Saturday, 31 December 2011

HAPPY NEW YEAR… but first...

… it’s HOGMANAY! The traditions here in Scotland are still very strong. Hogmany is the Scots word for the last day of the year. Although the world sees Scotland bring in the New Year with Edinburgh’s Street Party and fireworks it is the households of Scotland that keep the traditions of Hogmany alive.

I’ll not have much time for gardenwatching today but the birds have clean feeders and food so they’re already catered for. Ah yes… that cleaning and food catering is a huge part of Hogmany here in Scotland.

Let’s start with that cleaning and the reason I am up early today! Hard as I try every Hogmany not to succumb to the urge to clean everything I can reach, I never really succeed. It really is in our genes.

Yes, l will end this year with an evening washing of the kitchen floor and making sure every bin is emptied before the bells ring in the New Year. Sad but true, this cleaning of the house on December the 31st is a tradition here in Scotland. All my friends and family will be doing the same although not necessarily in the same order. Some will do more, some will do less.

Whenever its light this morning (by the time I have finished this post probably) I’ll be outside cleaning my windows… after recent winds they need it. Nope… I can’t miss out the window clean ;-)

Then there’s the food! Just why do Scots fill up their food trolleys even higher than they did for Christmas just the week before? Well, for one the shops are closed for longer than at Christmas but that isn’t the main reason.

All the Scottish homes that stay up to ‘bring in the bells’ will have a bounty of food and beverages to welcome any visitors they get. Again that can vary from a selection of cold snacks to hot buffets.

Oh… that reminds me I need to buy some packets of shortbread! You see, the street parties really began in the small streets in our villages and small towns where we wandered between each other’s houses taking with us bags containing a first-footing gift for each house and some beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic).

We would always knock on the door to be greeted by the householder so we could pass over a gift. When my parents had a coal fire we would have a piece of coal wrapped in paper to give as our gift. Now, I usually have packets of shortbread wrapped.

Traditionally, this first-footing (first foot over the doorstep) gift was to bring good luck to the household and if there was a male (preferably with dark hair) he handed over the gift. We would shake hands and exchange kisses as we wished everyone in the household a HAPPY NEW YEAR!

If someone was bringing in their first New Year in their house then they stayed there and neighbours, friends and family would visit them. That’s when the tall, dark first foot through the door for the New Year is followed more to give that new home good luck. This is believed to be a throwback to the Viking days when blond strangers arriving on your doorstep meant trouble.

I can remember fondly our first-foots of our first New Year (newly married) in our first new home. My parents had driven through, waited around the corner listening to the bells come in on the car radio before ringing our doorbell just after midnight. They brought coal too! That was a quite a surprise :-)

Traditionally when first-footing, from our bag, we would pour a small drink for everyone in the household. The household will also pour a small drink from their selection for us. We would raise our glasses wishing each other Good Health & Happiness for the New Year. We would then be offered food. Lol… yes spirits could be high by the end of the night in some occasions but as the night could be a long one drinks exchanged aren’t always alcoholic.

It is the hospitality tradition that is still followed here. This tradition can be followed over a few days (weather permitting) as visits to families and friends living further away are made. First-footing gifts are still given even then as you are still wishing the household good luck for the following year. Once again food is offered and many toasts to the New Year will be non-alcoholic ones as people are driving around houses.

This New Year, we’re not expecting visitors as the bells come in. Our street is a quiet one at New Year. That’s ok. We will stay up and bring in the bells whilst watching Hootenanny with Jools Holland and his live guests on the television. Our daughters are going to friends parties locally and will probably be back before it ends which will be nice they might even bring back friends with them. Lol… and I’ll have hot food for them sitting in a slow cooker :-)

Stovies was what my Mum had waiting for us when we came in. She made hers in the tradition way of leftovers from the Sunday Roast. She’d keep the end bits of her roast beef (chopping them roughly up) and the dripping from the roast.

For my Mum’s stovies, she’d add potatoes, roughly chopped onion and beef sausages (pre browned and cut in pieces) to the dripping with seasoning and a little water. The potatoes would cook until almost mushy and once the sausages were cooked the bits of roast beef would be added to heat through. She would also let the stovies almost burn in her pan so there were brown crispy bits of potato through the softer potatoes which she would stir through. These were the really tasty bits we all loved.

Tonight’s planned slow cooker meal I’ll have for any visitors is almost a version of my Mum’s stovies. I’m making a potato and sausage casserole. My recipe has sausages, bacon, onion, garlic, potatoes, fresh sage and vegetable stock in it. The warm smell of it cooking will fill the house later. We will be smelling one of my families tradition of Hogmanay :-)

However you spend this last day of the year, do enjoy it and share it here too if you’ve time ;-)

Wishing everyone that has visited my blog all my very best wishes for Health and Happiness in 2012. Have a great one :-)

Oh… that gardenwatching thing… just looked out my window and a good sized group of long-tailed tits have just breezed through my garden feeding on a variety of feeders. Now that’s a lovely start to Hogmanay :-)

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch on the last day of December 2011.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Baby its wild out there!

You could easily get knocked off your feet like the ducklings and Mum Mallard in the video below. Thanks go to my daughter for passing me on the link last night. As she says… don't worry, there is a happy ending :-)

Source: YouTube Channel Derbydanx

Looking out the window to my small Scottish garden this morning, it's wild out there too. I see large leaves spinning around the ground and my first thoughts went to those tiny ducklings seen rolling and spinning along the ground in gusts of wind.

Today garden birds are venturing into my garden but with feeders being blown about and branches of trees and shrubs being battered by the wind getting to them is another matter. The regulars will know there are some sheltered areas and ground feeders so will find food there.

