Tag Archives: environment

Elusive Birds, Flowers In Winter

White Hellebore in Flower 2nd January

White Hellebore in Flower 2nd January

This morning was quite a treat. While there was still sleep in my eyes, pouring the first coffee, I was treated to the sight of goldfinches happily feeding. Then, as I stood watching though the kitchen window, a flock of long tailed tits descended. I haven’t seen them for a long time. So I set up my brand new radio remote for my camera and attempted to get some shots to show you, but the light levels are far too low to capture anything but a blur. I went back out to retrieve my camera and while I stood there, right in front of the feeders, a long tail came down, fearless, fed in front of me and sang. Just a foot away from me. I could see his delicate, tiny legs, the downy feathers of his body and his eyes met mine. Such a delight, and a huge antidote to the chaos of the world we’re forced to live in. These are the moments worth living for. My poor dog Daisy was forced to wait to be allowed in the garden until the birds left for a while.

It’s too wet to do much on the garden, but making room in the conservatory will enable the sowing of early cauliflowers and salad, which after the excesses of Christmas  stodge, I’m craving.

Wandering around, I found there are still things flowering. So here are a couple of them. I’ll try again to get some photos of the birds, once light levels increase and there’s no danger of my precious camera getting wet. I hope to capture lots of wildlife, once they wake up after their winter sleep.

For now, enjoy your garden.


Bergenia in Flower 2nd January

2016 Welcomed With Open Arms. New Year, New Start

Viewing platform, Eden Project, Cornwall

Viewing platform, Eden Project, Cornwall

January 1st 2016

Happy New Year out there.

Well, it’s a brand new start again today. After a year of torturous health problems I can finally move on and look forward to achieving what had to be put on hold. So I have plans. Not huge ones, but this is the year I concentrate on achieving some of my own goals.

I started well. I considered the real start of my new year to be Yule, the 21st December. And I’d planned Christmas as the Eden Project in Cornwall. For those who haven’t heard of it it’s an educational charity promoting balance in nature, a better understanding of our eco-system and research. It rivals Kew. Built from an old clay pit, dead and disused, it contains two huge biomes that house thousands of plants from around the world. You can find out much more at https://www.edenproject.com/.

Anyway, we went for Christmas, and had the most wonderful time. Astoundingly, there were outdoor fuchsias, roses and other plants in flower, and wild strawberries in fruit. We’ve had strange seasons and they are obviously confused. Flooding over the north of England and Scotland have blighted many people’s Christmas, and we are lucky not to have had such severe weather here. Close to my home town folk were evacuated following unprecedented rainfall – two months worth in 48 hours. Poor things!

So now for my plans. The garden is in a mess due to this year’s neglect. I need to get fit, so that will be the main focus. I want those raised beds stuffed with goodies. And now my neighbour has erected a new fence, I can plant along it some fruit bushes and some native shrubs. Building is happening on the fields behind us and there have been burglaries of sheds, so we’re are trying to make the place as secure as we can. Thorny shrubs will help. I’m on my own with it all. No-one else has any enthusiasm for it, so all progress and achievement will be mine. Eventually, I’d like to get my garden up to Yellow book standard. The yellow book is a listing of gardens open to raise money for charity, and they have pretty high standards.

Anyway, inspiration comes from our trip. Eden puts on a special show at Christmas, lighting the tropical biome, putting on entertainment and taking people on a quest. We spent three days there, and I even saw real reindeer for the first time in my life. I took a lot of photos, so here are a few.


Recipe for Eden


Bananas growing inside the tropical biome, Eden Project, Cornwall


Fuchsias in Flower at Christmas. Eden Project, Cornwall


Produce and Plant display, Eden Project, Cornwall


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.

Growing Magic

Khol Rabi

Kohl Rabi

As I left my desk yesterday, having published my blog, I went to check a seed tray for the fourth time that day. I knew germination wouldn’t take long IF the seed was viable. I’d left pots last autumn in the greenhouse that hadn’t been tidied up at all, as I couldn’t do it. There were seeds on the dahlia Coltness Hybrids dead stalks. Now I’ve no idea what I’ll get from them crossing naturally, but free dahlias? The bees love them and so do I. Anyway, as I was saying, I checked the seed rather obsessively again as I left my desk. The first loop of seed leaf stem had pushed through. So exciting! Well, I’m now on an adventure through the season with my seedlings. How tall will they grow? Will I get anything new? Different? I’m willing to see what nature has done.

Migraine has scuppered most progress today, but I have discovered that the mother dahlias from last year from which I harvested the seed have survived total neglect. I’ve taken off the dead tops, potted them up and watered, so they should start back into growth. It’s such a magical process. Roots forming on cuttings, plants laying dormant all winter, seed germinating. I’ve been gardening all my life and it’s still seems like magic to me. Nature battles hard to survive!

