Thursday, 28 February 2013

End of Month View FEB13

So… I remembered to get few garden views (bonus with early morning sunshine) to join Helen and other Bloggers with an end of the month view or two from my garden.

It’s always tricky to decide which way to do this – do you choose close-up captures or the long views where you don’t get the same detail in planting? I’ve opted for the later for now but may add close-ups when there's more to see other months. After considerable chat on my previous prequel post I think captions would be best – I like the visual record anyway :-)

The garden watching window view – how nice of the Mr Blackbird to pose on the bamboo snow perch when I took my photo! Today saw a frosty morning. Next month the snow shelter bird feeding table will be moved. This border had Hellebores in bud near opening, Snowflakes and Heather in flower and newly planted Snowdrops adjusting to cold roots.

The house corner view – the Robin on the coral barked maple tree wants to say hello too! I’m seriously looking forward to see the milk chocolate foxglove (group planting) flowering this year. I’m not going to weed too much here (my excuse) to see if last year’s new Astrantias self-seed. This border has a special hidden area!

The walk-way view – to show the wildlife pond view from the stone dyke side. The grass mounds are seen this way – I need to tweak them yet. The garnet Acer on the left will make its presence known in a couple of months as will the golden sedge grass. I can’t wait to see who will eventually visit here when there is a pool of water!

The pergola to new wildlife pond view – yes, there is no pond there yet (coming soon) and yes this photo was taken on JAN31 for last month’s EOMV. But this view will make the hard work ahead appreciated. I’ve lots of ideas for here but stopping hedgehogs from drowning is my highest priority.

The taking in the washing view – I’m loving this area now. This is also the wildlife pond to hedgehog feeding station view and the summer garden table view (at present has outside guinea pig hutch stored under here until April). Can you see the opening to the left of the grasses? That is where the hedgehogs come in to feed at night (birds that learn food is here during the day too). I love the height aspect here to see and photograph the plants.

The extra special February views – outside and inside the feeding station for hedgehogs (known as Hedgehog Manor) that has and IR camera in it. Even though the nights are cold I’m putting food and water here for any hedgehogs that are coming out of hibernation. March 2nd was our 1st sighting last year. The outside shot was taken last summer but shows location on right. Yay… we have had a Blue tit Roosting in our camera nestbox all winter and I watched it come in tonight at just after 5.30pm :-)

Finally, the absolute best view for February (for me only I know) is a page on my YouTube Channel  that shows ‘no videos were found’ on private uploads!! It has taken an incredible amount of time and concentration in locating missing videos (many without dates) within my blogs, making them public and updating and embedding them into posts all over again. I’ll take a guess that subscribers to my channel will be getting fed up of emails for the 124 videos I've worked my way through. It’s finally done… woop woop!! On the up side, it’s been another great trip down memory lane to see all the old nestbox footage again. If you are new to my blog and missed the nestbox posts just follow the link to my channel as the old stuff has been listed as new uploads. You’ll find links to the posts the videos appeared too (I added these links during my embedding – they helped me keep track of the videos when I located where they were in my blogs). This was a beast to do!!

Before I wish you a great weekend and suggest you might consider joining in with EOMV’s too (it’s a great garden record and everyone loves to see garden views) I’d like to point you in the direction of Veg Plotting and her post on Chelsea Sneak Preview: What's Your Plant of the Centenary? What would yours be? If you’d like to think about it - Wednesday, 6th of March is the date other bloggers will be putting up their posts. Sounds fun to me :-D

Have a great weekend – I’ll have my camera’s running again. I wonder who will visit? Oh… I forgot to say… EXCITING NEWS… last Friday a bird on my garden wish list arrived in my garden… this time I couldn’t reach my camera in time. What was it? A stunning male Bullfinch which was feeding right outside my garden watch window... I could only look… still a brilliant sighting :-D

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2013.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The garden blog prequel

Let the prequels begin ;-) My garden saw foliage chosen over flowers, straight lines over curves, shrubs over perennials and little attention to birds, birds, bees, butterflies or hedgehogs.

