Tag Archives: birds

Wet, Wet Wet And Lichen

Lichen Macro

Lichen Macro

3rd January

Rain, rain and more rain today. Overcast skies and no chance of outdoor photography or gardening. So I got the macro extension rings out, some lighting and a bit of lichen on a twig that fell off the crab apple.

Birds are flitting all over the feeders, but there is no chance of capturing them today. Light levels are too low and my camera would get soaked.

But I do have the seed and plant catalogues that arrived yesterday to drool over. I have enough seeds already to fill the whole town, but can’t help myself from wanting to try one or two new varieties of vegetables, so sooner or later I’ll probably get a few more packets. I have friends locally who no doubt will do swops and we’ll all end up with more food and flowers.

The macro shots have given me ‘food’ for thought, which I will write about in my ChrisCaff photography blog. The title already swirls around in my brain. So What Do You want To Focus On?

Join me there.

 

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.

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.

Returning To Ambitions

Primroese

Primroses

There’s a reason this blogs been inactive. I have. Broken ribs last August on top of lifes little curve balls that piled into a mountain last year took their toll. But spring of a brand new year is here, so I’ve come back to continue with my dreams and ambitions.

I’ve been off the garden for months until recently. As I’ve mentioned, August last year saw me unable to do anything due to broken ribs, and I lost heart over the winter. But something stirred in me a couple of weeks ago and I’m back on the case. It helps that I now have the money to pay for the big heavy jobs. I can concentrate on what I can do, and not feel snookered by the path building, shed erecting or new raised bed building. I can get on with growing stuff and sorting out borders (when I have a bit of strength and energy).

The greenhouse and conservatory are filling up as I sow more seeds and things need pricking out and take up more space. So far the broad beans have come through. That’s a blessing as the first batch were all pinched by mice. So I re-sowed in the greenhouse. Onion seeds have just started to germinate, and I’m trying them from seed for the first time this year. Khol rabi is in modules, and I’m hoping to keep a more continuous supply than I’ve previously managed. There are also leaf salad, blood red spring onions, leeks and greyhound cabbage yet to push through.

I’ve also sown two types of sunflower,  giant and red, 5ft tall ones. That’s just as well, when sunflower seed for the birds is working out at £1 per large feeder refill. And during the worst weather we were filling it, plus another feeder, once a day! I’m hoping the achillea, zinnia, dahlias, cosmos all do well, as I’m going to have a lot of space to fill this year and many of the seeds from these are good extra bird offerings. The garden has to work for the wildlife as well as me.

My ambition is to make my garden good enough to get into the yellow book in a couple of years time. That’s a massive amount of work, but I think worth it.

I am installing a pond as part of that plan. It was going to be large and butyl lined, but Daisy could easily damage the liner, so a prefabricated one will be better. I’m looking at one that holds 750l or 170 gallons and is about 6ft x 4ft for £163 delivered. I’ve found a dog paddling pool for £30 so if I get Daisy that and make the pond less attractive by not having the very shallow sloping sides of a butyl lined job she’ll prefer to jump in her own pool and leave mine alone! I can always protect mine with a wire grid, too, as long as the animals I want to reach it can.

I’m already watching the blue tits build a nest in the box screwed to the patio fence. I hope the other four boxes are occupied this season, too. Four of the five were last year. While eating lunch on the patio (it’s been a warm, sunny day) I saw a sparrow hawk flash through the garden. I love all the sightings I get just from being in my garden and keeping my failing eyes peeled. Yes, failing until I have cataracts removed. Hopefully that will be soon. We’ve had greater spotted woodpeckers in in the last couple of weeks, and all the usual suspects. Now I want to find a hedgehog, a grass snake and even slow worms, though if I ever will is a matter of wait and see.

I’ve bought plants as well as sown seed. The primroses in the photo adorn a cool windowsill in the house now, but once hardened off and split they’ll be great for the spring garden next year. I’ve planted a new clematis called Freckles today against the arch. There are heathers, more primroses and even some daffodils to get in the ground. Pots of meadowsweet, tradascantia and other perennials sit waiting patiently for their turn, but I can only do so much then have to rest, so still tons to do! I’ll try and keep you informed.

My Mega Trip And Progress

It’s been a while since I posted here and for very good reasons. I told you I was going away to see some old friends, and on the lookout for new ideas. The trip started out just fine, going down to Chippenham in Wiltshire, where one of my oldest friends now lives. He’s partially sighted and works with the parks and gardens department there. He took me around his place of work, a beautiful park with the river Avon running through it. My dog, Daisy was thrilled, as every time we walked into town we had to cross the park, throwing her ball all the way. He lives so close I could easily take her there for more exercise. There were some interesting sculptures in the park, one inscribed by local children. I like ornamentation in the garden, especially if it can include a smile or a scream, as you’ll see from my earlier posts. Chippenham is an ancient town, and on one of the walls I spotted some ferns, proving that plants are opportunists and will grow wherever they can.