Some fuchsias are hanging in there too so they’ve been given the same treatment. Sat on the sofa, I’ve been through my entire burgeoning seed collection and sorted it out. With free seeds out of magazines, Christmas gifts of vegetable seeds and those I’ve bought I could, if I sowed them all, feed the whole of Coalville! So I’ve given some away to a friend with an allotment and at the end of this season will thin them out even more. I’m just not sure yet which will get used up and which will still be a massive surplus. But I’m in a position now to choose from several varieties of fresh greens, Chinese veg and many others. My friend has given me a couple of artichoke roots, so I’m going to try growing them for the first time. I’ve never eaten one, either, so this is entirely experimental. Nothing ventured!

The first kohl rabi seed have made their appearance this morning. Every day new life, more excitement for the growing season. If only my health would improve! I could do so much more.

My mum has requested plants for her garden as she’s banished some that were thugs. So, I guess I’ll be sowing more perennials so I can share out the results later this year. That for the most part is seed I’ll need to buy. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow and will be able to continue sowing and sorting out the greenhouse, which I’m going to reorganise. I want to make more space for tomatoes, ornamental gourds and of course that continuous supply of veg.

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.



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…..

Holiday, Wildlife, The Garden and Photography

I’m getting my final packing for my holiday done today. Once the camper is packed and my bed in the back made up, I’ll be able to do the last bit of watering, feeding and harvesting of vegetables to take with me. Thereafter, I’ll be on the road. But I’ll be looking out for inspiration, ideas for my plot. I’ll be spotting wildlife (I hope) with my camera, my binoculars and my scope. With any luck, I’ll be able to keep you informed along the way. If I can’t get an internet connection, I’ll catch up with you when I get home. The camera battery is fully charged and I can’t wait to get out there and take some great shots. I’m after wildlife, flowers, insects etc. I’m learning as I go and every shot of a creature helps me identify them, and in some instances add to general knowledge by including them in the various surveys being done by researchers. You could, too.

Home And Studio For The Next Couple Of Weeks.

Home And Studio For The Next Couple Of Weeks.


I’ve found some very interesting areas to survey, and we can all take part. Children would love to join in. Springwatch made the point that all you have to do is show a child a bug and they are instantly interested and fascinated by it. They want to know more. Why not help them learn by looking up the bug? Then add it to a survey, and further conservation efforts, becoming part of the solution. Here’s a list of links you can check out for yourself.

Buglife are looking for a rare beetle, an Oak aphid and more. Their site also offers links to other key wildlife surveys. Suffolk Wildlife Trust need you to record with them hedgehog sitings, anywhere in the UK. Hedgehogs are in big trouble. You’ll also find on this site information about how to help them. Their numbers have dropped considerably, but they’re a great garden friend, so this is one creature we should all be trying to help. Also, The Guardian have published a useful list of links to various surveys and ways to get involved with conservation and wildlife. It was published last year but the links are still relevant. Natures Spot is loaded with information, including great identification photos for insects, tree, birds mammals and anything else you want to find out more about. I have a photo of a fly I’m still trying to ID. It settled on ragwort, as many insects do. It’s a nectar rich plant! Do you know what the fly is? The photo’s at the end of this blog.



One of the friends I’m going to see is working hard on his new plot of land to create as close to sustainable living for himself as possible. I’m dying to see what he’s up to. He’s on the edge of Dartmoor and has very different circumstances and problems to deal with, including rabbits and deer. I’ll let you know what solutions he’s finding.

Magpie Moth

Magpie Moth

I’ll spend a lot of this holiday taking photos. My interests happily co-exist. Gardening, wildlife, photography all come together for me now. After a lifetime of following them as separate activities, I now combine them all. The photography gives me a way to pass on my experience via my blogs, a chance to identify species that won’t hang around while I get the books out, or a plant I want to ID when I get home, without picking it. It’s also part of my income via iStock, where most of my photos are flower or insect photographs, many of them macro. I love to peer into the tiny world I can’t see with the naked eye. There is beauty in macro form! It’s amazing what can be seen through a macro lens or magnifying glass. That hedgerow or leaf can reveal some amazing detail. Bees dusted in pollen, tiny beetles you didn’t know were there. Stamens on flowers show their shape and form. It’s a whole other world from the one we live in most of the time. The gardening itself provides the material to photo, the space for wildlife to come to, so more things to photo and food for the table!

Unidentified Fly Visitor On Ragwort Flower. Can you help with an ID?

