Thursday, 15 June 2017

Early harvest

The garden is beginning to provide us with its bounty.  We've had a few lovely strawberries from the baskets in the greenhouse, a kilo of gooseberries, rhubarb and some chard from last year's sowing and a handful of sugar snap peas.

We're looking forward to having some broad-beans in a few days and we've had a few meals from potatoes (kestrels) grown in big pots.

Strawberries (Elsante) in the greenhouse im May

The Elsante strawberries which we've had for 2 years produced early but have nearly finished now. We've got some more strawberries from a neighbour which are just ripening now. Don't know the variety.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Seed-head feeds

The spring flowers, like aquilegias, bergenias, bistorts have mostly gone over now leaving heads of dead flowers - which are turning into nice, ripe seeds. The general view of gardening is to dead-head to preserve the strength of the plant for next year and to tidy up. But don't be too hasty - seed heads provide a great food source for birds, especially needed at this time of year to feed hungry youngsters and second broods.

We were delighted yesterday by a pair of bullfinches feeding on the aquilegia seeds, the male resplendent with his orange-red chest and his more sombre brown mate. While we were watching them a goldfinch perched on a bergenia seed-head and pecked energetically before moving on to another dead flower (a blue flower like a cornflower - don't know it's proper name.)

The goldfinches are nesting in a neighbour's conifer.

Keen to have a balanced, diet the bullfinches had a feed of aphids on our roses before they left us. (Thank you guys!)

The other beauty of not cutting back too quickly is you get seedlings, or you can be organised and collect the seeds and sow them in pots. Also the seed heads are quite attractive as garden features. (I knew I could justify my lazy gardening style!)

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Rabbits in the Rhubarb

Our garden is surrounded on 3 sides by a field. We used to call this "Billy's Field" after the previous owner - a local farmer. Now it's owned by the family that bought the old School House at the top of the road. They're not farming types, so let it out to a guy that uses it during the summer for young expectant-mum cows. They have a lovely time on the lush meadow - long grass, buttercups and other wild flowers and a little stream running down the middle.

It's also home to an increasing number of rabbits. The ground is undulating with a large embankment which used to hold a rail track to service Peggs Green and other mines. So there are lovely banks just perfect for building warrens. We used to have foxes. They'd often come in the garden and sometimes take food put out for the birds (hungry mums with pups to feed probably). But not so many recently. Also the farmer used to shoot rabbits from time to time which kept the numbers down. So bunnies are flourishing.

We're used seeing them hopping about under the apple trees and occasionally around the vegetable beds. We saw tell-tale signs of fur on the twigs I put in to protect the sugar-snap peas I planted. However, they have set up home in the Rhubarb Patch!

We have been gradually reorganising the rhubarb beds to get rid of the choking weeds and have a nice fresh bed into which we have planted the rhubarb which over-wintered in pots. The bunnies have moved into the weedy rhubarb bed, nice and protected with the large umbrella-like leaves.
Here's a picture from last year - so you can see it's ideal bunny-wise!

Home for bunnies
However, they haven't got a paradise. Yesterday morning I found the back half of a small rabbit and various bits of entrails on our back step. Our neighbour's cat, Nip, is a great hunter and often takes pigeons, mice, rats as well as young rabbits - so he's the likely culprit. But it could also have been a buzzard which are plentiful here.


Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Amazing bromeliads

Three years ago a friend bought my Mum an El Cope plant - which is in the Bromeliad family. Never had one before and it was rather unusual and fun. (See picture of that first one here.)

That one started a trend and we've accumulated a few - sitting on window sills around the house. The flowers die off after a few colourful months and new shoots emerge around the side. The new shoots are supposed to flower, but so far ours have remained stubbornly leafy. They obviously work on their own "manana" timeframe, so I'm still hopeful. I'm going to try repotting one and see if that encourages it to flower.