Basic garden history: We inherited an ‘L’ shaped back garden space ideal for a young family growing up and for one very keen gardener to make it her own. Rocks, paving slabs and plants were all moved around to make small, roughly themed areas with a strong focus on paths and seating but also keeping areas big enough for play – including myself in the borders ;-)

Having more room to play with plants my love of ferns, hostas and other foliage plants began to grow. However, I wasn’t at all fussed about the flowers of the hosta and often cut them down as their petals spoiled their lovely leaves. Pre blog, I wasn’t thinking of the bees but now I look out for the bee friendly symbol on plants at garden centres. I welcome hosta flowers now :-)

The image above, taken Chelsea Flower Show 1996, brought the black grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'), heuchera, slate blue pebbles (collected up and moved around many times!) and heuchera into my garden. It also influenced me to under plant foliage in drifts and I have lifted and divided the heucheras many times. I’d say this was the key inspiration image to my present garden and I have many images collected!

Once again, pre blog I never paid much attention to the tiny flowers of the heuchera and that bees would feed from them. I have since discovered that the added bonus is that mass drift planting benefits the bees too as it becomes like a feeding station for them and is a great idea. Bees need our help with their declining numbers.

Pre blog I was gardenwatching of a different kind – note the arm of the seat in the LH corner in the photo below and on the other side of the trellis. Using the seating in my garden is something I have always done and would seriously recommend. Then, I would be watching my daughters in play as I sat considering my next plan for my garden ;-)

Alpines, pre having my own garden, were my first plant group love and a serious renovation was required to the rockery we inherited which I made into a scree with a path into it (not seen from this old scanned photo) for my daughters to walk up and sit on the big key stones. Now… I always looked for flowers in the alpine world – especially the tiny delicate ones.

I loved this original hosta bed view but, to my annoyance at the time, so did the birds. I believe Blackbirds were the main culprits that scattered the earth over the edges on to the gravel. I wasn’t a fan of the birds then.

Pre blog, I had only been feeding the birds a short time but way back 18 years ago just by covering the ground with plants, not considered by me at the time, I was helping provide food for the birds – insects and slugs. Yep... and I was only thinking of cutting down on the weeding!

You can see, above, the original chequered washing drying area I inherited above and you can take a guess at the work, compost and soil improver required to grow plants here. This area is quite different again as seen in this blog already. My reason for including this image is to show that I have learnt that an open garden area like this doesn’t attract birds and wildlife and that’s what I say to people when they say they don’t see birds coming to a bird table. Often there is no shelter.

The pergola view shows a focus for the garden as a whole but it was also constructed as shelter from the sun for us and we kept a table there for a while. A number of plants have grown up the trellis and poles but after winter losses it is now covered with ivy and wisteria. My reason for showing this is that pergolas and arches also provide shelter for the birds– food too with the many insects including spiders that live there. Pre blog, I never considered this either and now I deliberately create areas like this.

I am trying not ramble on here, but the message I want to share is that Pre blog I was a gardener enjoying plants and never saw myself as a wildlife gardener. However, I can see now that even by ‘controlling’ my borders and not letting them grow wild I was still providing homes and food for wildlife. I was building up a simple eco system that was growing in species.

The bottom two images above show the most dramatic change my garden has seen from straight lines (gravel mulch) to curves, no gravel mulch and plants with height. It really is easy to see now, as my daughters were playing on their swing (on the right) there just had to be birds watching, waiting for them to go indoors so they could resume foraging for food.

Garden Show visits with my daughters began as did my interest in adding grasses (before they got popular - honest) and dots of colour from flowers. I was still drawn to foliage but the bottom RH image above from my garden shows I was mixing up foliage colour and adding tall flowers like the foxgloves in the centre that… were feeding the bees :-)

I still have a love for woodland flowers but now I’m looking at different varieties and adding wildflowers to my border plantings – all for the sake of bees and butterflies. Pre blog, I never noticed if butterflies were around and if they were I had no idea what they were – now I do and if I see a new one I am delighted! Recent wet summers haven’t helped their numbers either.

