Garden Makeover Progress And A Grass Snake

Cherry Blossom

Cherry Blossom

The garden makeover continues more slowly than I’d like, largely thanks to illness requiring antibiotics. However, it is coming along. My son has been helping out, and the veg beds are almost ready for planting up with broad beans, potatoes, khol rabi, cabbage, turnips and the peas just showing through the compost in modules. I haven’t even tried to sow peas in the ground as my earliest sowing of beans were eaten by mice. Starting plants off in modules deprives them of the chance to take the seed for breakfast before they’ve even had time to germinate!

Around the pond I have begun planting, adding some cowslips in the shady spot close to the fence, an iris in addition to the ones donated by my landscaper,  geranium Phaeum Samobor,  with a lovely deep pink flower which should supply some fairly dense cover for the wildlife. It grows about 60cm high, so may need some support, especially as I want to grow small, more delicate plants close by. I don’t want them smothered or the geranium to flop and leave a hollow centre. I’ve also put in three astilbes that begun as one plant last year and  I split into three. I spotted vine weevil as I was planting, so watered in some Nemasys, a natural predator of the little horrid beasts. Once watered in, the tiny nematodes swim through the soil to find vine weevil larvae and destroy them, so hopefully they will be cleared and cease to eat my plant roots.

I’ve ordered online some oxygenating weed for the pond, which is going a bit green due to my delay in getting to an aquatic centre. Once I have all the plants for the pond I’ll let you know what they are and why I chose them. For now it’s just elodea crispa to take up some of the nutrients in the water and reduce the amount of algae growing. I hope to but the rest of the plants this weekend if my partner can spare the time to take me as driving isn’t an option until my cataracts are removed. I will of course choose one water lily, but there are so many to choose from I’m going to need a bit of advice!

My cherry blossoms are just beginning their spectacular yearly display. The colours are just to die for, and always make my heart sing. Lungwort, cowslips, primroses, grape hyacinths, heathers and more are attracting and feeding bees and butterflies already, despite the garden only being half finished. The bees don’t care that some plants are still in pots. They visit them anyway.

My partner has returned from walking our dog as I am writing this and had an exciting find in the local woods. So here it is! A grass snake. It’s great to see we have plenty of wildlife in the area. I’ve never seen a grass snake in the wild, so I’m envious I wasn’t there, but pleased at the same time. I hope as they are around they’ll come to visit my garden. The addition of a pond can surely only help to attract animals in. The snake was on a path right next to a stream.

Grass Snake

Grass Snake

Tomorrow I hope to be planting the brassicas I’ve mentioned and protecting them under fine netting which will keep out cabbage white butterflies, pigeons and the pheasant. Hopefully that will mean more crops for us and less for the pests!

Healthy Broad Beans About To Be Planted

Healthy Broad Beans About To Be Planted

Well, I did plant those vegetables. We will have food this year from my brand new beds. I’ve put in my sturdy broad beans, cabbage, turnips and khol rabi. They are all under protection from pigeons and cabbage white butterflies. It’s a relief to get them out of their modules. The greenhouse needs elastic walls! It’s burgeoning with the seedlings, cuttings and overwintered fuchsias that can now be moved into the cold frames vacated by the first veg.

The New Vegetable Bed Now Planted.

The New Vegetable Bed Now Planted.

My Overflowing Greenhouse

My Overflowing Greenhouse

I’ve also spent some time clearing weeds from the back of the main border, digging up even more Spanish bluebells and rescuing seedlings I want to keep before ordering some topsoil. The soil in the main bed is sadly lacking in quality from the rest of the garden and needs building up, both in height and nutrients, so next week my son will help get the delivery from the pavement and spread it so I can continue planting and filling gaps. I have quite a few waiting in the wings. Phew! Busy busy. How does your garden grow? Please talk to me, or I’ll feel as if I’m talking to myself. Never a good thing!

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Back From The Brink – A Conservation Success Pyg Nymphaea Thermarum