It’s been pretty quiet with garden birds at the feeders this last week. The feeders were due to be cleaned before refilling but after seeing a possible fat finch (with tricho disease which ends in death usually after 5 days) I delayed the refilling. My plan was that visiting groups of mixed finches (lots of goldfinches) would disperse a little and so perhaps halt the spread of trichomonosis. Clean feeders and birdbaths are the first line of defence.

The feeders were only unavailable for a few days but since then the birds really have not returned in any significant numbers. We’re only seeing odd numbers and visits. Even blackbirds have been pretty thin on the ground. That has surprised me.

Mm… don’t know who got the surprise though when I was hanging my newly cleaned and refilled feeders of sunflower hearts on my feeder Arch. There is a large bamboo planted beside the Arch. I never saw the Saprrowhawk and it clearly only saw my hand as it flew close over my head!

Since then, I’ve seen quite a few Sparowhawk flights through the garden. Guessing there could be more than one visiting and I did see one successful snatch from a feeder pre cleaning and refilling too.

On this wild, windy Wednesday I am expecting to see a Sparrowhawk visit. Not just a fly through either. I’ve noticed that on wild, windy days they will sit on a perch (usually my Arch feeder) and wait for the birds to come to it.

You can see Sparrowhawks listening hard for any bird chattering above wind noise. They also appear on very wet days without wind too. I caught video of a wet day visit earlier this year where the male hawk waited patiently for some time before giving up and flying away. I’ve already posted it but here’s it again for anyone that missed it.

After five years of regularly feeding birds my garden when they don’t it just isn’t the same place. However, I am absolutely confident that when the temps drop and there is snow and ice on the ground my garden will come alive again. Then, I feel happy that my food can help keep them alive on cold nights.

Ah… as I am about to post this some brave birdies are coming out from their hiding places and hanging on branches en route to the feeders. It really looks a struggle for them today. Oh… but thinking of those poor little ducklings again – what a moment that was for them. A great video capture too!

Finally for anyone interested in the date for the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdcount it’s Sat/Sun the 28th & 29th of January 2012. If you’ve never taken part before I’d suggest now would be a good time to put up a bird feeder (or two) so the birds find your garden in plenty of time for your garden to get some regular visitors :-)

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in December 2012.

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Garden Visits (Video): Biddulph Grange

Biddulph Grange Garden was the pick for last weekend’s virtual garden visit. Sorry I’m late with this but I am guessing blogging time for everyone is running short just now.

If you are looking for some time out then perhaps pouring yourself a cuppa and taking a virtual stroll round this garden in Staffordshire, England might just be the ticket. I’ve two videos for you this time (each being just over 3 mins).

The first video concentrates on the many garden views in styles from around the world. There is gentle background music. Look out for the stumpery and the dahlia walk. I have many favs at this garden and have visited it on three ocassions. Pl

The second video, I discovered on the National Trust page on wildlife at the garden. It is a chatty mix from volunteers and staff at the garden encouraging us to take a closer look on visits to Biddulph Grange. I enjoyed this one too. I’d say the message of taking a closer look rings true to any garden visit and to our own gardens also.

Let’s take a good look round the garden that is Biddulph Grange…

Video of Biddulph Grange Garden (not produced by me).

Video by National Trust video.

Aside from these wonderful views and possible wildlife sightings at this garden the absolute favourite image that comes into my head from this garden was on our second visit. Our daughters were quite young and enjoyed skipping just ahead of us along the many paths and doorways (dahlia walk shown below).

Of course once these little legs had skipped and jumped around the themed gardens from China (including Great Wall), Egypt (including Sphinx) and Italy that last walk along the Pinetum to a pretty Cheshire (English) Cottage was tiring them out...

On our third visit to Biddulph Grange our method for enjoying a garden visit with children pre-teens was to let them film it with their own interview chat.

Yep… the video cam garden tour was a winner and entertained us for many years on future garden visits! I remember the fun they had on this one. I also remember the feeding of the rather large carp in the pool below and a lovely lunch in the Tearoom in the main house at that time).

So what brought us on our very first visit to Biddulph Grange (pre children)? Nope… Alan Titchmarsh hadn’t been there yet for the filming for BBC2's Secret Gardens. So just how had we (me really) found out about a garden in this area of England? Here’s a clue…

Ah yes… regular blog visitors will know how much I enjoy visiting the Chinese Hillside garden at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (see my recent visit here). That was only part of the attraction here though. I have been searching (alas unsuccessfully) for info on the real reason. Okay… so we’re raking back the memory cells on this :-)

Back (pre 1990) we watched a television programme (BBC or possibly Channel 4) on the restoration of a statue in a garden. The statue was the gilded water buffalo that overlooks the Chinese Gardens at Biddulph Grange.

From memory the rather large statue was worn and possibly had a break in the horns. Again from memory, I believe the buffalo was lifted from the garden and taken to a studio for its restoration where it was also re gilded.

I also have memories of the ground being muddy when the statue was either removed or returned. It was after following this story we were keen to see it restored and back overlooking the garden again. I’m thinking the Temple and bridge saw some new paint and gilding too.

Now then, my searching for info on the Buffalo did lead me to one particular document that caught my eye. The document was a Consultation Draft for the Biddulph Grange Conservation Area Appraisal by Staffordshire Moorlands District Council back in 1988. Yep… some history on this garden!

Scanning through this document there are some wonderful old maps and some fascinating facts about the garden including:

“The garden was well maintained up until World War 1. However in 1924 the Heath Family sold the estate following the collapse of their business. Biddulph Grange, the house and gardens, was given to the North Staffordshire Cripples Aid Society and became a hospital in 1924. The gardens nearest the house were buried as hospital wards were extended. The rest of the garden continued to be managed for 60 years by 3 gardeners. However by the 1960s neglect and vandalism were taking their toll.