Bedding plants and annuals have never been plants that I have gone for, although I completely understand their value for the gardener, wildlife and birds. I did have a phase of grouping pots together with flowering plants and added busy lizzies there and they have occasionally appeared on a border edge as have violas. I love to mix things up and am always treating my borders to a new look :-)

My sunny open front garden (that edges car parking space) originally had some shade from a mature cherry tree that we had to regularly prune. I began a collection of hybrid yak rhododendrons and a mulch of cocoa shells was fantastic for colour and smell and a great weed suppressor at the time. Unfortunately the birds made the biggest mess ever digging into the edges. I really wasn’t a fan of the birds back then!!

Reluctantly the cocoa mulch had to go and I found myself adding log edging (with the soil level not to the top) in an attempt to contain the soil as the birds continued to dig for food. The cherry tree was beginning to lean so we took it down which opened up full sun to the area so the rhododendrons had to move into my now partial shady back garden. Now I could embrace sun loving foliage plants :-)

A gravel mulch now covered my front garden making it easier to maintain (yes I’m like other gardeners by not liking working there). However the biggest reason for this was as the soil was drying out with the heat of the sun. The light coloured gravel mulch reflected the heat and helped keep moisture in the soil. Plants and layouts have come and gone since then but pre blog I had no idea that this could be such a valuable area for wildlife but now I am planting with this in mind – butterflies especially :-)

What a trip down memory lane this has been I and quite a challenge in selecting just a few images from so many. For those gardeners that see me as a birds person you can see now that I haven’t been really.

However, once we put bird feeders up for my daughter’s school project and we saw how many different ones there were to be seen, it became just the same as a new species of plant to me. I took photos and read up about them and looked out to see more species. My garden borders got little tweaks here and there to accommodate feeders and so it went.

Pre blog I could never have imagined that this gardener would have pruned one of her precious low domed palmatum dissectum Acer trees so a cat couldn’t sit underneath it to pounce on a bird! I could have imagined even less that, a few years later, I would be tucking a low bird table beneath this same precious Acer tree for the Blackbirds and friends (that had been messing up my border edges) to feed during heavy snowfall.

Pre blog I was a very different gardener but now the value I have from my garden is greater than ever and it gets better with every year as I discover new visitors arrive. I can’t imagine gardening without considering wildlife and with one special visitor in particular – the hedgehog. Pre blog I had no idea they were even visiting and now I make sure my borders always have a space out for them.

Through taking photographs and video for our blogs, I’m sure other bloggers would agree, this closer look has given a new value to having a garden. We have learned so much on the way with the research required when we discover something new – often influenced by reading other blogs and the comment chat that follows.

Pre blog I wouldn’t have had an ID for the image top left above which I was kindly given by bloggers. Pre ‘this blog’ I discovered an old photo taken at garden show display by a nursery that I bought heuchera’s – maybe a seed from this plant was in one of my heuchera pots? The mystery arrival continues… as does inspiration from seeing photos of plant species in other blogs and displays by the side of a busy road. I now have crocus in my lawn :-)

Pre blog I wouldn’t have an image of allium christophii for my face in a wide range of forums and websites I have joined and enjoyed many interesting chats. Neither would I be looking out for hedgehogs on a IR feeding station cam at night, experimenting with fun bird feeding stations and trying to ID a different bird I notice in my garden. Nor would I be in the privileged position to see what goes on during nesting time for a pair of birds. It’s been fun to share :-)

Finally, thanks to any other bloggers who’ve joined me to share prequels to their blogs too. I’m guessing you too found this trickier and more time consuming than I expected it would be. I’ll share links to any other Prequel posts here :-)

Update with link to HolleyGarden at ROSES AND OTHER GARDENING JOYS who has joined in with a post where her spin is titled Experimentation. I completely agree with what she says in her post - do pop over to see what she is chatting about :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2013.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Garden Bloggers’ Questions FEB13

Let the questions begin ;-) Mine are on the Meconopsis, long grass, a plant ID, a Buddleja suggestion and New Zealand flatworms. Can you help here? I’d like to welcome answers via comments on this post or by email. Thank-you to anyone that gets back to me :-)

Before I begin I'd like to say a huge welcome and thanks to any bloggers that have taken up the challenge of joining me with a set of questions at such short notice. I have to say I’ve found considering mine more fun than I expected and I hope you have too :-D

Question 1: Why is my Meconopsis not flowering?