Unidentified Fly Visitor On Ragwort Flower. Can you help with an ID?



World Food Security And Growing Your Own


Sprouted Beans. Ready in days, tasty cheap and easy. Just add water!

Sprouted Beans. Ready in days, tasty cheap and easy. Just add water!

The global population is estimated to reach between 8.3 and 10.9 billion people by 2050. Food security is a major worry for the world’s leaders. It is now known that the millions of people growing their own food throughout the world already play a big part in providing food that eases the food security issue, The more of us that can grow our own, on our own land, the more we can reduce the pressure on land and resources elsewhere. The ratio of energy needed to produce food and the energy this food actually produces has increased negatively too, because of fuel used to produce the food and transport it, and the use of fertilizers. That’s another improvement when it’s grown in your own place (garden or pot) as there are NO fuel costs beyond buying the seed initially. No airmiles, no artificial fertilisers and no petrol or diesel to get to the shops, and YOU save energy not going shopping, carrying the food and throwing away the wrapping.

Surely then we should all be doing our utmost to grow what we can, for the sake of our planet and our children. We are learning to re-use items otherwise destined for landfill, to reduce pressure there, but this, our food, is so important that we need to do what we can. It’s so simple! Anyone could grow beansprouts or lettuce leaves on the windowsill. There are only benefits to growing your own. No trip to the shops, much cheaper food and no air miles. Food is as fresh as it can be, loaded with good nutrients that haven’t had time to deteriorate and tastes marvellous. It also costs you a lot less than that lettuce wrapped in a plastic bag and refrigerated to stop it wilting. Convinced yet?

You don’t have to have a huge plot and grow potatoes to make a difference. As one supermarket chain keeps re-iterating, every little helps, especially if we ALL do a little. Beansprouts of various kinds, salad leaves and even beetroot can be grown in pots and containers. Spring onions, chives, herbs and even tomatoes can be grown easily, cheaply and need only a little TLC for success.

Have you tried? So many people have said to me they kill things. They can’t grow things. Keeping plants alive is just a matter of giving the plant what it needs, and that’s a fairly simple matter to understand. They need something to grow in (compost) some food (compost then liquid feed), light and warmth. Then they need water. But they, like us, drown in too much of the stuff. There you have it. Simple. The internet abounds with specialist techniques for growing various things, and if you’re that interested you can follow them, as I do sometimes. But I’m passionate about gardening. You don’t have to be to grow basic stuff and get good results.

Try this. Take one tablespoon of mung beans or whole lentils. Place in a large jar, cover the end with old tights or a bit of muslin. Fill the jar with water. Empty. Leave on windowsill  but not in strong sunlight. Repeat rinsing twice a day and eat within the week. Simple!

Come back and see me again. I’ll give some basic hints and tips, tell you what I’ve done and what works and doesn’t work for me. Have a try. It’s very satisfying to pick and eat something you’ve tended, however nervously.

Butterflies, Bees, Birds And The Big Butterfly Count 2014


Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Today has been exceptional. Walking back up the garden having sown more radish and beetroot, I disturbed the butterflies feeding. They swarmed in front of my eyes. Such a delightful sight! Most of them were peacocks, but I have spotted today small coppers, a common blue, red admirals and large and small cabbage whites.

Peacock Butterflies dance

Peacock Butterflies dance

That’s just the butterflies. I noticed a couple of years ago when visiting Geoff Hamilton’s garden at Barnsdale Gardens that the marjoram had more bees on it than anything else. As this herb is one I make a lot of use of, I resolved to ensure at least one big clump adorned one of my borders. I have one marjoram and one oregano clump right nest to each other. This has paid huge dividends. Not only do I have plenty for my antifungal, antibacterial tea, but I have many, many bees of many types. Now, I’m no bee expert, but I saw working honey bees, buff tailed bumble bees, leaf cutter bees, white tailed bumble bees and lots of others. Hoverflies dodged their way around them, all feeding and buzzing to my delight. The maxim I keep repeating, ‘build it (or grow it) and they will come’ actually does pay off.

Bee On Marjoram - One Of Hundreds Today

Bee On Marjoram – One Of Hundreds Today

There’s a big event happening. I’ll be getting involved myself. This is a cause that really matters. One third of our food needs pollination by insects, mostly bees. Peaches, runner beans, apples, pears, you name it, bees do the job for us. The Big Butterfly Count 1014 takes place from 19th July (so it’s happening folks) until Sunday, 10th August. Right now, you can help conservation by giving the scientists the information they need. Here’s the link to get you started. 