"The importance of the gardens was recognised in the 1970s, when the Conservation Area was designated and a number of buildings were listed. In the 1980’s the Garden was included on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens, maintained by English Heritage and further structures were listed. A steering group was then formed to take on the long term maintenance and restoration of the garden. The Garden was surveyed and its profile was raised by a number of articles.

"In 1988 the Health Authority sold the Hospital. Staffordshire Moorlands District Council took over the estate and formed Biddulph Grange Country Park, which has over 10, 000 visitors a year. The National Trust purchased the garden and carried out its largest garden restoration project."

Oh wait a minute… I should add who created the garden at Biddulph Grange …

"The second James Bateman (1811-1897) created the gardens at Biddulph Grange. As a boy he was fascinated by plants such as tropical fruits and orchids and as a student at Oxford, he commissioned plant hunting expeditions abroad. In 1837 he published his first volume of botanical studies, The Orchidaceae of Mexico and Guatemala, which established his reputation as Botanist."

There are 34 pages in this document, perhaps over the holiday period I’ll get some time to come back and read through more of it. Don’t you just love historical documents like this? Even the way they are written captures my imagination. I adore old maps too :-)

Oops, I’ve posted far too much text here… sorry, I got a bit carried away on this one. Don’t know if I’ll manage another post before Christmas but just in case I don’t I’d like to wish you and yours a wonderful time over the festive/holiday period.

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in December 2011. The photos in this post were pre digital, they were scanned and enhanced to be shown.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Coming across the Cuckoo…

No… I don’t have a new garden visitor. I wouldn’t see the Cuckoo at this time of year anyway as UK Cuckoos are likely to back in Africa for the winter. For those that are interested, Satellite tracking by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) shows where five cuckoos travelled on their migration to Africa which I found fascinating to see. Maybe you would too.

But first, I came across info on the Cuckoo whilst searching for info on one of my favourite garden visitors - the Dunnock. I discovered (along with the Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit and Reed Warbler) it was one of the most common host species for the cuckoo. That was news to me.

Back in July 2010 an image of a Dunnock standing on the back of a fledged Cuckoo chick (five times the size of the little Dunnock) made the news.

The image shown opposite was taken by Mike Stuckey in his garden in Somerset, England. What a brilliant garden watching capture don't you think?

For those that don't know what's going on here, this Dunnock believes it is feeding its newly fledged (oversized) chick!

It seems the parasitic breeding habits of the Cuckoo are notorious. The BBC video shown below (with narration by David Attenborough) shows us how this Dunnock parent would have found itself in this position via footage of another host, an equally small, Reed Warbler…

How fascinating is that? A blind, newly hatched chick (whose parent left it as an egg in the nest of another bird for it to raise) instinctively knows to remove other eggs and chicks from the nest so only it gets fed by the parents.

Add to that, after it has fledged the young Cuckoo gets fed for a further 2 weeks by the host parents and any others that can’t bear the begging noises it makes. I guess, as with all living species, it simply comes down to survival.

You’ve got to feel sorry for the host parents but the Cuckoo as a species really does need help. That’s why the BTO have tagged five Cuckoos. Information gathered from the tracking device will help understand more about this bird and then what can be done to help the worrying decline in its numbers.

Another news article (published in August this year) suggesting Cuckoos are heading to Scotland caught my eye:

"An analysis of three years of bird sightings within 10km sq plots across the UK - for the British Trust for Ornithology's Bird Atlas 2007-11 - reveals cuckoos are thriving in Scotland, and in mass decline in England and Wales.

Dawn Balmer, Bird Atlas co-ordinator with the BTO thinks cuckoos are growing in number in Scotland even faster than thought.

"Figures do suggest Scotland could become a refuge for cuckoos," she said.

Experts have theories about the change. These include varied food availability, loss of habitat in England and climate change causing shifts in breeding times.

"One thought is that adult cuckoos like fairly big caterpillars and maybe the food supply is better in Scotland," said Balmer. "This could have happened because of climate change."

It could also be linked to the cuckoo's ability to find a nest in which to lay eggs.

Cuckoos are parasites, laying their eggs in other birds' nests, but if the host bird, such as the meadow pipit, has started breeding earlier, their nests may not be available at the right time.

"They could be getting out of sync with each other," said Balmer.” "

Next year, the BTO intend to extend their Cuckoo tracking project to Scotland. That makes sense. However, Satellite tracking isn’t cheap so more fundraising will be required. The BTO are getting support from Heatherlea on this.

Coming back to the current tracking of five cuckoos by the BTO, they (Clement , Martin, Lyster, Kasper and Chris) have their own blogs. If you’re keen you can meet and follow them here. You also get an option to sponsor their tracking too.

There was an offer to sponsor a Cuckoo for Christmas but the order deadline was the 14th of December. You can still make an order but there is no guarantee your pack will arrive before Christmas now.

Sorry about my late post with details… as I said above I only came across the Cuckoo via a search on the Dunnock. I’m very glad I did though and I hope this post gives just a little more awareness of the plight of the Cuckoo.

Ah yes… Christmas prep awaits us all just now. I hope this little story and video helps break the treadmill you may be on now. Enjoy your weekend :-)

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in December 2011.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Story Behind the Name

Picking your blog name – was it easy or did you ponder over it for some time? Did you know, out there in the blogging world, there is a real Garden Faerie and her name is Monica? Well there is... and she has cast her spell across Blogland…

s-h-a-r-e…. t-h-e…. s-t-o-r-y… b-e-h-i-n-d… y-o-u-r… b-l-o-g…. n-a-m-e….

