Sunday, 22 August 2010

Competitions: August 2010

What’s the approximate life span of a Goldfinch? Have you photos to enter the RHS or The BBC Countryfile Photographic competitions? Sorry deadlines are a bit close here.

An online search last night for dried mealworm prices took me to Haith’s where I bought live mini mealworms for a feeder when Blue tits were feeding young chicks in our camera nestbox back in June. Browsing through the site (which has changed since my last visit) I discovered a competition that I thought readers from the UK might be interested in.

For a chance to win 5kg of a bird seed mix (worth £13.20) just email with your answer the following question:

What’s the approximate life span of a Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis)? A. 10 years, B. 4 years, C. 8 years.

After reading about this competition, I remembered I had wanted to post a reminder of ‘A Moment of Magic’ which is this year’s theme for the 2010 BBC Countryfile Photographic Competition. Sorry, if you were interested there isn’t much time left. The deadline is midnight on Friday 27 August, 2010. Maybe you’ve time left to look through your folders and have something already?

I liked the idea behind their theme this year ‘you can interpret that anyway you wish, as long as your photo captures a magical moment that makes the rest of us wish we’d been there to see it.’.

My moments of magic just now... not for this competition though :-)

“Photographs must have the countryside or natural world at their heart, and can feature landscapes, people, British wildlife (plants and animals), farmyard animals or countryside activities, but no pets or garden plants please. And do state if the images are of British wildlife in captivity.”

If you are into garden photography then you might be interested in The RHS Photographic Competition 2010. You’ve a few more days on that with the closing date for entries being the 31 August 2010. Sorry, I guess I got an email on this one ages ago.

“The RHS supports great garden photography. Whether you’re a budding photographer, garden enthusiast or just someone who likes taking snap shots of the outdoors, there is a category and prize waiting for you. From a close-up detail of a leaf to a sweeping panoramic garden view, from people working in their gardens to the wildlife living in them, we want to celebrate the diversity of gardens through photography.”

Perhaps, if it’s a rainy day with you might like to browse your folders to see what you have. If its a sunny day you might want to get out with your camera. The RHS Photographic Competition has six categories!

The photos shown above were taken just after midnight last night. A new dish with only dried mealworms (back right) shows that mealworms seem to be what is bringing this particular hedgehog in to dine at Hedgehog Manor. Hence my search for mealworms last night.

I also moved the water dish to beside the entrance and it has been used now too. After another cat had a good look about here I returned the clear Perspex front that only has a door of 13cm x 13cm. This will keep leaves from blowing in and any rain too. Wondering now if I’ll ever see more than one hedgehog visit at the same time :-)

Don’t know what the weather is going to do here today… its sunny and breezy at the moment. I really must get out and do some weeding and general tidying done. I’d like to get some photos to for a garden update soon too. Enjoy getting out in to your garden or out with your camera today if you can :-D

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Are hedgehogs still visiting?

For sometime now I have wondered this. At this time of year with the garden full of lush foliage the reality is that hedgehogs are very well camouflaged. Being predominately brown in colour they blend in beautifully with any exposed soil below plants.

During the day we can see that our garden plants attract many insects as they hover and flit above them. As day turns to night the evening shift at ground level is not as welcome! Hedgehogs are our nightshift garden helpers being attracted to the army of foliage feasters on leaves such as hostas.

Yep… the garden slug dines on the hostas in our garden beds as we sleep in ours. However, in the cycle of our natural world, they in turn become a meal for the hedgehog. So how can we tell if our garden slug offer of ‘eat all you can for free’ gets any takers?

Let me reintroduce you to Dora, my daughter’s guinea pig seen two nights ago drinking from her water bottle...

Lol… no, she didn’t tell me ;-) However, back in August 2007 when I went out one evening after dark to put down the cover on her hutch (located at my back door) I nearly stood on one! That was my first sighting. So Dora, and her then companion Eliza, indirectly introduced me to my first 'know of' hedgehog visitors.