Ferns growing in an old wall

Ferns growing in an old wall

I then moved a bit further on and visited someone in Warminster, a military town. My friend there has a new allotment, where I went to see what she was up to, and ended up spending some time helping her thin out her overgrown tomatoes. Outside she grows her vegetables alongside flowers, promoting a healthier balance and keeping the pests at bay, as she’s bringing in the pollinators and the pest controllers.

Lettuce and marigolds

Lettuce and marigolds

 

She had a lovely garden, too, complete with a Buddah. It was a very tranquil space, with wind chimes, but not the high pitched twinkly type. The low, resonating sound was very calming and peaceful.

Buddha

Buddha

Unfortunately, while I was there, just after taking this shot, I dropped my camera. It broke the UV filter, but that saved my lens! The nearest place to get a replacement filter happened to be Taunton, on my way down to Oakhampton. The shop was very friendly and I soon had my replacement filter. Then the problems started. There were road works. It was a hot day. I got stuck in a huge traffic jam lasting for hours. So tired and hot, by the time I got off the motorway, I didn’t realise it, but I was getting confused. And lost. A two hour journey turned out to take ten. And while looking for my directions, leaning over the back seat whilst parked in the wrong village eight miles away, I broke two ribs. I can’t tell you how scary that was at ten o’clock at night, alone and in the dark on the edge of Dartmoor.

Anyway, to cut a long story as short as possible, I eventually made it to my friends. I proved I can still cut it independently. And this is what I woke up to the following morning.

Village pond

Village pond

I watched wrens flitting around in the climbers at the back of the pond, only feet away. They wouldn’t see me. The camper makes a great hide. I tried to get photos, but my sore ribs prevented me from getting into the right position and staying still.

Church Cottage

Church Cottage

I didn’t see as much as I would have liked of my friend or the area, as I had to cut my visit short and make my way home to recover. He grows peaches on his smallholding, keeps a rare breed of sheep and has a wonderful tepee on the land. His philosophy is the same as mine – as carbon neutral and organic as humanly possible. He’s trying forest style gardening for the first time, and I’ve asked him to keep me abreast of developments. Not many photos, I’m afraid. Walking Daisy was painful, and carrying camera equipment impossible, but I’ve included one photo of the pond on my ‘doorstep’ and of my friend’s lovely home, an ancient church cottage. With a spiral staircase and lovely deep, rib soaking bath!

My trip turned out to be one of 700 miles. It’s a shame I couldn’t see more of Dartmoor, of the gardens in the area and take more photos, but certainly showed me I’m more capable of coping alone than I thought I was. My ribs are beginning to mend, though all this only happened 2 ½ weeks ago. So I’m only just starting to do things in the garden again, starting with the blight ridden tomato removal and taking off the shading ready for winter crops. The greenhouse is getting a very thorough clean, slowly, and someone else is doing any heavy lifting, but gingerly I’m getting on with it as I want my winter salads, such as lettuce and spring onions. More next time…..

Great Crested Newts Welcome Here

Great Crested Newt. Once Common, Now Endangered.

Great Crested Newt. Once Common, Now Endangered.

Well, I was chatting to my neighbour. Comparing gardens, I told him of my plans to install a wildlife pond this autumn. Guess what? When he had a wildlife style pond he had great crested newts! So they are in the area. This may well be the best case of ‘build it and they will come’ I’ll have had so far. I certainly will build it. Of course the advantages of ponds are well known. Not only will I have a chance to help an endangered species, but all the other wildlife a pond will inevitably attract is going to increase the biodiversity of my garden and many others.

As a child brought up in the north of England, before the days of Elf and safety, I played in the mill ponds that serviced the cotton industry. The mills, ponds and industry have gone, and so have the great crested newts that were then common and we played with. The ponds were steep-sided concrete affairs, but the newts didn’t seem to mind. Now they rely on us to make homes for them and leave them be to reproduce and hopefully recover their numbers. This is just as well. Our local council have approved planning permission for houses to be built on green fields behind us, and the farmer who owned them is quite happy to take the money and run.

So anything I can do to make homes for the creatures that will be displaced can only help. We have a hedgehog house, a bat box, five nest boxes (and will install more) a log pile, long grass, wild flowers and a huge nectar bar in the form of my borders. They will get bigger as I continue to expand them and shrink the amount of lawn. I say lawn, it’s more like rough grass, and not my top priority. I’ve planted lots of climbers around the fencing, where native hedgerow isn’t. In the hedgerow, I’ve added more honeysuckle, and pushed in native flowering plants, hoping they’ll cope and get on with it. So far I’ve had success with one or two vetches, and leave bits of nettle, but don’t really need to. There’s lots of it around where we live, so I don’t have to get stung every time I’m tending the garden.