My name is Shirley… when I began my blog (over five years ago now) I didn’t want people to know that! I was a secret blogger…

shirls… came about as it was a connection to my name but not really me.

Oh… but that missing apostrophe has niggled me over the years… but I was happy (yes I was) with my deliberate plan of no punctuation at the time we hit the create blog button.

Anyway, I have been called Shirls in the past and I wanted quirky and (almost) anonymous. Mm… but then I should have an apostrophe after...

Oh…. It wasn’t likely I would continue to blog for more than a few months so did it really matter anyway? Oops… got that timing estimate well wrong!

gardenwatch… came about as that was what I was going to do. Quite simple. I was going to watch my garden for a Robin to visit.

I deliberately joined the words together. I wanted a longer, descriptive word to follow a short one. Simple... or was it...

Oh... but I never considered the whole comment thing when I started blogging. I wasn't a blog follower or reader. So when it came to leaving comments... that missing apostrophe came back to haunt me once again. Preceeeding ‘says’ its abscence stood out too much for me so in the end I reluctantly dropped the shirls to shirl as my name in comments :-(

For the record (UK readers) I never considered the whole Autumnwatch and Springwatch names of the BBC programmes. I was definitely not blogging on the back of that. I was an occasional watcher of the programme at that time. Things have changed somewhat there then! I had no idea when I began that my blog would evolve as it has.

So why was I looking for a Robin to visit my garden - in winter preferable with a snowy background? Again quite simple, but a sad story this time…

My homesick friend living in Australia had lost both her parents (back here in Scotland) within three months of each other. I wanted to help keep her connection to Scotland through her time of heartbreaking grief as even after over 20yrs in Australia she was still a Scottish lass at heart.

My friend loved our cold, Scottish Winters and seeing the Robin (not known to me until the day of the second funeral). Her Mum would regularly send her items with Robins on it (from days out) when she was alive.

I started this blog to share images of Scotland and the Robin with my friend. I had no plans for it other than that. I was persuaded by my husband it would make downloading sense and it went from there. I can remember very easily my first attempts at photos and video capture for her. I am confident I have improved since then :-)

Now with a (basic) HD Video camera I’d like to get a really good capture of the Robin in winter for my friend and everyone else that has since enjoyed seeing footage of the birds that visit my garden. However, I’m still very pleased with the capture below taken in December two years ago. I had fun adding a festive jingle to it :-)

Oh my… that Garden Faerie has cast a spell on me… however… believe it or not (even now after five years blogging) I am still a bit of a secret blogger… it's funny that.

Don't know why I keep this blogging life from some family and friends. I guess I don't think they would be very interested but for some reason I do feel a tad awkward and embarrassed at thought of telling them anyway... so I don't.

For any first time visitors reading this blog, I do blog on my garden plants and wildlife as well as watching out for birds visiting the garden. I post on garden and nature reserve visits too.

I’d like to end this spellbound post with a ‘Hello and Thanks’ to Monica at the Garden Faerie's Musings, we haven’t come across each other in this vast blogging world. I found your post after seeing VP’s blog. It’s been fun reading about other blogs in via your Mister Linky list. I’ll add mine now and check back on your post to see who else has been caught by your spell :-)

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in December 2011. The first image was by produced by Bren for the Garden Faerie.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Garden Visits (Video): Benmore Botanical Garden

Benmore Botanical Garden is the pick for this weekend’s virtual garden visit. It can be found in a magnificent mountainside setting on the Cowal Peninsula in Argyll. For those not familiar with Scotland’s landscape that’s on the west side of the country.

Benmore is steeped in history and surrounded by dramatic scenery. As a garden it doesn’t stand alone either. In fact, back in the 20th Century, together with two other Botanical Gardens here in Scotland (Dawyck & Logan) it was acquired by The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh which I’ve been covering this past week.

Benmore isn’t open to visitors through the winter. It's open daily 1 March to 31 October from 10am to 5pm/6pm. We don’t need opening times for our visit though - just six minutes to see this stunning Scottish Garden…

This is not my video. See source on YouTube.

Over 300 species of rhododendron and over a third of the world's winter hardy conifer species can be seen at Benmore. It’s a garden with wealth of flowering trees and shrubs and something of interest throughout the year. Talk a look through the seasons highlights in Spring , Summer & Autumn.

It’s a number of years since I’ve visited this garden (daughters quite young) but I do remember being in awe of the size and variety of trees there. It was a bit of a trial down memory lane for me when I discovered this video. I loved seeing the avenues of trees and other areas once again. I hope you've enjoyed your virtual visit too :-)

Next weekend, I think I’ll take you to a garden in England. I’ve not decide which one yet but I have decided the one for Christmas. It’s a very special garden indeed. I’ve a bumper helping of video for this one :-D

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in December 2011.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Garden visit, in search of berries...

... at The Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, last week, pre stormy weather, snow flurries and temperature drops. I’d take an accurate guess that the garden won’t look quite the same a week on. Yesterday alone will have changed the landscape – it was a quite ‘orrible day.

Have one tree to straighten here today - moved 1 month ago so not properly rooted to spot. Fortunately my night cam survived the double storey (wooden) guinea pig hutch fall on it. Unfortunately the small gorrillapod tripod has been broken at the head. Better that than the cam.

The hutch was sighted under my pergola in a (lol) sheltered spot. The wind pushed through a substantial planting of ivy and that's after a wind breaking ranch style fence and another structure with ivy just a few metres before it! We heard it thud down suspecting our chimney had come down... phew!

Okay... let's leave the storms for now and we'll try not think of likely damage to the Botanical Gardens and head back to a calmer, chilly, sunny morning last week...