May 2011 was when the yellow Meconopsis shown in the montage above flowered. I know Meconopsis can take a few years to flower. However, I’m still waiting for the other two young plants (exact same size) that were bought at the same time back in 2008. I don’t know what is going on here – does anyone have success at growing these plants?

The image above was taken this morning, unlike the Blue varieties I have, these plants stay in leaf all year round and have faced some pretty cold winters. Sorry I don’t know the variety. The one plant that did flower grew tall and had clusters of flowers down the stem which opened from the top. Oh yes... the yellow flowers have never been seen since. I do think that plant possibly died. I ahve heard of plants taking years to flower and then dying - but not Meconopsis.

Question 2: Any variety suggestion for a grass mound?

Having built two small grass mounds on either side of my arbour path I’m disappointed with the way they are looking during the growing season. I wondered if anyone has a grass mound in their garden that stays short enough (without clipping) so that clover and other small wildflowers could successfully grow with it. I know grass is a greedy plant and can choke out other plants.

July 2010 is when the newly sown grass seed (general mix suitable for shade) shown above thickened up and the Californian poppy seeds that I added came in to flower. You can roughly see my vision here. Once again, disappointingly the next year I had no flowers – well perhaps just one! I don’t want to start again with this unless I have to as it took ages to get the shape which isn’t shown to clearly above.

Question 3: Does anyone know what this plant is?

My guess is that the plant above arrived in my garden (it began as a single plant) via birds. I definitely didn’t buy it and initially I considered pulling it out thinking it could be a weed. Then when the tall stems with tiny trumpet flowers running up them grew from a neat clump of leaves I considered even if it were a weed I quite liked. However, I doubt it is a weed as it would have spread much quicker round my garden than it has. I’m guessing there has to be a number of bloggers who might know what this is?

Question 4: Has anyone tried the Buddleja Buzz Series?

From memory the Buddleja above is a Davidii which was growing in my sunny open front garden. Space is limited here due to the parking of cars and after a revamp to planting in my main triangular border I removed this plant a few years ago.

Sedums in this border are a magnet to butterflies and in the few days after my Dad died last September I spotted a new species to my garden (the Comma). As time has past, I’ve decided I want to attract even more species of butterflies to this area – now in memory of my Dad :-)

After seeing the Buzz Series mentioned at RHS Hampton Court as a good (pretty small) Buddleja for butterflies I was wondering if anyone has tried growing it and how it has performed. I’m guessing this is a new introduction. I was thinking of the magenta one and growing a couple together - it's height I don't have space for.

Question 5: Does anyone have New Zealand Flatworms in their garden or allotments?

For those that don’t know about this earthworm hunter and destroyer, it covers the earthworm then excretes an enzyme that enables it to absorb it – basically it feeds on them in a horrible way. If you ever find a New Zealand Flatworm you should destroy it before it destroys your earthworm population! This can easy be done by lifting the flatworm and putting it in a jar of salted water. I might suggest a jam jar with lid is used. Within a couple of days the poisonous enzyme gets the flatworm itself and the worm goes milky (and smelly too if you were to open the jar).

Sorry, I hope you haven’t been having breakfast of lunch when you’ve been reading this. My garden is living proof that a garden can survive with a very, very minimal population of earthworms so don’t worry if you ever see one in your garden or allotment – you should be aware they could be around though.

Oops… on that unpleasant note I’ll ring the bell and say my Questions have come to an end - I hear shivers of relief! I’m looking forward to seeing what other Bloggers' Questions might be around today - check out the comments for other Blog links. It’s probably safe to say they are likely to be much more pleasant questions than my last one… enjoy the day :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2013.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Blogger Invitations, Irritations & Days

What fun it was when many bloggers set sail with me to a Desert Island back in the cold days of January 2009. Thanks for the reminder, Karen :-) Our challenge was to bring just three plants with us. After some email invitations and bloggers kindly spreading the word it really was a fun packed day trip for us all. What a blogger buzz there was that day and thanks once again to everyone who joined in :-)

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was organised by Veg Plotting the next month which was a great indoor event for the weary month of February too. Yes, it was good company and chat we needed then before our gardening year really kicked in. It was hard deciding who not to invite, you can see my final dinner guests here.