So how do you know if hedgehogs visit your garden (if you are in a part of the world that they can)? Well, at a guess if you have lots of plants covering the ground be they neat and tidy or even just long grass then that might make it a possibility.

Add that to bird feeders in your garden with the spill of seed on the ground below and that further adds to your chances. However, being able to see hedgehogs when they visit is a whole different game. Hedgehogs are nocturnal and basically they will wander, eat and nap throughout the night.

For any new visitors to my blog, being completely unfamiliar with this wonderful garden creature back in August 2007 I found myself reading up about them. I was interested in what extra foods I could provide and found they enjoyed dried sultanas, unsalted peanuts (sometimes I crush them), dried and live mealworms.

I have also tried a variety of dried hedgehog mixes bought from shops and even tried dried dog food as suggested by others. However, it always gets left and I only end up throwing it away. I do know cat food is enjoyed by hedgehogs but having a good sized bird population with a variety of species and lots of juveniles at the feeders I don’t want to attract any more than already visit.

After my first hedgehog sightings, I quickly made a feeding station out of a simple (almost transparent) plastic storage box by cutting an entrance 13cm x 13 cm at one end and then turned it upside down. I added a pet dish to the end away from the entrance and placed this near my back door where the hedgehog had been first spotted. This was a great success and I especially liked to see it being used on wet nights.

You can imagine my excitement after seeing the image above the next morning when I looked out my window. This was clear evidence that there had been some hedgehog activity… the biggest clues being the messy state they left things in and droppings! Now, I knew what the dropping looked like I could tell if hedgehogs had passed through my garden ;-)

If you were considering setting up a hedgehog feeding station of any kind I would suggest you locate it along the edge of some thing like a house wall or fence. I’d also strongly suggest you positioned it so you can see the hedgehog using it from a window. They are fascinating to watch. I found myself trying to film them with my video camera before eventually moving on to night cams out in my garden.

This evidence of hedgehog droppings has been missing from my garden this Spring/Summer. I have been considering if perhaps the guinea pig hutch at my back door (there April-October) which made me aware of hedgehogs in my garden are now keeping them away. Could the new family in the bottom floor be too noisy perhaps?

After the humble beginnings of a plastic box feeding station I converted the original plastic single storey guinea pig/rabbit hutch into a larger feeding station with an area for hedgehogs to have a night time nap too. I renamed it Hedgehog Manor.

This worked well but with limited space at my back door it was relocated to a position under my Pergola where it could remain all year round. Given a bit of a makeover of a green roof to make it blend to more with the garden the waiting game began. I have waited, filled up the feeding dishes, refreshed the water and waited. Our last sightings were in March.

The birds found this secret hideaway and the food has not gone to waste ;-) I knew relocating a feeding area was going to be risky. On the positive side, after the snowfall of last winter, this will make a good covered bird feeding area over the winter. I have consoled myself with that.

For new blog visitors, my daughter made me a Hedgehog House (school exam project) for hedgehogs to hibernate in. I put an IR camera in it and secretly hoped we might see a Mum raise her family in it this summer. Alas, no visitors there this year either. I tried different locations too. On the positive side there, I had a camera I could now relocate to inside Hedgehog Manor...

Lol… yes two nights ago when I was capturing photos late in the evening (for this post) I did get my fourth sighting of activity inside Hedgehog Manor! Local cat, Edmund, looked like he was making his first visit… as explored all the way right to his nose at the camera!

Mmm... I have a feeling Edmund and perhaps other passing cats have been interested around the Manor for the past week at least. Can you guess? Yep… sighting number three inside the Manor was a little mouse spotted running around and hiding under the food dish. So the locals are visiting?

Yep… sightings number two and one were slugs and the daddy longlegs! I can’t make them out but I guess there are spiders too. Argh…. both give me the shivers to watch with the slugs going up and down the inside walls and across the food dishes. Some have been seen in pairs too… perhaps mating but I couldn’t watch.