As mentioned on my recent garden visit video post of this garden, here are the photos of what caught my eye on the first day of December. In search of plants and trees with berries, I went to my favourite area of this garden – The Chinese Hillside. I wasn’t disappointed.

I’m not sure on the ID of the black berries shown below (any suggestions please) but the red cotoneaster berries were very familiar after seeing them being eaten by Blackbirds in my garden. Actually, it was after that post I decided on the theme for this visit to the Botanics.

The orange/brown berries above, catching the sun, high up on a tree caught my eye. I never read the label when I took my photo before moving on (it was chilly, I wasn’t wearing gloves) and now realise that they were in fact fruits on the Malus, yunnanensis. Okay, not berries then. Pretty though :-)

Not so pretty was the sight of the pink/white berries (Sorbus aff. filipes) on the ground beside the path. Shame, I thought, I wondered if the birds will eat them from there. Maybe the Blackbirds will find them as they scurry about the ground. I heard them clearly calling and chattering as I walked through this part of the garden.

The Hillside garden is my fav because of the thick planting of trees and shrubs that you wind your way through. I know so many birds will be in there but it isn’t until this time of year that you can get a chance to see what you hear singing, calling or chattering.

I only took my wide angle camera lens so couldn’t get close-up shots but was thrilled to be able to see what looked like a pair of Bullfinches – definitely a male (deep pink breast, bottom corner pic below) and female Bullfinch.

Hopefully, the montage below captures the feel of this area of the garden just before winter takes hold. There is more depth to the planting and design than is perhaps seen on first impressions. You can see the waterfalls were in full flow then.

Many visitors may just walk along the winding paths through large shrubs, bamboos and trees, over the small Chinese bridges and down to the Pagoda and pool at the bottom. Lol… chatting as they go too. I hear them when I stand with my camera. It's good to see a garden come alive with 'people' visitors too especially families of all ages/generations getting out together :-)

Catching my eye above, top pic RH corner, (yours too probably) was the Liriope platyphylla flowering. It’s one of those plants that is listed as having a blue flower but for me it was a wonderful purple/blue. With an upright flower spike growing above an evergreen grass-like clump it would fit nicely into my garden. Yep… flowering at this time of year too… definitely on the wishlist :-)

My garden visit wasn’t long so I headed to my new (next favourite) part of this garden – The Biodiversity garden sited beside the John Hope Gateway Visitor Centre.

You can see below that this area has a naturalistic style of planting with flows of grasses, cornus and a variety other plants grouped en masse. You can also see we have paved, straighter winding paths here as well as soft curved ones. I’ve chatted long enough… it's the weekend, I’ll let you enjoy a quite stroll by yourself :-)

That Calendula on the path edge and poppy flower buds made me smile and show that plants do their very best to survive and set seed. I suspect the Calendula wont’s be looking like this today but perhaps the poppy will have held on. With a stronger drop in temps, its days are probably numbered though. Winter is on its way. Oh yes... not sure on that orange wall at this time of year.

One last thing before you go… note the bird feeders in the Biodiversity Garden. Yes, it looks like there is a camera there (perhaps images shown in the centre) but what interests me is that there are no plants below the tree with feeders on its branches (I try to do this too). Perhaps there were plants earlier in the year but now during winter when more birds come to the feeders visitors, people and birds, will get a clearer view of the area. For the gardeners who tend this area it makes for weed damage control too when uneaten seeds germinate. Win, win all round :-)

Well, that’s enough from me, hope you’ve enjoyed (my) brief visit… lol! Wishing you a great weekend. Stay safe and warm :-)

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in December 2011.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Snow doesn’t always put the garden to sleep

Quite the reverse here anyway, my garden is coming alive with more and more bird visitors with each day since our temps dropped and the snow arrived. Over the weekend, I heard Long-tailed tits fly over my garden shed and head to the feeders. I headed straight indoors for my camera but alas they were gone :-(

This morning it was the return of Male Bramblings to my garden. I was thrilled! Last winter was the first time we had seen them and I didn’t know if we would see them again. I was lucky to be looking out the window at the time :-)

It was a tricky choice between video camera or still camera to capture images of the Brambling today. It was looking particularly colourful with its warm orange breast as the sun lit up both it and the red stems of my Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'.

This sunny moment only lasts a short time but the tree and the birds on it look so eye-catching at that time. I chose my video camera but the Brambling wasn’t too cooperative in staying still for very long so my footage was a bit jumpy. However, the video grabs below give a flavour of his visit…

Looking up my favourite RSPB BIRDFEEDER BOOK, I see it mentions that when Bramblings come to gardens they will take sunflower seeds and peanuts. Yep… I can confirm that I have seen them do that. It also goes on to say that Bramblings have learned to use feeders… I can also confirm that and that they don’t go for the easy ones either! They’ll tackle the clinging feeders where they will hung around to feed or grab and go :-)

Yep… the garden isn’t always a sleepy place when it snows. Put up a few bird feeders up and see what happens! Oh yes… and remember to clean them regularly to avoid the spread of disease when big groups visit. Getting a camera out and taking photos from indoors is fun too and can help when looking to ID your new visitors. That’s what I found anyway :-)

Being completely honest I’m not really a fan of snow - childhood memories of being cut-off in our village and skidding in cars. However, the cold and snow does bring in big flocks of birds and that is exciting as then you have a ‘window of opportunity’ to see new bird species you may never have seen before.

If you have the time… pull yourself up a chair at a window with a good view of your garden and watch… it makes for great viewing :-)

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in December 2011.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Garden Visits (Video): Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Link collecting for Edinburgh Botanical Gardens whilst sorting/editing photos from a visit this past week picked up the video below. I’ve collected footage in the past but this one (at 6 mins 15 secs) covers all areas. I liked it and thought it would be a good one to share.