Oh dear… so I’m a tad nervous to suggest another couple of Blogger Days especially when there are so many regular meme days now (I’ll try to avoid dates to as many as I can although I’m only familiar with a few - details at end of post). For the moment, I've whittled the days to two hoping that one or the other might attract the interest of fellow garden bloggers.

What do you think? Do you fancy joining me again and spreading the word via your blogging friends and visitors too? I completely understand if not as I know how time consuming blogging can be. As per last time, if you wish to, please feel free to copy the invitation images below (if you have difficulty just email me and I’ll send you them).

For a suggested GARDEN BLOGGERS’ QUESTION DAY this Tuesday, I was thinking along the lines of we could all post a maximum of five garden/blogging questions in a blog post. Answers would would be invited via comments to that post. If this does catch your eye and you publish a post, do leave a link on my Tuesday post so more bloggers can visit you seeing any questions you might have.

I have found gardeners and bloggers very generous with help and advice during my time blogging and I’m thinking this could be another fun day... lol or my idea might just sail out to a Desert Island to join my plants thriving there now ;-)

Question categories are up to you – you might be considering growing vegetables for the first time and want to know what ones other bloggers have had success growing in pots. You might want a plant ID/suggestion. Equally, you could be going on a holiday/day visit to particular area and wondered if other bloggers have recommendations for garden visits (perhaps they have posted on visits already).

It could even be a technical blogging query you’d like advice on. I’ll have to put on my thinking cap here myself… Mmm… I'm sure I've plant photos I'd like an ID on ;-) Perhaps, there isn't enough time for you before Tuesday but if this is something that interests you we could run it again at a later date :-)

For a suggested GARDEN BLOG PREQUEL DAY the following Tuesday, I was thinking along the lines of what your garden was like pre blogging about it. Maybe your garden is new to you or it isn’t that different since you began blogging. However, perhaps through blogging and reading other blogs you have been inspired to get an allotment for example and were a completely different gardener before. Perhaps, like me, you didn't feed birds and now you can’t imagine your garden without doing so.

Pre gardenwatching, I was a very different gardener. For example, I’ve just seen 1st bumblebee of 2013 fly towards my window and it caught my eye! I have a small heather (shown below) in bloom just now and my reason for planting it was solely to feed early emerging bees for the year. Pre blog I would never had considered this… I’m not a heather fan either.

Pre blog I was a serious foliage fan and I’m hoping to tell (in as short a post as possible) how my garden/gardening style has evolved since I took my ownership of my present garden 21 years ago. I’ve had quite a few plant interests over the years. Oh yes, whittling down this story is going to be my most serious challenge to date! Lol… it wouldn’t be fun if it was easy would it ;-)

Not fun and a serious blogging irritation is past posts with videos that are missing. Actually that’s not entirely true, my time consuming irritation (taking me away from the fun stuff and making this post later than planned) is working through original Google uploaded videos (some 124!) that have been made private since the the Youtube-Google merger.

To say this has been painful doesn’t come close, not only do I have to find which posts they belonged (they were all merged en masse with the same date last October) but I’ve to add my earlier, poorer pre HD quality footage and basic captures as recent ones to my Youtube Channel. I'm actually considering just deleting some old posts but the problem is that they link to a list I have of blog vidoes when I was trying to be organised!

Rant over :-) I'm wishing I hadn't discovered this recently. However, if you have previously embedded Google uploaded videos to your blogs you might want to check them out as they won’t be viewable and you will have a black screen and need to take action too :-(

Many regular blogging memes/days known to bloggers include Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day (GBBD)  organised by Carol at May Dreams Gardens on the 15th of every month (my February contribution is my first crocus open for 2013 and a heather in bloom) which she has been hosting since February 2007 making it 6 years old this month! Happy GBBD to everyone taking part :-) This one attracts many new bloggers helping them meet up in person too via Flings in the US and even in the UK too.

