 August 2014

Bean feast

Plenty of produce from the garden now. As well as the fruit trees and raspberries the vegetables are producing in abundance - beetroots, marrows / courgettes, squashes, lettuces and three kinds of beans.

Beetroot, squash, marrow & french beans

Runner beans
We keep bean seeds from one year to plant the next. The runner beans have been saved this way for about 30 years when Mum & Dad moved to their Dorset home and bought a new packet. This year I planted 40 runner bean seeds in a new plot (move the bean frame around each year) and nothing happened. After 3 weeks I dug around and found every bean was infested with little white grubs. Checked internet and think they were probably bean fly. (See Which fact sheet for more details - I'll be following some of their advice next year!) Luckily I had some more bean seeds so I planted them in pots to germinate and grow up a little. (We always used to do this, generally to avoid early frosts and get a jump on the weather in cold springs. It's only in the last few years we've planted straight in the ground.) The planted-out beans then got chomped by slugs but the survivors have grown up well and are giving us a bumper crop.

French beans have done really well this year. I always plant these in pots in the greenhouse because they are more tender than other beans and are only safely planted out at the end of May. However, the germination rate has been about 50-60% using saved seeds and bought seeds - no difference. After the bean fly experience with the runners I took a close look in the pots and there was some evidence of pest at work, though no visible grubs. Some of the non-germinating seeds and ones with just stubby growth had brown marks on the beans. Haven't yet discovered what causes these. Next year I will plant twice as many as we need. The surviving plants - grown up wigwams of bamboo and hazel - have produced in abundance needing to be harvested every day.

Our star performers are the broad beans. In March I planted 30 straight in the ground and 30 in pots with no noticeable difference in germination success, growth rate or productivity. The only problem this year was that they produced beans a plenty during the warm spell and it was difficult to pick and process fast enough. We leave some of the bigger pods to mature and dry off and now I've gathered those and stored the beans in a paper bag ready for next year.

Young broad beans - half grown from seeds planted in the soil and the others in pots and planted out.

Saturday 30 August 2014

Blue sky musings

The last few days of August have been patchy weather-wise. We've had the typical "sunny spells with showers" - more grey than sunny.

Yesterday during a sunny spell I lay down in the grass under the damson tree and gazed up through the branches into the blue sky.

Right above me lots of plump-looking damsons ready for picking this weekend. Last year we had a bumper crop and the cupboards are still full of damson jams of various types and damson vodka. Flitting around the damson fruit were several brown & white butterflies and an enormous dragon-fly.

Then, swallows - flying very high. I haven't seen many recently (since the babies fledged) and thought they may already have gone south. But obviously they have just moved their roosting spot further into the fields.

A big silver bird came into view - no, it's an aeroplane moving silently across the blue sky shining in the sun.

Then the engine noise followed joining the orchestra of wood-pigeons cooing, long-tail tits squeaking and woodpeckers calling as they fly and THUD! - a large cooking apple dropped a few feet from my head. Definitely time for harvesting!

Sunday 17 August 2014

First tomatoes

Yesterday we picked our first Faworyt beef tomatoes. We picked 3 lbs - one tom was 8oz. They are been growing in Mum's conservatory in grow bags sowed from seeds on 30 March. Looking at last year's diary we picked our first Big Boy tomatoes on 18th August having planted the first week of April, so very similar - despite this year being much warmer. The year before we had our first Big Boy tomato on 13 August (11 oz).

Faworyt beef tomatoes
We've grown Big Boy tomatoes for many years. They are excellent for cooking and soups as well as in salads. They provide much better flesh to skin & pip ratio than other varieties. However, they are an F1 hybrid and have been increasingly difficult to source seeds. So this year we tried the Faworyt variety.

They certainly germinated well and have grown luxuriously, perhaps a bit too much leaf which we've had to trim back quite a lot. (I know some people suggest cutting back nearly all the leaves anyway - "to prevent the leaves taking the goodness". But it's the leaves that create the tomatoes, especially the sweetness, via photosynthesis.)

Well for lunch we did the test - sliced tomatoes,with chopped chives and a splash of vinegar & olive oil - and I'd say the taste was pretty good. Nice and sweet. But I think there were a lot of pips, not so much flesh as the Big Boys.

Faworyt tomatoes in growbags in the conservatory.
In the big greenhouse I've grown Alicantes and a few tomatoes that appeared in the compost so could be anything. We've been picking and eating for a week or so and they are pretty good. Very sweet just to eat as they are but will do soup too.