Bee On Dahlia

Bee On Dahlia

And you can plant marjoram, simple single flowers like these dahlias, Buddleja davidii to help our insect population. Our gardens are hugely important. They cover so much of our land that we can save these insects from their demise if we try. Sorry to rant, but they need our help and it’s such a simple, easy thing to do. Grow simple flowers! Grow herbs. Will you?

Oh, I’ve had to come back and edit this post. My memory is tragically bad. I mentioned birds, didn’t I, in my title? That was to remind you. They need water. If you don’t have a pond, please put out a dish of water or a bird bath. They need to drink and bathe. Many have visited my bird bath today. They’re lovely to watch, so don’t miss out.

Finally! The Butterflies Arrive to Feast Among the Bees

I’ve had the odd meadow brown, the odd cabbage white (not quite so welcome) and a couple of small tortoishells, and have scanned the borders every day to see what would come to feed. In my last post I shared my frustration at planting so many nectar flowers this year, using the maxim ‘build it and they will come’, but they didn’t. However, today, TWO peackock butterflies inside five minutes turned up on my flowers. Hooray! Numbers this year must be way down, though, for me not to have at least the buddleia covered in the different species we normally see.

verbena bonariensis

verbena bonariensis

The bees, however, are intriguing. I’ve seen new (to me) species of bees I can’t identify, and have a leaf cutter bee nesting in a trough on the patio. Even honey bees are in evidence. The bergamot, calendulas, cosmos and sedums and of course verbena bonariensis seem to be bring them in. We also have plenty of hoverflies and other insects, so hopefully the butterflies that are around will feed and breed, raising numbers for next year. Moths also seem to be coming in, judging by what I can see when sat out in the dark with only background lighting from the conservatory. Something’s working then.

I can also now list frogs, toads, lots of birds species and a visiting hedgehog, so slug numbers are way down on previous years, and I actually get to eat my lettuce! Just wait until I get my pond in there. Damselflies, dragonflies and newts may join us. One of my friends has grass snakes. I wish! There is a woodpile and compost bins at the end of the garden, so you never know.

Watch this space!

Summer Rewards The Work Of Spring and Butterflies Where Are You?

Buddleia for the butterflies

Buddleia for the butterflies

Spring is hard work in the garden. Digging, weeding, the preparation of vegetable beds and the propagation of flowers for those bees, birds, butterflies and other pollinating insects.

Summer brings the rewards, as well as the maintenance jobs and late summer sowings.

We’re now eating lettuce, khol rabi, turnip, a bumper crop of new potatoes, strawberries, beans (runner and French) radish and leaf beet. Tomatoes are delicious and aubergines are forming in the greenhouse. Delightful! I’m now a little frustrated, as I tripped and fell flat on my face on a hard wooden floor a couple of days ago, and muscles and bruising now have to be rested and nursed better. So how I’m going to remove the foxgloves, dead head the ladies mantle and other plants that will seed everywhere I don’t know. I also want to sow more beetroot and spring onions. Despite all the stuff that seems to be growing well, spring onions aren’t. I don’t know why I’m having such trouble with them, as they are normally easy to grow, but this year I’m having to buy them in. Very few have germinated and grown. Maybe I need to change to another seed supplier for them, or grow them in a different spot.

Wow, just went out to get some veg for lunch and realised what a great crop of Dwarf French beans we have. I’ve grown the climbing variety before but didn’t have room for the dwarf ones. They’re quite prolific and will definitely be on next year’s grow list, as they’re my partners favourite! Some you lose, but others you win. I’ve already got a small later crop sown in a container, so we should have even more to come.

Using Painted Lady runner beans seems to have helped keep the pigeons at bay, too, so my runner crop has set much better than last year, with less nipped off pods. I’m glad pigeons aren’t more intelligent! Now the beans just need a little time to develop. They are MY favourite! I could eat a plateful at a time.

Cosmos for the Butterflies

Cosmos for the Butterflies

The rest of the garden is great at the moment, with lots of flowers chosen to attract the insects, especially butterflies. So where are they? I have cosmos, buddleia, sedums and different daisies in flower now, but very few visiting butterflies. Even the verbena bonariensis has only attracted the odd small tortoishell. Disappointing and worrying. Are numbers really that low? Bees are here. I’ve even spotted a leaf cutter bee nesting in one of my alpine troughs, and I think is what is carving up my dahlia leaves,  and hoverflies are here too. So please come, butterflies. There’s a whole snack bar waiting for you!

Pallet Planter For ME

Pallet Planter For ME

Our experiment with a pallet planters is a resounding success. We made one into a wall planter for alpine strawberries (better than opal fruits for a burst of flavour) and the other into a free standing planter for my precious flowers, mainly fuchsias. That stands against a fence which was bare and boring before, but not now. Re-cycling at its best!