This year, for our anniversary, my hubby bought me a set of 3 bromeliads in cheerful polka-dot pots. These three are a different variety with flattish flower heads rather than a rosette. A couple of days ago one of them delighted us with a bright purple flower emerging from the bright pink head (which we had assumed was the actual flower - but obviously not!) and today two more! See the photo - the one in the middle with the purple "ears".

3 bromeliads - the one in the centre with purple flowers looking like ears.

And not to be outdone - on the same window sill is one of our cacti in full bloom:

Bright pink cactus

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

April Flowers

Typical April weather - starting the month with glorious sunshine, we thought summer was here, and ending with cold north winds, and yesterday a mild frost and snowy hail showers during the day.

It's been a glorious month for blossoms, though, starting with the tail end of snowdrops and daffodils and now the lilacs are starting to show. The apples and cherry trees are still in blossom with the pears, damsons and plums having gone over.

Here are pictures of some of the flowers in our garden during the month:

Daffodils
At the start of April - daffodils in the lawn among the leaves of spent snowdrops.

Snakeshead fritillaries
Snakes-head fritillaries


Grape hyacinths
Bright blue grape hyacinths (muscari)


Variety of spring bulbs
A mixture of bulbs among the herbaceous plants waiting their turn:
tulips, narcissus, hyacinth, leucojums (summer snowdrops)
Magnolia flowers
Magnolia blossoms were magnificent this year, mainly due to no frost when the buds were forming.
Often the frost damages the delicate flowers just when they are ready to open.

Magnolia stellata
Magnolia stellata - small delicate magnolia cousin.
Damson tree in blossom
Damson tree in bloom
Red polyanthus
Bright polyanthus. We also have groups of pale yellow "wild" primsroses all around under the trees.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

First swallows!

Yesterday we were entertained by a small flock of swallows swooping around in the warm sunshine. No sign this morning - but the temperature has dropped significantly with a north wind and forecasts or rain. So maybe they're off a bit further south again!.

They are creatures of habit - a couple of years since we've been here I've logged the first swallows on 17th April.  But the parents fly back to Africa before the new babies - so it's a mystery how they manage it.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Hedge Fun

Our garden is surrounded on 3 sides by a big field (Billy's Field) used for grazing cattle during the summer.  There's a fairly unruly - but old - hedge all around. The hedge is mainly hawthorn with holly, elder, blackberries, a few raspberries, wild plums, a shrub with little mauve flowers, and various creepers. Billy cuts the field side once a year and we try to keep our side under control from time to time.

At the front, between the garage and store-room and the road, there is a row of conifers and in front of that another very old hedge. It's mainly hawthorn and blackberries. One end of this hedge has been getting rather thin - the hawthorn gradually dying leaving just brambles and some other scraggy climber. Over the years we've tried to patch up the gaps with more hawthorn seedlings (which sprout everywhere in our garden) but none have survived.

The problem is that the ground is really dry and fully of rubble, old bottles, bits of glass, cans, tiles.....We also found a cast-iron feeding trough, a length of metal hawser and a glass demi-john. So the poor hedge stood no chance. It was clearly a very old hedge, nicely layered a long time ago with trunks 10 ins and more across, but mostly so rotten I could pull great chunks off with my hands.

So this week we've been cutting back and digging up the old hedge ready to plant a brand new one.

Each autumn our local council (North West Leicestershire District Council) together with the National Forest offer free trees to residents and last year this included 30m of hedging - hawthorn, hazel and some rowan trees. So we took up this offer. Didn't manage to get them in last years so put them in pots to overwinter. We also have some holly saplings.

We'll get out all the old dead wood and dry soil and rubble and put in a great load from our compost heap. Hopefully the new hedgelings will take root and grow quickly, because at the moment the bare space looks hideous.

(We live in the National Forest.)