Alicante toms ripening on the kitchen windowsill.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Swallow families

This year there are loads of swallows and with the sunshine following the rain on Saturday there are lots of bugs. We've had great fun watching their aerobatics and swooping down to feed their fluffy babies perched precariously on the telephone wires. The transfer takes half a second. I think the swallows have their nests in our neighbour's big barn.

Some years we've had no swallows. Last year we had martins and swallows but this year just loads of swallows. Certainly the warmer summers help.

See first swallow entry >>

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Hot Potatoes!

The hot summer weather continues punctuated by severe thunderstorms and downpours. The result is that everything is growing like crazy. At the weekend I picked 4 large buckets of broad beans - and there's more to come - and I dug the first two rows of properly-planted potatoes. These are Colleens which I've had before and are pretty good. With all that rain the soil was muddy and not ideal for potato-picking but needs must as I want the space for some leek seedlings left over from the main planting-out.

Harvested about 30lbs of potatoes from the two rows (22 plants). They are in fairly good condition with only a few worm / slug holes. Had to pull one small slug out of a hole and chucked it over the hedge into the field (sorry Billy but the cattle probably don't mind!). Paul spread out the potatoes on newspaper on the conservatory floor to dry off and this morning I brushed the mud off, sorted out the damaged ones for immediate use and the very small ones for potato salad and stored the rest in cardboard wine boxes. Wine boxes are great because the cardboard sections prevent any rot spreading through the whole batch. Stored in our cool, dark garage they will provide good eating during the winter.

Thursday 17 July 2014


We're having a proper summer this year with spells of hot sunshine, warm winds and occasional heavy downpours. Great for the fruit trees and vegetables. Yesterday evening we were treated to a magnificent rainbow as the setting sun shone on the falling rain.

An eerie glow and you can just see the double rainbow with colours reversed.

Magnificent rainbow over Froggarts Cottage Garden

Sunday 29 June 2014


We have been visited by a couple of young rabbits. They have been playing about and eating the grass on our lawn outside the kitchen window. Very cute and entertaining.

However, Hubby has spotted a large rabbit (Mum or Dad?) in the vegetable garden sizing up the broad beans - so not so cute!

We are surrounded by fields with plenty of sandy banks where rabbits can make a home. Usually sometime in the spring a farmer has a shoot and the numbers are cut dramatically. But one of the fields has been sold with the School House so the rabbits are running free this year.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Table-top sale

I tried my hand at selling some of our produce. We have occasionally put out punnets of plums and apples by the front gate with an honesty box which brought in a few pounds - but more importantly got the fruit to good homes before they went rotten.

Our local volunteer group Coleorton & New Lount Volunteer Group had a fund-raising table-top sale event in the community hall just up the road so I thought I'd support them and see what I could sell.

I took along 36 jars of jam and marmalade in various size pots and a selection of herbaceous plants and herbs. Didn't make a fortune. Of course a lot of local people make jam and have fabulous gardens so weren't really interested in buying more. Had some interesting discussions about what variety of raspberries to grow and how to get jellies to set!

Reminds me of a story my old sales manager used to tell: Two shoe salesmen got off a plane in an undeveloped part of Africa. "Oh no!" said the first "No-one wears shoes here. I'll never meet my target on this patch!". "Oh great!" said the second "No-one has any shoes here. I'll be able to sell several pairs to everyone and collect my biggest bonus ever!".

It's the way you look at your market. Clearly my local market is knowledgeable about plants so would appreciate unusual specimens, and jams and preserves that are extra-special find favour. I sold a couple of jars of marmalade to a lady who says she likes to try other people's marmalades for ideas for her own, and jellies found favour for people who don't like pips!

Jams, jellies & marmalade on the table-top sale

Sunday 22 June 2014

Four-spotted chaser

We've been spring-cleaning the conservatory and with the very sunny hot weather the doors and windows have been wide-open. So we've had to rescue quite a few bees and small dragon flies that have strayed in and can't find their way out. But we were surprised to be visited by a much bigger creature. It flew about for a while but we couldn't catch it. Eventually we found it exhausted on the floor. We captured it (clear plastic boxes you get take-aways in work really well because the insects don't see them), took it outside and gave it a drink of sugar water. After a while it took flight and spent some time on the hosta flowers. Later I looked it up on Google and discovered our visitor was a Four-spotted chaser (or Libellula quadrimaculata) - a type of dragonfly. More about dragonflies at The British Dragonfly Society website.