NYMPHAEACEAE, Nymphaea thermarum, 2010535, Bonn, Rwanda

NYMPHAEACEAE, Nymphaea thermarum, 2010535, Bonn, Rwanda

Naturally, as I’ve just installed a pond I have been researching plants to furnish it. In doing so I came across an interesting conservation success. Pyg Nymphaea Thermarum  is the smallest water lily in the world and the rarest. In fact in the wild it is now extinct. Its pads, or leaves, measure only about 1cm across, which is less than 10% of the next smallest species in the genus. It came from Rwanda, where it grew in thermal spring water that cooled to about 25 degrees. The thermal spring was over-used by farmers and in 2008 it dried up. As this was the ONLY place where this lily grew, it eventually, tragically died off. German botanist Eberhard Fische, seeing the p[ant was in trouble sent some plants to Bonn Botanic Gardens. However, they could not persuade seeds to germinate and the plant’s existence hung in the balance. Carlos Magdalena, at Kew, only discovered the solution when down to the last twenty seeds in the whole world AND one of the two remaining plants had been eaten by a rat. It turns out that most of this genus germinate in deep water, but Pyg needs co2 to germinate, and once that had been discovered, eight healthy plants were raised from seed. This little survivor now has the potential to become a houseplant! Back from the brink, this is one conservation success! I still haven’t chosen a water lily or stocked my pond with plants. That will happen this weekend, when I make a special trip to a large water garden centre I’ve had recommended to me, but I’ve had an interesting time reading!

Photo from the Kew website.

Raised Beds, A Wildlife Pond And Flowers For The Birds And Bees.

The landscapers I brought in to get the garden bones in place have now finished. There is still a mass of work to do, but now it’s manageable. With a little more topping up in my new raised beds I can set about planting out broad beans waiting in the cold frame, potatoes chitting on the windowsill and all manner of other vegetables. The plan is to edge my plot with four feet high trellis, then train fruit against it. I hope to have raspberries, loganberries, a thornless blackberry and other soft fruits.

Although the new veg beds appear to my partner to look like not much more space than before, as the beds are only four feet wide, I can reach in from the sides and not have to tread on the soil. This is advantageous for a number of reasons. I will be able to cope better with weeding and planting (and of course harvesting) from the path. The vegetables can be spaced closer together, as there is no need to leave room for walking between rows, and now more of the garden is available for other activities. Now that we have the pond, my dog Daisy is going to have her own paddling pool. She loves water, so I can’t expect her to NOT play in some, and I’d rather it wasn’t my wildlife pond. Chasing the hose pipe to bite the water is her favourite game! That will be taking place well away from my new flower borders. In fact I’m going to have to protect plants from her bashing them until her play area is established. That will be fun!

Here Is here we are placing the raised beds, once the shed has been moved into dead space under the trees.

Here Is where we are placing the raised beds, once the shed has been moved into dead space under the trees.

The Shed now gone, raised beds can be built.

The Shed now gone, raised beds can be built.

And here they are, my super access raised beds which I hope will help feed us!

And here they are, my super access raised beds which I hope will help feed us!

I’ll do a separate post talking more about the pond, but basically it’s 6’8” x 4’6”, and 2’ deep at its deepest. We’ve made a shelf for creatures to get in and out, as I went for a preformed liner to avoid Daisy piercing the liner. So to compensate, wildlife need an escape route as these ponds don’t have the gentle slope you can make with a butyl liner. I have a visitor arriving soon so it will be Tuesday or Wednesday before I can go and buy more plants for the pond, or start the work on the garden. Mike, the landscaper who installed it, kindly brought me some irises to start me off. I have yellow flag in the pond, a British native that dragonflies love as the sword like leaves make great perching spots while they hunt. We’ve already had an official pond visitor. A toad! How cool is that?

The pond under construction

The pond under construction

Pond Completed, Apart From Some Planting.

Pond Completed, Apart From Some Planting.

I’m really pleased with the path, and glad I chose gravel. It gives me great grip when walking on it, and I am trying to age proof this garden so I can keep going on it when I’m even more feeble! Paving tends to get slippery and bricks were not an option due to time and cost. Although it all looks very stark yet, I’m sure once the planting is in place it will all soften down. I have three arch supports to place, too, which I hope will support some of the climbing plants I want to grow. Runner beans and bottle gourds, maybe even a couple of butternut squash, which I love.

My imagination is now running riot. Although I had the overall vision in mind when I set the landscapers to work, they have put in the bones. I now have to flesh it all out. My greenhouse is bulging with plants, but I have a feeling they won’t actually go far once I plant them all, so I need to sow more, grow more, take more cuttings and buy more plants. But this is the cool part, the pleasure of choosing and placing. Follow me this season to see great changes and how I make them. I’ll ensure plenty of information for you to have a go or not, because I’ll also tell you if things go wrong and why. Then you can avoid MY mistakes.

Remember the lilies from my last post? I’ve treated myself to some nice containers and planted them up, topped with gravel and now have to wait. Photos when there is something to show you! Some of the specialist seeds have germinated, too and are now being careful tended by yours truly. I’m particularly pleased to see papaver horridula seedlings adorning a pot. From what I’ve read, these hymalayan poppies are not easy to grow. They need an acid soil, which I have, so hopefully I’ll be able to raise them to maturity. Others are proving more tricky, but I am slowly getting results. Ultimately I have a lot of space to fill and seeds are far more economical then buying plants, so the more success I have the sooner the garden will be buzzing with bees and butterflies attracted by all my lovely flowers.