Monday, 27 March 2017

Birds

So many birds and so much activity!
A lot of birds have come back from their winter hideaways to start their families in our more gentle climate. We've had a thrush singing almost non-stop for 4 weeks. He's been sitting on the top of the walnut tree or the old ash tree in the field and entertaining us with his powerful, repetitive tune. This week he's come a bit closer and sitting on the hawthorn tree behind the studio  - maybe a nest?
We've had pheasants - a pair, and now a couple of youngsters, after the peanuts and seeds I occasionally put out when the weather is cold, several great tits, robins of course - following me as I dig the veg plots, a pair of crows, lots of pigeons, and I spotted a goldfinch on the Korean Fir.
Today I say a green woodpecker on the walnut tree. We don't often see them, though we hear them a lot in the wood and flying over the fields. There are a lot of holes in the trunks of the old plum trees up in the orchard, probably made by great spotted woodpeckers. Haven't seen so much of them since we stopped putting out peanuts in feeders. We used to get them regularly and they also hunt for bugs in the bark of the now-dead dawn redwood. But there's not much bark left on that now - the remaining strips were blown off in storm "Doris" last month.
When the weather is fine there's usually a buzzard or two circling overhead, with a couple of crows mocking them! The buzzards can fly faster and higher than the crows but seem to tolerate them. maybe it's just a game for both species.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Start of Sowing

Start of the sowing season:

At the weekend I planted 73 Broad bean seeds in pots (4 or 5 to a pot) in the greenhouse. I usually try to save some from the previous year's harvest, but for some reason (possibly such wet conditions) the pods went rotten rather than nicely dry as the Runner Beans did. So this year I had to buy new beans. Previous variety was Masterpiece Green Longpod which are prolific and tasty, but couldn't get those so bought Imperial Green Longpod. We'll see how they are.

The first few years here I planted the beans straight in the ground and they did fine. Broad beans are faily hardy so it doesn't matter if there is a late frost. But then we had a couple of years with beans rotting or being eaten. So back to planting in pots so at least they will get a good start before going out.

Yesterday I planted 40 Beetroot seeds (Boltardy) in modules in the greenhouse. Beetroots are OK to plant straight in the soil, but then you have to thin them out. Starting them off in modules means they can be spaced out nicely from the start.

I have a couple of tubs of Sante potatoes (saved from last year) in the big conservatory. I planted 4 tubers in each of 2 large pots about 5 weeks ago and the shoots are just poking up now. They should provide a couple of meals before the ones in the garden are ready. I've tried a couple of times planting in pots before Christmas, but they never seem to come up until March anyway and in the greenhouse they tend to completely disappear from the pots (eaten by mice?).
 
The last few years have not been good for potatoes so I've restricted the planting to 2 varieties which usually do OK here - Sante (white) and Desiree (red).  I have them chitting in the conservatory. There's about 20 Santes saved from last year in a cardboard box which are nearly ready for planting. But I have to get the beds prepared first. Lots more compost in them and some nutrients. I normally throw a few chicken manure pellets around and this year I have some Seaweed Extract from the Organic Seed Company where I bought this year's spuds and seeds.  Maybe some interesting perfumes!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Spring bulbs

The Spring Bulbs are really getting under way now. The snowdrops are looking a little wind-blown now, but have been amazing this year. The crocuses are magnificant and the daffodils are just starting to open up. Some of the small ones in pots have been open for a week or so - some varieties open earlier.

Spring bulbs in the grass under the cherry tree

The last few days have been sunny and quite warm but the soil is still very wet. I dug over one of the vegetable patches at the weekend and the top part was really soggy. Need to put some compost in there before planting out.

One or two bumble bees around and I spotted a couple of butterflies. So must be Spring!



Saturday, 4 February 2017

Snowdrops

Beautiful sunny day with just a breath of breeze. A lovely day to potter around the garden and appreciate Spring starting to get underway.

Snowdrops are all over the grass and in and around the flower beds, bobbing gently and shining happily in the sun. There are lots of different types - tall elegant single flowers and short, squat frilly-flowers all lightly marked with green spots or edges.