Getting his (or her) strength back resting on a rockery stone)

Four-spotted chaser resting on a hosta flower bud

Friday 13 June 2014

Busy month

The lack of posts in the last week or two does not signify that nothing is happening! The weather has been warm, hot at times, with sufficient rain to keep everything growing like mad after the early spring.

There's been a flurry of sowing, planting out weeding, cutting down, digging over to make more space... And  while we have just a few hours a day to get out there nature has 24 hours to do its stuff!

We generally start things off in the greenhouse or conservatory, sowing seeds or beans into suitably sized pots, modules or trays. This brings them on quickly and avoids frost damage. It also reduces predation from slugs, weevils etc. The exception to this is potatoes (obviously!) and broad beans. The broad beans seem to be very resilient. This year we planted 30 in the ground and 30 in pots in the conservatory and planted out later. All the beans germinated (saved from last year's harvest) but now there's no difference between the pot-sown and soil-sown plants.

Here's a few photos of recent activity:
Sweet peas and french beans on the "wigwams", potatoes, broad beans.

Young beetroot. Grown in modules and planted out into the raised bed.

Broad bean flowers. The bees are busy there.

Young marrow plants installed in the vegetable plot. Lots of compost from
 our mature heap went on first.

We've also planted out 72 baby leeks in the bed by the greenhouse.

Tuesday 20 May 2014


The weekend was sunny and hot (22C) with clear blue skies. Summer's here! On Sunday I was greeted with an amazing cacophony at the top of the garden. There are usually pigeons and blackbirds nesting in the holly trees but this was much more. I got the binoculars out and confirmed my first reaction - this was a whole nursery of starlings!

I love starlings. They are so much fun making elaborate and inventive song with clicks and squeaks and mimmicking car alarms and mobile phones. They are noisy and squabble a lot, but they always seem to be having fun. They are so beautiful with all colours shimmering through their mainly black and grey spotted plumage.

I watched and listened to the activity in the trees. Adult birds swooped in with beaks full of worms, their arrival causing the decibel level to rise sharply. More adventurous youngsters had left the nest and balanced precariously on outer branches. With their fluffy baby plumage they looked twice the size of their harrassed parents.

In the afternoon I was startled as the whole flock rose from the trees and swirled about the sky. They were joined by others from the spreading oak tree in Billy's field and created an acrobatic display for a few minutes - a flying lesson for the babies I suppose.

We haven't seen many starlings for a few years here so I'm really pleased to see this colony doing well and looking forward to some of those clicky, babbly, songs again.

First potatoes from pots

We had the first potatoes from the big pots we planted in the big conservatory back in early February. Just one pound of beautiful Sante potatoes - but enough for a meal (and a couple of little ones for our neighbour who had just popped round). The taste certainly reminds us of why we bother with all that digging rather than buying the tasteless rubbish from the supermarkets.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Flowers in the rain

After the warm and sunny Spring we've had a couple of weeks of rainy and windy weather. This has resulted in grass and flowers springing up like crazy. The frequency and ferocity of the rain showers has meant there have been days when we've had to abandon gardening and stay indoors.

However, last week our friend Reny braved the weather and roamed the garden taking photos. She managed to capture some beautiful images of glistening raindrops transforming flowers and leaves into something magical.

Apple blossom

Orange poppy

Delicate aquilegia buds bejeweled with raindrops

Little yellow poppy weighed down with raindrops

Hosta leaves

White bluebells

Planting out

Time to plant out some of the seedlings started off in the conservatory and greenhouse. 

71 beetroot seedlings raised in modules just fitted in the raised bed over by the raspberries. We dug this bed in the grassy area (not a lawn!) three years ago when we just ran out of space for everything. It's about 10ft x 3ft edged with logs from when the big old cherry tree was trimmed back. Last year we didn't use it so it was full of wild flowers, raspberries and weeds - actually quite pretty and the raspberries productive. This year Paul dug it over and I carted in a couple of barrows from the compost tip and added a few handfuls of organic chicken pellets. It looked like squirrels, rabbits or maybe cats had been digging holes in the soil so after planting out the little beetroots I put a load of twigs in and around to deter any intruders. Seems to have worked so far.

I also planted out some Tom Thumb lettuce seedlings in the "leek bed" by the greenhouse. I covered these with a make-shift cloche of wire frames and polythene, mainly to protect them from falling blossom and leaves and mud splash-back when it rains. this keeps the lettuces much cleaner and easier to prepare for eating.