For those considering a garden visit for a day out, a holiday or if neither and a virtual garden visit fits the bill I thought I’d add it here with a post all to itself. Have yourself some garden therapy… pour a cuppa and enjoy….

This is not my video. See source on YouTube.

Sunday is probably a good day for a short video blog post. No chat, just some garden visiting images with background music. It might be fun to keep this one going as a regular theme. If anyone would like to join me please leave a link in a comment. I’ll look forward to finding new ones for each week :-)

This was published by Shirley at shirls gardenwatch in December 2011.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Caught in the act…

That would be the Blackbird, on the Cotoneaster tree with a berry its mouth! I've spent ages trying to catch a berry in the mouth like this. Pity the light was poor but I'm still pleased with my capture.

Who eats the berries in your garden? Perhaps, like me, you have planted especially to feed the birds. What shrubs and trees would you recommend for attracting/feeding birds at this time of year?

Here in my small garden the only berries I have for the birds (at the moment) are on a fairly small tree. The RSPB chat about Birds and Berries here where they go on to say:

“The winter is a good time to consider planting fruit and berry bearing trees or bushes in the garden. As well as the many native berry-bearing species (including rowan, holly, whitebeam, spindle, dog rose, guelder rose, elder, hawthorn, honeysuckle and ivy), attractive shrubs like cotoneaster, pyracantha and berberis are especially good for a wide range of birds.

Berry and fruit bearing trees provide food for a range of insects and animals, too: hedgehogs, badgers, mice, squirrels and even foxes will all happily feed on them. All sorts of fruit are attractive to insects, and if you leave them where they fall in the late summer and autumn they will attract numerous butterflies to their syrupy goodness.

Fallen fruit can also provide birds with a cold-weather treat: pop some in the freezer, and save it for the winter bird table.”

Now, that’s interesting… I didn’t know hedgehogs would eat berries too. At the moment, we’ve a regular young hedgehog feeding up on crushed unsalted peanuts, dried mealworms and sunflower hearts. I am thrilled to be able to help it just now.

I’ve had my night cam out watching in the evening after seeing two hedgehogs visiting the ground bird feeders last week. That was a surprise sighting. I guess they are taking advantage of the late feeding opportunities to fuel their winter hibernation. Soon our temps will drop and we won’t see them again until Spring.

Pre blog I never considered the Ivy growing up and over my Pergola would flower and produce berries. Lol... call me a plants person... I know :-o

I planted the ivy Sulphur Heart (shown above) on a trellis along one length. I planted it purely as a wind break and sun shelter to be completely honest. I do prune it to encourage growth and keep it as a neat backdrop for the plants in the border in front of it. I was surprised when I started to see the odd looking ball shaped flowers it had.

As the Ivy ‘took hold’ on my pergola, pruning the higher growth became difficult and as a result more flowers were beginning to cover the top. Getting photos became tricky too but as I now know black berries may follow the flowers I am very keen to see them.

Back at the beginning of the month, another Ivy (shown above) was already ahead of the Sulphur Heart and fully in flower. This was a small, shiny dark leafed common ground covering one that I spotted growing (not planted by me) under my hedge. I pulled pieces up and started training it up the pillars of my Pergola. Gosh… it has grown some since and has had many flowers this year.

Taking a look out a bedroom window I could see the extent of flower coverage after spotting large numbers of insects visiting one sunny, blue sky day at the beginning of the month.

I caught some video footage from the ground level with my camera strongly tilted back on my tripod. I hoped we’d get another day like this where I would get up on a ladder with my video camera to get a closer look at the variety of insects that were feeding there. We didn’t… but the video below has caught enough of the feeding frenzy on the ivy flowers...

It’s wild, wet and windy here just now so maybe I’ll just lean out an upstairs window again to see if we have berries yet. If we do there will be lots and of great interest to the birds in the coming months. I’ll try to get up a ladder to get a closer look before we get snow and ice.

Now, I wonder if my garden birds will actually eat the ivy berries. Has anyone seen them do this? If so, which birds? I’m guessing it would be the Blackbirds and Thrushes :-)

This post was written and published by Shirley at shirls gardenwatch in November 2011.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Let me entertain you...

Let me… invite you to enjoy the video below and come up with captions (should I have a competition?) for the following selection of images of a Grey Squirrel eating apple whilst visiting my garden earlier this week.

Being honest, I didn’t know they ate apples but it seems like they are not so popular with people growing them. I do know Grey Squirrels can be a serious pest but… you can’t tell me they aren’t entertaining to watch too :-)

Living in Scotland , generally regarded as last stronghold (here in the UK) for native Red Squirrels which I adore to see BTW, I shouldn’t be enjoying seeing the Grey at all. However, I don’t see it often. They are such a brief visitor to my garden (usually only in November for a few days) I can’t bring myself to dislike them.

I've added had fun with some upbeat background music here... watch the volume on your speakers :-)

Doing the whole Yin & Yang thing I should promote a website that is protecting our wonderful, charismatic and threatened Red Squirrel. In all honesty, I do support our native Red whole heartedly and the link I am giving is to pages covering the whole UK.

It’s been a wild windy night here but I’m thrilled to share that I’ve seen some hedgehogs on my night cams tonight. That is great news! No video caught tonight but I did see two hogs visit last night and captured some video of them then :-)

Now… the big question now is… would anyone want to be entertained by some live images of hedgehogs visiting my garden?

Oh yes… and to all my US blogging friends… hope you’ve enjoyed a great Thanksgiving :-D

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in November 2011.

Monday, 21 November 2011

A Treecreeper to celebrate 5 yrs blogging!