Foliage is also celebrated in the Blogging world with Pam at DIGGING doing a Foliage Follow Up to Carol’s Meme on the 16th of the month. Christina at CREATING MY OWN GARDEN OF THE HESPERIDES does another regular date of the 22nd of each month with Garden Bloggers Foliage Day which she started back in September 2011.

End of the Month Views (EOMV) is hosted by Helen at The Patient Gardener’s Weblog - at the end of each month. I like the idea of this one :-) Katarina over at Roses and Stuff has a new meme inviting everyone to join her on 15th of each month to post "a shot of one particular motif, in order to document the changes of the seasons". Then there is Wordless Wednesday which is another favourite with garden bloggers and it’s not easy to guess why ;-) The list goes on…

My intention has not been to start a new meme with the 5 questions post day. However, if other bloggers like the idea then I could give it a another go but in truth I don’t think this is likely. Personally I like the fun of a one day blogging event/theme anyway :-)

Wishing you all a great week ahead. If you have any comments or feedback on my suggestions I’d love to hear them. If you can’t leave a comment just drop me an email with your thoughts. See you Tuesday :-D

P.S. Hahaha… I’ve lost complete blogger (of six years and three months) credibility now with this post by messing up your blog readers. Sorry, by accident, I hit publish instead of preview earlier… oops!

This post was eventually published with text by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2013.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

A Yellowhammer in the garden!

'unless something exciting visits the garden’ I said last time in relation to having a break from nature posts. Well, I’d say a Yellowhammer foraging for food right under my window just a metre away was an exciting sighting ;-)

We had a return to snow and cold temps overnight and this brought large groups of Chaffinches to the feeders this morning. Often other birds will join/follow the Chaffinches like the Bramblings who were also seen today and the Reed Bunting visiting during this year’s Birdwatch count.

No ID books were required for the Yellowhammer today as this is a bird I look out for on our visits to the Visitor Centre observation window at SWT Loch of the Lowes. I’ve captured video and photos of it there although I don’t think I’ve posted them yet.

After foraging under my window the Yellowhammer flew up to my neighbours overlooking tree where a number of Chaffinches were sitting already (cropped image showing small area of tree). This further added to my theory that the Yellowhammer followed the Chaffinches here.

Above you can see the distinctive yellow head of the Yellowhammer but being truthful with so many Chaffinches I captured my grainy photo only because I saw it fly up there I could easily have missed it completely. Notice how much smaller its beak is to the Chaffinches.

Above you can see that at first glance (from behind) the Yellowhammer could be mistaken for a male House Sparrow until you look a little more closely at the yellow markings on its head.

Below you can see the strong contrast between the yellow head and brown back of the Yellowhammer. The brown stripes on a yellow head are quite strong too. I wonder how long it wandered around under my window. There were Chaffinches feeding under my recently built snow shelter table – I wonder if the Yellowhammer fed with the Chaffinches there too?

It’s not until you get such a close, front facing view that you see what a lovely sunshine yellow the Yellowhammer brought to my garden for a short while this morning. Wonderfully, a nearby white patch of snow reflected light and made the Yellowhammer shine even more. You can easily see why it was hard not to miss when I looked out my window.

The ground photos shown above are all screen grabs from a small piece of video I managed to capture. Being truthful, I had no idea Yellowhammers could be seen in my area until I saw one on top of a wall near a Woodland a couple of years ago.

I never thought for one minute that a Yellowhammer would find its way my garden. On seeing them visit the feeders at Loch of the Lowes, I knew they were only seen on brief visits which makes my garden sighting all the more special. I'd like to share the video highlights...

Yellowhammer video, 31sec compilation with background music, try HD quality.

I really am gobsmacked at the number of bird species I have seen in my small urban garden since I’ve been gardenwatching. Long may my garden surprise me… to date we have spotted 35 species! I wonder how many more we have missed :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2013.