I love this lifestyle. Food on the table and wildlife in the garden.It’s quite easy, this environmentally friendly gardening, once you know how. Much more relaxed than the old stiff, prune it to death style of gardening that saw every blade of grass regimentally organised and every flower standing to attention, bare soil in between. Give me abundance and flowers, insects and animals very time.

How about you?

 

 

Grow Your Own and Other Progress

It’s all go here. Health up and down, but I’m half way through decorating my hall, stairs and landing, and want to finish the job desperately as it’s been ongoing since March. So I’m juggling getting the garden planted, growing the vegetables, decorating and the usual household jobs. That should keep me out of trouble! When I’ll find time to do my macro photography and iStock (a way to keep the wolf from the door) I don’t know, but I need to.

We’ve had two batches of baby blue tits from one nest box this year. The pair started early, in March, and as soon as one brood fledged, they laid another batch of eggs that fledged on Friday, 31st May. One flew straight onto my patio table and past Daisy (my staffie’s) mouth. Luckily she missed it! It landed in front of me and we met eye to eye before it flew to safety on my conservatory roof, mum fast on its heels with food. It was a wonderful experience to be so close to a wild baby bird.

We have five nest boxes, and I don’t think the other four were occupied, but I’ll leave it for a week or two before checking, just in case. It may be that they need moving, though we tried to put them in my native hedge in the right kinds of spots.

I went shopping this morning. I did NOT go out with the intention of buying more plants, I promise,  but guess what? Yep, four more new ones. A Sedum kamtschaticum variagatum, an agapanthus (one of my favourite South African plants) and a new one to me, lithodora, with the most exquisite blue coloured flowers. The last is another penstemon. That’s a violet colour. Penstemons seem to like it here, the slugs leave them alone and the one I planted last year is in full flower and looks fabulous right now. So another will enhance my borders next year when it’s filled out.

My tomatoes are doing well, too. The first flowers have set, are swelling and I eagerly await eating them instead of the shop-bought, tasteless, vitamin denuded supermarket offerings. I’ve just noticed whitefly on the aubergines, so I’ll be using and little soap and water in a spray to ‘drown’ them before  I have an epidemic on my hands. If that’s done in the evening, the bees and butterflies will be in bed and this method is non-toxic. But the first flowers have opened, so I should have fruit soon.

Last night I rootled around my potato crop, just in case they were ready. They so ARE! Plump, unmarked, perfectly formed Charlottes. I used seaweed meal, chicken manure pellets and blood fish and bone when preparing the soil, as well as council made soil conditioner and a bit of home-made compost. There was no-where near enough compost as we’ve only started producing enough green matter this year to produce it in any quantity. Anyway, the Charlottes. WOW WOW WOW! Amazing flavour and texture. I just wasn’t expecting the vast difference between mine and shop bought Charlottes. They were VERY creamy and slightly salty, and needed NOTHING added to them to give them flavour. No salt, no butter (I can’t have butter anyway). But they really needed nothing. I’d recommend anyone to find space for new potatoes. You won’t be disappointed.

My first creamy, gorgeous Charlotte potatoes

My first creamy, gorgeous Charlotte potatoes

Further down the veg patch Komatsuna, a Chinese green we haven’t had before is flourishing, as are the lettuce, Khol Rabi and Swiss chard. We love Khol Rabi and it’s £1.20 for one in the supermarkets. It makes sense to grow them as they take up very little space for the money savings. With my restricted diet, I’m always looking for new vegetable and herb flavours. So also in the ground are some Hamburg parsley plants. I’ve never tried it before, so I’ll let you know when we do try it what it’s like.

Lettuce catch cropped beneath the runner beans

Lettuce catch cropped beneath the runner beans

Runner and French beans are busy scrambling up the canes, and I’m looking forward to a good crop. Yum! Meanwhile, the space beneath the canes is planted with lettuce as a cache crop. One inherited food crop I’m so pleased to see doing well this year is my fig. It’s loaded with swelling fruits and they are delicious fresh. I can’t wait! Food glorious food.

My inherited fig

My inherited fig

And for lunch today? Grated raw beetroot, grated raw turnip, new potatoes, lettuce, spring onions, and the only thing that didn’t come out of the garden, some salmon. Oh, and my tomatoes are still green, so I had to use shop-bought. Tasteless!. But the rest? Lovely.

I hope to be able to ‘stay on it’ with this blog, though I can’t ever promise regularity. I’ve lots to tell you about the rest of the garden, flowers and wildlife yet, though, so I hope you return and bring your friends. It’s cool to be able to pass on experience and knowledge. It’s also great to hear from readers, and comments or questions are welcome, so please don’t be shy!