My blog (shirls gardenwatch) has officially been online for 5yrs as of the weekend just passed. Wow… I honestly can’t believe it myself! It all began with a video of the European Robin from my garden for a homesick friend in Australia. I had absolutely no thoughts on how long I would keep it going – until Spring the next year?

During the last five years, this gardener and plants person has continued to garden and move plants as much as I always have. Many garden borders have changed, changed and changed again. In this time, my garden has evolved (slowly at first) into a wildlife garden. This wasn’t something I had planned. I can’t imagine my garden any other way now.

As a plants person, planting combinations with colour and texture still matter. Propagation by division has developed many areas with ground cover which cuts down on maintenance.

More importantly for me now though is how the ground cover affords safety for birds, hedgehogs and other creatures making their way around my garden. Don’t laugh now, but now I do consider hedgehogs when spacing evergreen plants so they always have a few ways through :-)

So where do you begin in a post to mark five years of blogging?

I could recount many sightings and re-post a variety of photo montages and videos - keeping you far too long and probably boring you silly if you've heard the stories before.

How do you find best bits over five years anyway?

I had thought a video would be good but alas… that old thing called time ran out. Cake anyone?

So, what are the chances of being at a window to see a bird that I never imagined I’d ever get the opportunity to see in my garden (no mature trees) appearing just a few days before my 5th Blogaversary? I’d say perfect timing for a celebration… a new blogging year lies ahead with new discoveries within a small garden. Now, before we chat Treecreeper...

My thanks go to everyone that has answered my queries and requests for advice with my blog and my garden visitors. Although huge now, the blogging world is still a very welcoming place. To my fellow bloggers, I’d like to say a huge thank-you for your friendship, links and comments over the last five years. I know how very difficult it can be to keep up with both new and old blogs. I very much appreciate your loyalty.

I dearly hope my enthusiasm for enjoying the mini wildlife reserves that our gardens can become has been a little infectious to blog visitors via searches, blog rolls, feeds or comments. After five years it would be great to think there are a few more nestboxes in gardens, bird feeders up, hedgehogs getting fed and plants being planted that feed bees, butterflies and other insects. That would be just brilliant :-)

However, I am not alone in my blogging enthusiasm. It has been wonderful to exchange chat with garden, bird & wildlife bloggers and enthusiasts over the last five years. I was a bit wary of the blog/email chatting at first but now I can’t imagine my blog without it.

Next, I’d like to apologise once again for my absence with postings, comments and blog visiting recently. I keep saying I'm back to posting and something comes along and takes up my time and attention.

What are the chances of two family members having a Laparoscopy within 9 weeks of each other? It was my youngest daughter this time and her appendix was finally removed. My husband is continuing to improve. Thanks again for all your good wishes for his health. It has been a scary and exhausting time that’s for sure.

So with everyone on the mend, let’s get back to the business of celebrating five years of blogging with our newest garden visitor but first I have to admit to…

Pre blog my bird identification was pretty much in the category of “oh… there’s a robin, blackbird, blue tit and what’s that little brown bird – a housesparrow?” I used a basic camera for holidays, days out and special occasions. I didn’t have bird feeders in my garden. Phew... that's my conscience cleared :-)

This morning, in complete contrast, a DSLR camera (with zoom lens) was sitting on a tripod beside my window… and a wildlife camera was outside showing live images on the corner of my monitor desktop. Both cameras were pointing in the direction of a tree.

The tree in question (shown above) is my red barked palmatum 'Sango-kaku'. Why such interest? My blog post title says all.

Last week a Treecreeper Certhia familiaris was spotted jerkily creeping round and up the slim trunk and branches of it. I couldn’t believe it. Although my camera was at hand I was too fascinated by what I was seeing that I never picked it up.

Yep… five years on I was able to spot and instantly ID a small brown creeping bird with a white underside. Wow… I knew this was a special visitor! I would dearly love if it became a regular (not getting carried away though as that’s probably not likely) as this is a wonderful little bird to watch. I feel quite privileged that it came to feed in my garden.

Since adding our first garden bird feeders (just 2 months before my blog began when my daughter was doing a school bird project) I have enjoyed watching the variety of birds that have visited my garden. I began taking photos or video of any new visitors so I could research what they were and what foods they liked to eat. I then started experimenting with feeders and foods. More birds came…

The Treecreeper that I spotted in my garden (certain on ID) last Monday morning has taken my garden bird species total to a staggering 31! I honestly can’t believe this. The majority of birds that are now regular visitors to my garden (like the finches) I had never seen (in or outside my garden) before I sat with my daughter trying to help her ID birds at a window for her project. Wow!

I have seen Treecreepers a few times at SWT Reserve Loch of the Lowes. It has been towards the end of the day we have spotted them. The image below was taken there yesterday after a brief visit. Being truthful, I went hoping to get a photo. I did...

Have you any guesses as to why I have joined this image with a coal tit (on the right, taken in my garden a few years ago)? Well the clue is in the word join :-)

Last Monday when I spotted the Treecreeper in my garden I was very much aware that there was a lot of activity at the feeders by Coal tits, Blue tits and Great tits. There was quite a crowd of them. When I was at Loch of the Lowes yesterday I spotted lots there too. I started to wonder if there was a connection. I picked up my books when I got home. Ah…

For those that don’t know, in winter, Treecreepers will often join in with mixed tit flocks. They like to take advantage of other eyes looking out for food. It helps keep them safe from danger too. It is also suggested that you are twice as likely to see a Treecreeper during winter months.

Oh wait a minute… what was I reading? Goldcrests and small warblers do the same… Ooooo!