The daddy long legs just stretch out over everything. Can’t be sure, but a slug was seen last night with a daddy long legs then… would slugs eat them? I shivered for a while at the thought.

Actually, my numbers are way wrong now as last night I saw my first snail crawl up the inside wall of Hedgehog Manor too. Yes, lovely too… not! I nearly stood on it as I went out in the dark with a torch to add some dried mealworms to the dish.

The wonderful thing for me about writing blog posts (I have said this before) is that you don’t know where they will lead you. Apologies once again for chatting on… I did plan this to be more of a photo blog with brief captions to tell the story of gardenwatching with a particular message for its ending… patience.

I have really missed seeing the hedgehogs visit my garden since March. I wanted to give tips and hope for others that they may be able to see them too. One huge tip I was going to give was that of a dish of water. In areas of drought that may just be a life saver for hedgehogs when supplies of slugs will have been short too.

Another observation I have made about hedgehogs visiting my garden is that they seem to happily follow edges. In previous years I could work out the routes they took around my garden and would leave food/cameras there with success.

I began to consider my new pond area with its half built wall and large stones running the length of a strip of my hedge. This area has changed slowly over the summer so perhaps this has made following a route through it difficult for passing hedgehogs. However, once completed this area will indeed be a landmark for them.

Now… what are the chances of writing a long post like this and it all been wiped out with…

Please note there is added background music in this video.

In absolute honesty this is for real! Last night at just after 10.30pm I was about to switch the PC off for a while to watch something on the television with OH (with plans to come back to writing this post). I turned to look at the monitor and couldn’t believe my eyes…. I was watching my first sighting of a hedgehog dining inside Hedgehog Manor.

What incredible timing. Needless to say I didn’t watch the television screen then. I've been waiting a while to see this. I write a ‘don’t give up’ post on gardenwatching and the wait is over…. Fantastic!!! I’m almost tempted to change the title of this post now but I won’t. What incredible timing indeed :-)

The images above show the hedgehog searching into the dish of food. Dried mealworms had been there the previous night so I guessed it may be looking for them. As mentioned above I went out and added some more.

I was lucky enough to see this hedgehog return for a helping of seconds last night. It was easy to recognise as unfortunately it has rather a lot of ticks on it. You can see the white dots about its face and along the ear but the video shows more on its body too. Poor thing.

So that’s us, part-time blogging break for the summer over now. Got lots of stories, but just have to find a quicker way of telling them… for you and me! Latest garden mystery is a new bird visitor… only fleeting and ID is tricky. In the plant world I have another flowering out of season... a Hellebore. We've been and about at Reserves and on Garden Visits and look forward to sharing them too.

Looking forward now to catching up with everyone. Wishing you all a good weekend :-D

Regular readers will perhaps have noticed I have put copyright on my images. There’s a story there which I’ll keep for another time.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Meteors tonight… do you tweet?

The 2nd Annual Twitter Perseids Meteorwatch sounds fun I have to say. I am planning to look to the skies tonight although at the moment it is pretty cloudy here in Perthshire, Scotland so perhaps I’ll see nothing. I don’t tweet either to join in but if you do you may want to check out the links below.

Just had an extra thought... if any non tweeters and non bloggers want to share sightings please do leave a comment at the end of this post. I know I'd love to hear about them and I'm sure others would too. It would be great if you could give a rough idea of what part of the UK/World you saw the show from too. Perhaps this is the first show you've seen or one of many. Let's chat about it :-)

You can tweet your meteor observations
and see them on the
Meteor Map
which sounds both fun and fascinating.

Perhaps you’re like me with virtually no Astronomy knowledge and might want to browse the meteorwatch website at to get some background on this spectacle. Sorry I haven't given you more warning. On their website they say:

“For the Next 36 hours the world will discover, observe, image and hopefully enjoy meteors, wonders of the night sky and the Perseid Meteor Shower on Twitter.

As well as looking up and enjoying the night sky, you can have some fun and contribute to science, by tweeting your meteor observations so they appear on a map, or by submitting a British Astronomical Association observing form for more detailed observations.