Lilies, Vine Weevil And Wind.

What a weekend. As the garden itself is on hold until the landscapers have finished, I have turned my attention to seeds, cuttings and pots. I’ve always put up with the plastic containers until now, but as I’ve just bought some beautiful lilies, have the space and found some bargain frost proof pots, I’ve spent this very windy morning planting them up. I haven’t grown these bulbs before, but handily, in this month’s gardeners world Carol Klein describes full planting directions. So although they aren’t at the spacing you’d give then in the ground, they should have all they need to give me a great display this summer on the patio. They are scented so I want them where we can appreciate them. The bulbs that have gone in are Polianthes Tuberosa,

Polianthes Tuberosa

Polianthes Tuberosa

Lycoris Radiata (red spider lily)

Lycoris Ratiata

Lycoris Ratiata

Ismene (white spider lily)

Ismene (white spider lily)

Ismene (white spider lily)

And Nerine Bowdenii

Nerine bowdenii

Nerine Bowdeii (Guernsey lily)

What beauties!

I’ve also battled the wind to water all of my containers with nematodes to remove any vine weevil grubs. I found a couple of pots with grubs in and half-eaten roots, but I think I’ve caught them on time. Some plants like my pots of mint have been thoroughly sorted out. I washed the roots completely clean of compost and laid them out in fresh. Still, I’ve watered them with the treatment too. You never know if I missed a grub or egg, so it’s not worth the risk. My little Japanese Maple had some in when I went to check it, so that’s had special attention. Plenty of the nematodes as well as fresh compost.

Now it’s back to seed sowing. Lots of the ones sown earlier are now germinating, including the poppy Papaver Horridula. The seedlings are tiny! Veg seedling are ready to go in, and will soon be planted out in my new beds. So to keep the succession going I need to sow more. It’s also time to sow peas and beans. I’m going to be busy. What are you doing now for your garden and wildlife?

Goodbye Pine I’ll Miss You xxx

Nest Box already taken!

Nest box already taken

I have a new appreciation for pine. It began when I had to take the decision to have one removed from my garden. It was a beautiful tree, hence my reluctance. That and the fact that I’d seen a goldcrest in it last year. A rare find! But this is a tree that can easily make 120ft. My garden is only 120ft long and 35ft wide. My greenhouse would have disappeared under it. It’s a forest, not a garden tree. So I had it taken down and spent today shredding it and chopping it up for the wood. I got close up to the bark and needles. What lovely markings the bark has! And of course the smell is gorgeous. So I’ll be burning some on an open fire in my dining room and putting a bowl of needles on top of the woodburner to fill the room with that fragrance. Lovely!

Blue tits have nested in my bird box on the patio fence again. They raised two broods last year, and we got to see them fledge. I hope that happens again! I hope the other four boxes are occupied, too. The boxes are in my native hedgerow, and I don’t want to disturb any nesting birds, so have left them to it, but I do have a motion sensitive camera, so over the coming weeks I’ll set it up and see what we can capture, but with all the landscaping happening at the moment, I’ll have to wait a few more days before I do that. There have been delays aplenty with the landscaping. Gravel deliveries going awry, workmen being ill and the weather, although this week the weather has been great. Trouble is, landscapers have had a bug and didn’t come, so now they say Monday. I hope the weather holds out. They still have a metal shed to erect and our wooden one to relocate so I can have the space for my veg beds! I’m having three, ten feet by four feet wide with gravel paths around to make it easy for me to reach everything safely.

Primula. I love the contrast between leaf and flower!

Primula. I love the contrast between leaf and flower

Bees are in abundance. I’m still planting and planning for food for the bees. They are loving a new heather, visiting my primroses and  One success seems to be germination of my verbena bonariensis saved seed from last year. I’ve just pricked out 48 seedlings We’ve already had to rescue several from the conservatory. I’d love to be able to identify the species, as I’m seeing different ones. Some are very small. peacock butterflies have made their appearance, too. But so have cabbage whites. I’m determined to protect my plants from them this year. That will be easier with the new beds. I can run netting over hoops intended for cloches. We’ve even seen frogs, despite my pond not being ready for them yet. It’s in, but needs a bit of backfilling, stones laying around the edge and then of course the planting. I’m being given some yellow flag iris to start me off, then it’s off to a local water garden centre for some retail therapy in the form of native pond plants. I really want to entice the wildlife in. My neighbour has had great crested newts, so I will be keeping my fingers crossed that they’re still around and want to visit my pond.

Do you have a ponds? Will you install one? Let me know. I’d love to compare notes.

Best Laid Garden Plans Need Patience!