Thursday 8 May 2014

Late Spring Flowers

Spring was early this year and came as a crescendo of colour and perfumes as the spring bulbs and blossoms just kept blooming. Here are a few photos taken on a wander around the garden during the last few days of April:

Overblown red and yellow tulips

Apple blossom - small red apple tree

Aquilegias come in all colours and shapes

White and blue "blue-bells" (we have pink ones too), grape hyacinths, yellow allysum and some red tulips

and not forgetting the vegetable plot - broad beans sown in the grown coming through nicely

Tuesday 29 April 2014

Birdwatch 2014

We didn't do the RSPB Birdwatch this January - just ran out of time. Also we haven't been putting out nuts and seeds on the bird table so don't see as many visiting close to the house. Again - lack of time and also getting very expensive. The wood pigeons (and squirrels) are really greedy and "hoover" up as many peanuts and seeds as you can put out and this doesn't really seem to qualify as helping the wild life. This year we haven't had a big freeze so the little birds haven't been under a lot if stress.

The RSPB have just published the results   I extracted the results for Leicestershire ranked by number of birds recorded in gardens and parks throughout the county:

  1. House sparrow
  2. Blackbird
  3. Blue tit
  4. Woodpigeon
  5. Starling
  6. Goldfinch
  7. Great tit
  8. Robin
  9. Chaffinch
  10. Collared dove
  11. Dunnock
  12. Magpie
  13. Long tailed tit
  14. Greenfinch
  15. Jackdaw
  16. Feral pigeon
  17. Coal tit
  18. Carrion crow
  19. Wren
  20. Bullfinch

Surprised at the number of goldfinches and starlings spotted. We occasionally see a small flock of goldfinches but can't remember the last time we had a starling in the garden. 

Our January 2013 results were a bit different. Without doing a proper count I'd say, this year, our most frequent visitors are:

  1. Woodpigeon
  2. Blackbird (lots nesting now - but there weren't so many around in January)
  3. Robins
  4. Great tits (nesting in boxes under the summer house roof)
  5. Sparrows
  6. Blue tits
The numbers vary during the year. Obviously there's many species that migrate which wouldn't show up on a once-a-year study like the fieldfares and swallows. Chaffinches and other finches travel around a lot too. 

Thursday 17 April 2014

Swallows on schedule

The glorious spring weather is continuing.

Just seen two swallows! Early again this year - coincidentally last year's first swallow was spotted on 17 April 2013!

The green pipe which channels water through the fern garden and to the waterfall to the pond has stopped flowing - an indication that the water levels in Billy's field have dropped. See it in full flow during the wet summer of 2012. However, there is still a lot of water flowing down the right side of the garden and the soil is pretty damp where I've been digging over ready for the next lot of potatoes.

Forecast for the East Midlands is for a sunny start to easter weekend so hopefully I'll get those spuds in and plant up some squashes,  marrows and runner beans.

Friday 11 April 2014


This year all the spring flowers are magnificant due, I suppose, to the very wet, mild winter and lack of severe frosts knocking things back. Some of the loveliest spring bulbs are Fritillaries. Ours are growing in a patch close to the rockery and pond which has a rather old and holey plastic membrane with gravel and stones covering it.

Snakeshead Fritillaries
The name Fritillary comes from the Latin term for a dice-box (fritillus) after the checkered pattern of the flowers. We have various colours: purple with cream and the reverse, and some creamy white with very pale mauve markings. The Wikipedia entry for fritillaria shows other colours and patterns. They always seem rather special but actually are very easy to grow and if you leave the flower heads to set seed they will increase by self-sowing. Make sure over-zealous weeders don't mistake the young leaves for couch grass and pull them up. The first Fritillaries I saw were on the banks of the River Anker in Tamworth Castle Grounds and had obviously arrived there by wind or on swan's or other bird's feet.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Night life

It's my job to put the rubbish out before turning in for the night. Of course these days it's not just "the bin" but the glass bottles & jars to the glass jars red recycling box, plastic and tins to the other, compostable stuff to the purpose-built green bin with a lid (which the mice have chewed through anyway), bread, pastry and meaty bits thrown onto the lawn for the early birds (and cats and foxes) and the everything else into the actual dustbin.

Thankfully we have security light that comes on as I open the back door. At this time of year, right through to Autumn, I have to be careful where I put my feet to avoid the slugs and snails and the worms which retract with amazing speed into their holes. Last night I nearly squigged a newt which was sitting right on the doorstep.