What else was I reading? Ah… peanut cakes rubbed into tree trunks or similar surfaces might attract Treecreepers. Now… I had a tub of natural (unsalted ) crunchy peanut butter in my shed… bought for the birds :-)

This morning, as soon as it was bright enough to see in my shed I found my tub of peanut butter. I also found a handmade tree branch feeder I bought on a visit to Loch of the Lowes two years ago. Starlings showed too much interest with this feeder as it had wine corks nailed to it as perches. It was taken down.

The close-up insert in the garden image (seen earlier above) shows the tree branch feeder (with cork perches removed) jammed in and tied to a branch junction on the Acer tree where the Treecreeper was spotted. Some peanut butter was spread into the holes. Not too much, don’t want to attract too much attention at this stage. We don’t want Starlings descending and scaring away the Treecreeper!

The big question now is… did I see a Treecreeper feed from this feeder today? Nope… but that would have just been too easy! Oh… I also spread some peanut butter on a few pine cones I pulled off a small tree in my garden. I jammed them into tree branch junctions too. A Blue tit has spotted one of them :-)

So, there you have it… a new challenge in gardenwatching to start a 6th year of blogging. What fun I find these feeder challenges. Of course, if a Treecreeper does return… the challenge of getting photos and video will then begin :-)

Enjoy the challenges in your garden be they growing plants or encouraging birds and wildlife. Looking through our windows, our gardens can be pure theatre to watch with a cast of many - especially at this time of year. Thanks for garden watching with me :-D

This post was written by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in November 2011.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Wild Flowers via some housekeeping

There’s nothing quite like a good de-clutter is there? The time has come for my (never really updated) plant photos blog to go. However, I do want to keep one post after getting help from other bloggers with it. This post was originally published back in July 2007 and linked to from this blog.

The images below were all taken on a family holiday in North Wales and the Isle of Anglesey. On this holiday I decided to have wild flowers as the topic for my camera. I have to admit I found it fun scanning the verges as we sped by in the car - I wasn't driving of course :-)

I was thrilled with my collection of images at the time even though (different camera) many are a bit out of focus – I could barely stand with the strong winds when many were taken! However, I am not a wild flower expert so I invited suggestions from the wild flower enthusiasts to help identify these plants by comments or email. I found that great fun too.

Identification thanks went to Bloggers Celia at Purple Podded Peas and Sara at Farming Friends . There's a few left without ID's so if anyone has any suggestions please do add them in a comment, thanks :-)

C1 - Spear Thistle, C2 - Creeping Thistle,

C3 - Marsh Thistle perhaps?

D1 & D2 - Self Heal - seed head & flower head (Thanks, Celia)

D3 - Red Deadnettle (Thanks, Celia)

E1 - Lesser Trefoil or Black medick ? tricky with only flower (Thanks, Celia)

E2 - Common Centaury & E3 - Ribwort Plantain (Thanks, Celia)

F1 to F3 - Clovers in various stages of growth

G1 & G3 - Any suggestions?

G2 - Himalayan Balsam
(Thanks, Celia)

H1 - Herb Robert - a type of wild hardy geranium (Thanks, Celia)

H2 - Common Mallow (Thanks, Celia) H3 - Bell heather

I1 to I3 - Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Thanks, Celia)

J1 - Scarlet Pimpernel? ( Thanks, Celia

J2 - Fox-and-cubs (Philosella aurantiaca) orange hawkweed

J3 - Any suggestions?

K1 - K3 Hawkweed - various forms (Thanks, Sara).
When I photographed these flowers,
I had no idea how varied the petal structures were.

L1 - Hawkweed again (Sara suggests). At the time, I thought
it was a dandelion but on looking again at the original photo
I agreed it could be Hawkweed (Thanks, Sara)

L2 - Perforate St John's Wort. I thought so (Thanks, Sara)

L3 - Ranunculus but leaves would help to identify whether it is
the creeping buttercup or the lesser spearwort (Thanks, Sara).
I looked again at the original photo and looking at the foliage
I agreed it could be a spearwort - but perhaps the greater one?

M1 - Cabbage family but need leaves to identify (Thanks, Sara).
This was a very windy shot and all foliage was blurred.

M2 - Lady's Bedstraw (Thanks, Celia)

M3 - Tormentil, I thought - Sara agreed (Thanks, Sara)

N2 - Soldier beetle & N3 - Ladybird. I also came across
many insects including bees and the occasional mushroom!

O1 - Red Valerian (Thanks, Celia)

O2 - White Cinquefoil (Thanks, Sara)

O3 – Any suggestions?

P1 - Hogweed? (leaves would confirm) (Thanks, Celia)
P2 - Yarrow (Thanks, Celia)

P3 - Bindweed( - large perhaps?
(Bindweed spotted growing twining through plants up a wall)

Q1 – Bramble flowers?

Q2 – Bramble fruits?

Q3 – Dead nettle? If so which one?

R1 - Maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes)
R2 - Barley grass perhaps
small low grass
(photo taken at the top of the great Orme in Llandudno).

R3 - Rusty-back fern (Ceterach officinarum) spotted growing in walls.

This has been fun revisiting this posting although I suspect many regular visitors to this blog may have missed it first time round. I hope you enjoy this little look back at some summer flowering wild flowers especially now that our gardens are winding down for the year. Oh yes… and if you can help me with any ID’s that would be great :-)

Now… wait a minute… I think I have some pkts of wild flower seeds somewhere. Perhaps more house keeping is required there too.

Have you fav wild flowers growing in your garden? Red Campion (introduced by me) is perhaps a little too well settled in my garden and I’m hoping Lady’s smock (the Cuckoo flower) will do the same :-D

This post was written by Shirley at shirls gardenwatch
in connection with this original posting
Wild Flowers July 2007