Hard Work Happening With A Smile

Hard Work Happening With A Smile

Lots of patience was needed yesterday. It was to be the big day. Gravel sand, weed suppressant membrane and a pond were all due to arrive. The pond did, with a phone call ten minutes before delivery to let us know. Great stuff! Gravel and the other stuff next, we thought. It was late. The landscapers did what they could whilst waiting. Then I phoned the delivery company. Our load had been put on a truck that had broken down. Great. 5pm, they said. 4.30 till 5pm was their estimated delivery time. 5pm nothing. 5.15pm, I was getting agitated. Annoyed even. The weather had been perfect all day for laying a concrete base. The landscapers were prepared to stay late to get it done. 5.30pm. The truck finally arrives. Three 850k sacks of gravel and one of sand. Landscaping fabric. But the driver can’t get the goods off the truck. They had been loaded incorrectly, which had broken the pallets AND the lift he had on board was broken. No less than a comedy of errors. Only I wasn’t laughing. None of us were, especially when the trucking company wouldn’t even call back with a solution. It took my landscaper’s silver tongue to get them to organise a delivery today, Good Friday, first thing.

It's starting to take shape

It’s Starting To Take Shape

I am now very pleased to be showing you photos of a work still in progress, but now much further on. The lads have worked hard. The pond is being installed, the path is coming on and preparations to move the shed and lay the shed base are underway. It’s not a pretty site yet but it will be. At the moment it’s more like a building site, and because of the rain, going in and out to check on things and Daisy running in and out, I’m grateful to have exposed wooden floors indoors that I can mop!

Still Going In The Rain

Still Going In The Rain

So I’m spending my Easter dreaming of the ‘finished’ garden and pond. Looking at pond plants, learning from the landscapers how to make the best of the pond. It’s not an area of expertise for me. It’s a new learning curve. A very enjoyable one, too! I know I’ll need elodea crispa to oxygenate the water, and I know I want a corkscrew rush. And Mike (one of the landscapers) is giving me some yellow flag iris from his pond, in exchange for a chocolate peppermint plant.

So here are some photos of progress from my bedroom window. I would have taken some from the garden this afternoon, but the guys are being rained off as I write. It’s fortunate that gardening teaches patience. Because patience is needed. I hope I have enough to see this through!

Best Laid Garden Plans

Daisy surveying the work to be done.

Daisy surveying the work to be done.

Well, I thought I had it all organised. So much for thought. The men I’m employing to do the heavy work of laying a path, shed bases and  building a pond came to let me know they couldn’t start until Monday. They believed Thursday’s weather forecast and didn’t come then because of the heavy rain due. It turned out a lovely afternoon. Then they couldn’t come today. So now it’s Monday. On top of that, I got back from shopping yesterday to find the company I bought my pond from hadn’t delivered in the time slot they’d given me. Then they rang. Their courier had lost seven 6ft 8” x 4ft 6” ponds. How or where no-one seems to know. How do you lose seven large plastic objects the size of a car? Anyway, by last night mine had been found. It is now stashed in a depot somewhere. But as it happens, I’m not worried. It’s better in a depot than the back garden in high wind. Apparently, according to the man from the water garden supplier they make enormous impressive kites in high wind! So it’s all coming together next week instead of this week. Hopefully it WILL all come together.

Path in progress

Path in progress

In the meantime, all my special perennial seeds have been sown, relevant instructions followed and fingers crossed.

It's All Being Cleared!

It’s All Being Cleared!

UPDATE – The workmen have started! The landscaping is underway. I’m thrilled. And my pond, all the gravel for the paths and the accompanying bits and pieces arrive tomorrow. I’ll see massive progress, as the path is dug, the rubbish cleared and a shed base has been laid. Despite gale force wind and despite rain, hail and sleet over the past couple of days, they’ve got on with the job and I’m very pleased so far. Seedlings are emerging from the compost and all is well in my gardening world.

The Path

The Path

So I’ve spent today clearing out my shed, cleaning and oiling tools and throwing out anything broken, rubbish or no longer needed. I can now find a rake, shears or plant food without breaking my neck! Ready for the season of plenty.

Fabulous Parsnips

Fabulous Parsnips

I’m spurred on by parsnips. Yes, parsnips. I planted some last year and we ate them over Christmas. Or so I thought. There was another row and they’ve continued to grow. I had to clear the ground ready for the landscapers. These are just some of them. They’re over 12” long and the largest weighs 750g. That’s a 1 1/2 lb parsnip! We ate one roasted last night. The scent and taste are FAR superior to shop bought, so I’m convinced I must fill the three 10’ x 4’ beds going in very soon and kept full ( though of course not all with parsnips) for our dining pleasure. Roll on harvests.