#Meteorwatch has started in the UK and will continue to run around the world closing back in the UK 36 hours later. Anyone can join in and enjoy the #Meteorwatch, no matter where you are or who you are.

@VirtualAstro, @Astronomy2009UK, @Britastro and many others will tweet, so join in, tweet, use the hashtag #Meteorwatch, post images and join in with science if you can and most of all have fun!”

Now… if you are in any doubt about looking to the skies tonight why don’t you view the video below by Adrian West of Newbury Astronomical Society. I’ve a feeling it may inspire you!

Adrian is also the author of the text in grey above and you can follow him on twitter too @AdrianWest.


Video by Adrian West.

In keeping with the techy theme and the sky at night I’d like to mention an iPhone app. I’ve been waiting for the right time to drop this one in. After all watching the sky is a form of garden watching. I haven’t used it often but it’s fascinating to be able to stand in your garden and hold your phone above you and be able to see star constellations in position. If you turn slowly around the image on your screen changes too!

For a novice like me, the app 'Star Walk – 5 stars astronomy guide' is great fun. Lol… I just need to get off my blog in the evenings and get outside to use it more! Now, at £1.79 I think it’s a great buy too but don’t take my word for it. Please read the reviews first… 5½ stars it gets!

Looking around quickly (want to get this posted before it gets dark) for any apps on the meteor shower and I came across something on the wikiHow website that caught my eye: “How to Watch the Perseid Meteor Shower.” I found the article describing the shower very interesting. They say:

“Each year, the Earth passes through the debris of a comet called the Swift-Tuttle. This debris burns up in our atmosphere to form what we see as meteors or shooting stars. The Perseid meteor shower is at its peak during mid-August, with the peak on the night of August 12 and morning of August 13 in 2010. During a peak, at least 50–60 meteors can be observed during each hour. Considered the best and brightest meteor show of the year by many, it's a great opportunity to go outside and check out nature's own dramatic show.”

Finally, not having a ‘real’ compass to find the north eastern sky (to get the best chance to see the meteor shower) or the iphone version that has a compass included I’m going to use a another tech solution. I’m going to locate my house on Google maps and see what it comes up with.

Location sorted (roughly) all I need now is to set an alarm on my phone for around midnight and have my coat and shoes ready! I don't intend to join those to those who will still be up watching until dawn tomorrow. I've a feeling it was after 11pm we saw the shower last year. I'll maybe pop out around then and if its still cloudy I'll consider my options.

Happy sky watching… oh and remember to tweet what you see if you are on twitter. If you are a bloggger then I look forward to seeing any photos if you are lucky enough to get them.

Have fun however you watch the shower... the reality is no tech solutions are really required. All you need to do is wait until it gets dark, hope there are no clouds, have a bit of patience and use your eyes.

Phew... got this posted before it got dark... sorry I'm a tad late. Wishing you a great weekend :-D

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Meconopsis flowering in August

Should we really be seeing this? I wouldn’t have thought so. May/June is when I would normally expect to see Meconopsis flower in my Perthshire garden here in Scotland. Until now I have only had the very popular blue variety more commonly known as the Blue Poppy which is quite stunning seen here back in June. I'm excited about adding some new colours with it and the first has definitley not disappointed!

Don’t get me wrong I am absolutely thrilled to see this first flower on a young plant only two months in my garden. However, I have to say it always unnerves me a little to see plants flowering out of season. My thoughts then go to the stats guys collecting data on global warming.

Usually we wouldn’t expect to see the flower looking as it is displayed in the photo above either. This single flower of Meconopsis x cookei was seen facing downwards after the rain yesterday like a tiny pink umbrella. I lifted it up and tucked it through fronds of a fern leaf when the sun came out to see inside for a photograph.

In all honesty, I nearly missed this flowering first! With my daughter still on school hols we’ve been out and about. I’ve not had a huge amount of time in my garden and with the rain showers haven't ventured out with my camera much recently.

