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.




11 comments:

L said...

I enjoyed today's post and learning the logic behind your plot. A garden is always a work in progress. We look after our local birds and they give us much enjoyment except for a pair of big, fat wood pigeons which take the lion's share of the food and make the feeding station sway under their weight. We become more and more resourceful with our hanging of feeders, but so do they!

ShySongbird said...

Hi Shirley :-) Although I love your blog most for the wildlife posts (I hasten to add I don't think I have ever read any post written by you about anything that I haven't enjoyed though!) I have had a thoroughly enjoyable time with this and the previous post and have spent far more time here than intended ;-)

As I'm sure you know, I have had a passionate interest in wildlife since a very small child (apparently, as a toddler, I delighted in carrying worms into the house from the garden to be admired...they weren't!!) so it has been fascinating to read how your interest in wildlife was slowly awakened as an adult and gradually grew and blossomed over the years until it has become as much a part of the garden as the plants themselves...which in my opinion is exactly as it should be :-)

I really enjoyed reading and seeing how your lovely garden has evolved Shirley...super photos too!

BTW: What a lovely little playhouse in the first photo, your girls must have loved that :-)

Angie said...

I've really enjoyed this blog - isn't it funny how all our gardening habits change.
I should have joined the blogging world before starting out with my garden - I would have saved myself so much time and effort.
Although, where would the fun in that be - I'm sure in a few years, I'll be looking back, just as you have been and know that all the choices I've made were justified.

Anna said...

Interesting to read how your gardening philosophy and planting has evolved during your blogging years Shirl. I wonder whether your garden would have followed the same direction without a blog. I wanted to participate in your meme but am unexpectedly away from home at the moment so unable to blog but I am enjoying reading :) Perhaps I will be able to post on this theme when I get home.

Shirley said...

Hello everyone and thanks for all your comment :-)

L, I’m delighted you found this post of interest. You’re right there – I doubt I’ll ever consider my garden finished. Hahaha on the pigeons – I know exactly what you mean there! It’s great to hear your local birds are well looked after! Enjoy :-D

Jan, oops… hope your eyes didn’t suffer after your visits today. I’m especially pleased you’ve seen this one when you know me more on the wildlife side. I hope that other gardeners go wild through blogging too. I loved hearing about you and your worms ;-) It made me smile as this is something my younger sister did although not quite in the same way. Yes, she told us all she loved worms and she collected them from our garden in a jar. She liked to watch them wriggle and was seen tipping them out on to a bare circle on the lawn (where my Dad had previously had a golf putting hole). It’s fair to say she didn’t have a passionate interest in wildlife at a young age – if worms tried to leave said circle more than once (how she knew which was which is another matter) she pulled them in half – oops hope she doesn’t read this! I honestly wouldn’t have believed the soul my garden has now. Thanks for reading and taking time to comment. Ah yes, the playhouse gave lots of pleasure for our girls, their cousins and friends. When my girls got too big it was relocated to my sister’s house for her twin girls. They’ve outgrown it now too. One day, I’d like to take a proper look at how our girls used our garden – they had their own Potager at one point. Btw… I finally saw a male Bullfinch in my garden and unlike the yellowhammer visit I couldn’t reach my camera in time. Aw well… I did see it and it was a beauty :-D

Angie, I’m glad – I had a plan in my head that I would have brief captions below the photos and just a little chat. I guess if any post could be allowed to ramble then it’s this one. I think it’s quite natural that our gardening habits change as our interests and circumstances do. I don’t know about the order, you need to have started a garden to have something to chat about – just watch blogging doesn’t take away valuable gardening time. I can say that with some authority here – I must get the blog/garden balance right this year ;-)

Anna, yes it is, and I’m thinking I would have ended up considering planting for bees and butterflies but seriously doubt I would have considered putting up a camera nestbox or embedding an unused guinea pig hutch fitted with an IR camera directly in a garden border as a feeding station for hedgehogs – hahaha, now that’s’ just a silly idea!! I remember you saying this blog idea appealed to you. I hope everything is okay with you. I’d love to hear your prequel if you give this a go. Sending my best wishes :-)

buonaforchetta said...

Your gardening style has really changed Shirl. Sometimes just knowing what's possible can help us change, other times our directions change for other reasons, perhaps children leaving home and not needing that play space. Your excitement about the birds who now visit is contagious. Christina

Sue Garrett said...

The journey we gardeners travel in a meandering one isn't it where things loved in the past are discarded as we learn to love new things.

I'm always totally amazed by the number of bees browsing the heuchera flowers.

Janet/Plantaliscious said...

What a fascinating post, I loved following your evolution as a gardener.

Liz said...

Hi Shirley,

Like Jan, I always had an interest in wildlife in the garden. I used to bring slugs in the house... Once I collected loads of pretty little snails in the sand dunes at Embo, filled my granddad's coat with them... he didn't realise they weren't just shells and the next day snails were everywhere! :)
Then there was the time my mum told me not to try catch a Bee; I dutifully ignored her and promptly got stung. Ah fun days. I used to draw birds in the summer hols too.... So gardening for wildlife was just something that made sense to me, without having ever really read much into it. So it's been nice to see how your garden has evolved as your love grew for the wildlife around you :)

I started my blog up for the purpose of documenting my garden as I moved into the house. So I don't actually have any prequel as such!

HolleyGarden said...

What a fabulous post! I think many of us have changed after beginning our blogs, but maybe not as dramatically as you show here. I really enjoyed your prequel, and how gardening has given you a love of wildlife. I am linking in, although my post is not as impressive. Here's the link:
http://dreamingofroses.blogspot.com/2013/02/experimentation.html

Shirley said...

Hello again everyone, thanks for all your comments :-)

Christina, absolutely :-) I find sightings of new birds such fun and a great challenge in getting photos and video :-D

Sue, absolutely to both. I love to watch the bees feeding on heuchera – pre blog and taking photos of everything that moves I didn’t notice the bees feeding on the tiny blooms :-D

Janet, thanks for popping by :-)

Liz, thanks for sharing your early wildlife stories – I loved hearing them… serious shiver on the snails though. That’s a great reason to start a blog – you prob remember I started as a way to send robin video to my homesick friend in Australia who lost her Scottish parents within 3 months of each other. I only planned to do mine over a few months (enough time to send some snowy images from Scotland). Mm… what happened there?

HolleyGarden, thank-you! I loved your take on this – thanks for joining in. I’ve added a link to my post :-D