A group of double snowdrops

Elegant single snowdrops in the sun..

Monday, 30 January 2017

Gardens and well-being survey

The Royal Horticultural Society and University of Sheffield are investigating the social case for gardens and what impact they have on health and well-being.  The BBC report the project here >>

They are seeking both dedicated gardeners like me and non-gardeners to complete a survey about where they live, how they feel about life, how anxious they are and what access they have to a garden. Of course I, and most gardeners I expect, find being out there with the birds and bees and worms and mud is just heaven and the more time out in the garden the better. If not the garden then pottering in the conservatory, sowing parsley in pots for the window-sill, taking cuttings or just sitting and watching everything doing its thing. Seems obvious that gardening makes one's life better and calmer.

I find being in the middle of a town or city where they've "paved paradise" is unnerving and sometimes a little bit frightening. I pity kids growing up with no access to nature other than on a computer screen, kids that don't know where milk come from, that strawberries and asparagus are not normally available in England during December, that worms and a bit of mud are not bad things to be avoided. It would be great if every street and every school could have a garden area where people can grow their own flowers & veg. This is the best science lesson ever - learning how things grow from tiny seeds, what plants and animals need to thrive. And it's the best therapy too - watching a bean climbing around a bamboo frame, watching bees pollinate a flower and spiders spinning their webs makes you forget your troubles for a while and harvesting your first beans or row of lettuces that taste SO good gives a real sense of achievement (and anyone can do it - you don't have to have A* grades!).


If RHS & Sheffield Uni can produce a report backed with some survey results that encourages councils and schools to create more public garden spaces in urban areas that's got to be good.

The survey "Do gardens influence health and well-being?" is here >>     - it just takes 15 mins so have a go.


Sunday, 29 January 2017

Winter pottering

The cold spell has finished and we've now got soggy grey rain which is forecast to continue all week.

Yesterday, after the frozen morning and before the rain started we had a couple of hours of sunshine, tidying up - mostly cutting back and pulling up soggy masses of leaves. I collected some lovely soil from the mole hills and used some of it 50/50 with compost from our heap to pot on 7 sage cuttings. Not much else to be doing at the moment. The next job will be to sort out seeds and make a shopping list for what we need to plant this year.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Cold and grey

The temperature didn't get above zero today. After quite a mild December and early January when we had just one day of snow this week has been pretty chilly - proper winter. This morning no frost despite the cold. We haven't had any rain for about a fortnight, so too dry I suppose.

There hasn't been much activity in the garden. Stormy weather at the start of the month flattened the cage protecting the brussel sprouts. I was worried the pigeons and pheasants would strip the unprotected plants but so far they've kept away. We're having a good feed of sprouts at least once a week.

Snowdrops are just poking up through the grass. One or two helebores are flowering. But generally things are taking their time. Last January daffodils were out up at the crossroads in Coleorton and we were pulling rhubarb. This year the rhubarb is just starting to shoot, although a couple of plants we transferred into big tubs are further ahead. I dragged them into the greenhouse to protect them from the frost.

Plenty of wild life activity. Moles are very active in the fields all around and along the grass verges by the roads. They are also busy around our bonfire and have come down the garden as far as the kitchen window. Birds visiting the feeding area include a pair of pheasants, large family of magpies, crows, wood-pigeons, great-tits, sparrows, robins, blackbirds. And a couple of squirrels. The bird table is slowly falling apart. We don't put much food out - just scraps and in the cold weather a scoop of peanuts and seeds. When we filled all the feeders most of the food was taken by squirrels and wood-pigeons and sometimes rats. There's plenty of berries and seeds in the garden and surrounding hedgerows and woods so I don't think they will go hungry. It's nice to see the birds feeding, but the bird-feeders are more for our enjoyment I suspect.

I peeped under the tarpaulin we had left lying over part of the rhubarb patch we are reorganising and found a spherical nest beautifully crafted from dried grass with a small entrance hole. I think it's a field-mouse nest.