Don’t you think dark flowers and foliage look wonderful with raindrops on them? Then when the sun bursts through the clouds it then changes the mood of the garden completely. Wonderful light and shade bounce through and across both foliage and flowers.

Yep... as the flowers lift slowly towards the warm sunlight they are open for business for the insect diners like the hoverflies and bees. Cafe open now ;-)

Beside my August flowering Meconopsis, in their correct flowering season, my Japanese Anemones have many flower buds soon to open. As with the Meconopsis, I always look forward to seeing the Anemones come into flower.

The first white Anemone below was almost hiding from my camera on Monday. I’ve had white ones for a few years now and have been successfully propagating them by gently lifting rooted offsets from around the edge of main parent plant. They can take perhaps 2-3 years to flower so I’m expecting a good display this year.

I’m also expecting a good display of pink flowering Anemones this year. I’ve the first flower from them at the moment too. Last year I bought a few plants at an end of season sale at a local garden centre. The plants looked a bit sad but I had faith that they would be happy once planted and would come back this year and flower for me. I can’t wait to see the full display.

I have to ask now… is there anyone else out there with a Meconopsis in flower at the moment? Also, any thoughts on why my young plant is flowering now? To be honest I didn’t expect any flowers even next year. I think I'll ask around the forums.

If you want any further reading on the Meconopsis there is website, The Meconopsis Group. I never knew that until I was looking for info on my plant and this post. I think I’ll drop them an email to see what they think and will update this post with their response and any from the forums.

Oh… for anyone interested, I should add that there is a link to Seed Exchange on the Meconopsis website and members are not restricted to the UK. It isn’t expensive to become a member. Take a look at the Membership Application Form for prices. Looking through the info on this website I might join myself.

Finally, I’d also like to ask… what flowers are you eagerly awaiting in your garden at the moment? What are your favs at this time of year :-)

All photos above were taken in my garden on August 9th 2010.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Set Sat Nav to the Village Hall

A warm welcome will await you! A numbered, usually hand drawn map (not always to scale) will be on the table just inside the entrance. Have you guessed where we’re off to? Yep… its an Open Gardens Day :-)

Last Sunday, 10 gardens owners very generously agreed to open their gardens for the afternoon to raise money for their community. Our map is our entry ticket… now the big question is how many gardens can we visit in three hours?

As expected, progress was slow. Just too much chat with the owners… personal tours too! Contrasting garden styles, lots of interesting features and stories of how the gardens evolved… oh dear, just three gardens down. Time to head back to the village hall for refreshments…

Entry included tea/coffee and a cream scone.
Sorry, out of focus photo via phone… trying to be discrete ;-)

Being realistic, visiting 7 gardens before they closed wasn’t going to happen. A quick read of the accompanying description of the gardens and I picked out a garden that caught my eye. One of the organisers (Glenfarg and Duncrievie in Bloom) wandered over to ask how my visits were going and suggested another. We’re off again.

Although I carried my camera discretely in a bag I only intended taking it out if something unexpected caught my eye and if I felt the owners would be willing to allow me to take photos… oh and I did!

Walking shoes on? Let’s take a wander round the garden of Pete and Marion Dickson. With their kind permission, I'd like to share with you my visit to Hayfield Cottage Garden, in Glenfarg, Perthshire…

Clicking on photos will enlarge them. Please do not copy.

The map description began: ”A cottage garden set in 4 acres, a peaceful setting with the River Farg flowing through.”

Hands up, I’m only now warming to the style of cottage gardens. However, the idea of a river flowing through a garden was one of the attractions that brought me here. The other was behind me in the photo below... you knew I was going to keep you guessing ;-)

Being honest, I quite literally stopped in my tracks on the gravel driveway as I made my way to the gate on the picket garden fence at the side of the cottage.

Before beginning my tour (surprise, surprise) I chatted a while with Pete and Marion. As well as the stunning feature I was in awe of in front of me, nature winning over the gardener was also discussed and with a garden of 4 acres the odds were in its favour.