Haven't yet heard any frogs and only seen one little one out at night. Should be out and doing by now; maybe they've up and went with the very mild weather. When we first moved here there was a lot more vegetation, russian vine and ivy everywhere, and these were home to frogs and big black toads. At night the back yard was hopping and crawling and we had to shut the back door quickly to avoid the critters jumping in!.

Thursday 3 April 2014


This year, the early warm spring has brought out the spring bulbs and in particular a great display of daffodils. Daffodils are also called Lent Lilies and certainly they have been flowering right through Lent.

Orange trumpet daffodil

Daffs at the front of our cottage
Pale yellow daffs

Yellow daffodils

Monday 24 March 2014

More planting and Glass Mystery

Another beautiful spring weekend - but interrupted by sharp showers and hail, resulting in fabulous rainbows.

More planting:

Broad Beans. 30 beans in 3 rows straight in the ground. These are saved from last year (Masterpiece green longpod) when we had a bumper harvest.

Brussel sprouts. This year I went for a different variety - Evesham. These are supposed to mature earlier than the Bedford we have previously grown. Although the idea of a late variety brussels is to provide greens in midwinter when there's not much else, it's always touch and go whether there will be any ready for Christmas. Well gardening is all about experimentation and discovery!
I planted 40 little brown seeds in modules and placed them on the greenhouse bench with a sheet of perspex over for extra protection (there was a heavy frost last night).

Now here's a mystery. The modules were filled with soil from the garden before sowing and gently pressed in with a little extra fine soil on top. The perspex placed over. This afternoon I found a small piece of glass on top of one of the sections. It surely wasn't there last night! This happens all the time outside where piles of glass appear on the surface of the garden beds. People explain it by saying worms move the earth or the rain washes the soil from above. But no worms or rain in my brussel sprout modules!

Monday 17 March 2014


Got started with the seed-sowing this weekend:

Beetroot (Boltardy) 40 seeds sown in modules and will be kept in the small conservatory until big enough to plant out.
Broad Beans  Seeds saved from last year. 5 beans to a pot, 6 pots. They'll be planted out when big enough. I'll also be planting some straight into the soil.
Potatoes (Desiree) I bought some seed potatoes and the Desirees were already chitting when they arrived so I thought I'd get them in. The soil in the vegetable beds is warming up and moist - so they should get a good start. I've also got some saved from last year's harvest which I'll plant later inthe week.
Tomatoes (Alicante) Started these off in pots in the big conservatory. I generally have around 12 plants in the greenhouse.

Friday 14 March 2014

Leek Bed

The evenings are getting lighter and today was a lovely warm spring day so I was able to spend a pleasant hour and a half after work hours digging the "leek bed". The leek bed was originally a large greenhouse - which the previous owners took with them leaving a sizeable and well-dug bed surrounded by flag-stones. It's next to the smaller greenhouse which they left behind, so is ideal for salads, beetroots  - and leeks. Mum is very fond of leeks and likes to help with separating the small leeklets grown in the seed tray and hands them to me to drop each one into its own hole made in the soil with an old spade handle. This is pretty tedious work made easier when shared.

Well that's a way off yet. Actually we haven't been able to grow leeks for a few years because we suffered from the dreaded Alium Leaf Miner. Our leeks, onions and shallots were going rotten in the ground and eventually we discovered little white larvae and horrid brown pupae. These can live in the soil and emerge as moths to infest the nexy year's crop. So we decided to give the onion family a miss for a few years. We're going to try again this year.

Our leek bed kitchen garden during early summer

Monday 10 March 2014

Two-wheeled wheelbarrow

We live on a country lane so our small strip of front garden is directly onto the road. It's a great place on Sunday afternoon to pretend to be gardening - interrupted every 5 minutes by neighbours and walkers for a chat and setting the world to rights.

This afternoon I was clearing weeds from the gravel path and was hailed by a lady walking with her young son and dog. She admired our two-wheeled wheelbarrow and wanted to know where she could get one for her Dad.

My Mum & Dad bought one in Dorset and when we came up here to Froggarts Cottage we bought another because they are so useful.

A standard one-wheeled barrow is awkward to balance with a heavy load and with the standard two handles you need both hands to steer. Our barrows have two pneumatic tyres and a pram-style handle which you can push with one hand. They are also light enough to pick up over steps if necessary. They are made by Haemmerlin based in Walsall (wheelbarrow capital of the world apparently) but I haven't seen them in the shops. Amazon have a similar barrow - see below - which has a good review so may be worth a look (click on the picture for more).