The map description continued: Fruit trees, productive polytunnel and greenhouses provide organic produce. Herbaceous beds and old-fashioned shrub roses form part of a natural garden with a wooded hill and…” Lol… I’ll keep you guessing a little longer!

Marion mentioned she had a cutting garden for flowers in her house. I loved the large corner plantings of blue and almost black cornflowers. Another flower I particularly enjoyed seeing in different parts of this garden was the yellow bells of evening primrose.

The map description ends with: "Alice, Isobella, Rose and Poppy our hens will be happy to say hello!” Not sure who we have below but another was quietly curious just on the other side of the fence at my feet as I took my photos… must have been the spokeswoman of the group ;-)

Garden tour almost over now and if you’ll indulge me I’d like to be a temporary spokeswoman now. Although they keep it low key, I discovered that the cottage above is used for Bed & Breakfast. “Peace and Tranquillity by the River Farg” is how they describe the cottage and I would absolutely agree with that.

As thanks to Pete and Marion for allowing me to photograph their garden and share it with you on my blog I am giving them a bit of a plug by sharing their email address.

However, I should stress that this decision has been completely at my own discretion. I see this quite simply as a very special place. If you scrolled down this post to see the feature that stopped my in my tracks I'm sure you'll understand.

Hayfield Cottage, or perhaps I should say cottages, have a bit of wonderful history being the workers' cottages for a corn-mill in the late 18th Century. Some original features still remain in the cottage above. Out of respecting the privacy of Pete and Marion’s home I didn’t look closely at the cottage they lived in as I walked past it along the gravel path but at a guess it may have been two cottages joined together.

You’ve probably guessed now what stopped me in my tracks. Not in reality ever intended as a garden feature a derelict 18th Century corn-mill stood tall with nature as its true keeper now. I loved the tree growing out of the roof. What an incredible structure to have in your garden! Could you even imagine opening your curtains in the morning and looking out on to this view? Wow... I unashamedly swooned :-)

A bridge opposite the house leads you across the river of this natural garden where the first of many quite different seating areas could be found. On my way to visit this garden a couple stopped to recommend it… romantic was how they described it.

Yep… romance has truly been in the air in the area below… Pete and Marion’s daughter chose to get married here. Some photos could be seen in the Summer house photo board kindly left out for visitors to see. Their son is now planning his wedding there now too. What fun this must be.

My time was up and the final count of gardens visited was 5! Funnily enough, on chatting to other visitors on my way round Glenfarg Open Gardens I was told to expect to only get half way through the map… they were right :-)

Here in the UK, not all Open Gardens are organised through the Yellow Books of Scotland and England & Wales. This, like many other village and small town Garden Open Days was organised by the members of the community and the local Bloom Committee. They do a great job too.

If I could keep you just a little longer… blogger’s block has definitely not been keeping me from blogging. As with all summer bloggers, time is the issue at the moment. I’ve really have so many things I’d love to share. Yesterday, I was out with my daughter and for the first time saw a….

Sorry, that was cruel ;-) Before I leave this posting on gardens in Glenfarg I have just one more to mention… it was on also on the Open Gardens map. I have visited this garden before. The description of Glenfarg Green read:

"The centrepiece of the community. The Green came into community ownership as a result of extraordinary generosity of Maggie and Brian Lascelles. Created from scratch by Maggie and Brian, it has a wealth of flora and fauna to provide hours of delight."

Click on image to enlarge and zoom in to read. Photos taken in May 2010.

Now… this is another special place. At two and half acres of open space it is in the middle of the village. You’ll find an entrance to it on Greenback road. Alternatively you could now set Sat Nav to PH2 9NY (or Lat: 56.279866 Lon: -3.399941) ;-)

Enjoy your garden visits and outdoor walks over the weekend. Hope the weather is in your favour. Have you plans?

P.S. Thinking of all the other parents and children in Scotland waiting on the postman for the exam results this morning… hope you’re more chilled than I am at the moment! This blog post has kept me distracted :-)