Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Introducing the Gardenwatch assistants for 2014

No time to get bored here - after 7yrs of gardenwatching a new chapter is beginning! The new wildlife pond awaits plants and its first visitors but unfortunately it is out of the sight line of my main gardenwatching window. A solution came in the shape of an exciting 2013 Christmas present from OH :-D

Let me introduce you to Mr Bushnell HD! Phew… no holes needed to be bored through house walls to accommodate this latest camera that will give a new insight into all corners of the garden. I’m going to have fun with this trail camera.

Now we will see who travels under the hedge – apart from hedgehogs of course. Who creeps about the rotting log in my Gunnera border and will anyone visit the small wildlife hotel tucked in the pond border wall?

My new assistant will have all the answers to these and many other garden questions. He will gardenwatch when I am sleeping, indoors doing the ironing, away visiting other gardens or working in my own with my back turned! To keep him going, I have fed him with 12x AA batteries and in return he captures video and photos to an SD card with I remove to read on my PC.

At present my camera has been set to record video for up to a minute when triggered. I haven’t tried photos yet and I have just discovered that I’ll need some tech help from OH to make my videos talk to my video editing software. As a result the images below aren’t true screen grabs but they illustrate discoveries so far...

Neighbour’s cats sit on my arbour seat watching the garden at night too!

Neighbour’s cats are drinking from my wildlife pond.
Reflections of eyes in the water will help me spot frogs and toads:-)

Neighbour’s cats pass through the garden at dawn and dusk. The IR images get bright before changes to/from colour but hedgehogs will still be spotted :-)

Fruit scattered by pond to attract passing Fieldfares failed.
Blackbirds enjoyed the fruit and were seen drinking and bathing in pond :-)

The Christmas left-over fruit experiment was interesting - no interest in mango. Blackbirds ran away with fruit so some pegs were required! Pears were more popular than the usual apple offerings. Grapes went down well and surprisingly so did melon. Nice to see partial albino Blackbirds back - often see them in winter.

The Bullfinch experiment failed – perhaps success with snow another time. Saw Bullfinches feeding on heather seeds on BBC Winterwatch so bought plants with seeds on stems to see if they’d come – not seen on my or Mr Bushnell’s watch ;-)

The Bullfinch experiment highlighted lots of activity on the branches of the Rhododendron. Hard to see, but a male Blackcap is in the centre above.
A closer location for Mr Bushnell might reveal more :-)

The wildlife pond reveal begins, the fence is in place to prevent hedgehogs from wandering in. Woodpigeons wander all around the garden and drink at pond.

Neighbour’s cat illustrates the hedgehog walk by. The bottom fence cane gap is 5cm and should be a good safety barrier as will marginal plants in pots.

Neighbour’s cats will become assistants to Mr Bushnell. Their ears will catch movement noise and Mr Bushnell can be moved to see what’s going on.

Neighbour’s cats might hear frog or toad activity in the pond
when Mr Bushnell can’t see it. I hope the cats don’t ‘play’ in the pond when
Mr Bushnell is on gardenwatch duty in another part of the garden!

What fun gardenwatching is going to be in 2014 – nope, definitely no boredom expected! First, I need to get more familiar with the settings in my trail camera (Bushnell model no.119477). I’d like to remove the text along the bottom and try the photo settings to see the quality there. I’m especially looking forward to seeing what routes hedgehogs use in my garden - I have my suspicions but time and Mr Bushnell will tell if I’m right :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2014.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Intro for The Greenhouse Year: FEB 2014

My tiny 6ft x 4ft Greenhouse has seen many long spells of neglect over the last (estimate) 15 years. The poor thing has never really reached its full potential and most definitely cannot claim the title of The Hardest Working Greenhouse.

I should be hanging my head in shame as I know how lucky I am to have greenhouse in my garden. I can hold my hand up high to storage being the biggest use for my lonely greenhouse that stands unloved in the corner at times.

Does this sound familiar? Truthfully, I don’t feel too guilty there as having a ‘drying area’ has worked well for me over the years. So, when I went to my Greenhouse to take photos for this post last Friday, there were no surprises to what I found…

Being a rainy day gardener, I often have muddy bags and garden tub trugs. Before and after trips to our local amenity tip (when necessary) I prefer to store the wet containers and bags in the entrance space of my greenhouse keeping both my potting shed and car boot a bit drier. I re-use a large gravel delivery bag to contain the muddy contents in my car boot. The greenhouse is supposed to a temporary holding bay ;-)

My greenhouse was bought new and ordered with safety glass. It was put up when my daughters were young and cycling past it on bike routes etc. The door originally faced out to the garden but after needing a bit more space for my potting shed we turned it round and the door now faces my utility room and the outside garden tap which is handy. There is a water butt close by too. I like this new aspect.

The concrete floor from a previous garage made the greenhouse relatively easy to secure, move and re-secure. The practical contents of my greenhouse haven’t changed much over the years. I have 6x 2ft x 2ft decking squares for a more comfortable and tidy floor. I have a mat inside the door for my muddy feet.

The greenhouse staging is pretty basic, 2 units of 2 shelves with clay pebbles in the trays for drainage and a nice look. Keeping these pebbles for years probably isn’t a good idea hygienically as they could harbour greenhouse diseases – oops! I should add that these pebbles can be a pain when they get knocked on to the floor landing between the decking groves and along the edges.

A sunny, open location is usually recommended for sighting a greenhouse. As mine is in a corner situation I have chosen an ‘L’ shaped arrangement for my staging to get the best out of light levels there. I tend to overwinter plants in big tub containers in the shadiest corner. Summer cuttings go there too.

I like to keep a watering can full of water (usually from water butt) so the water is the same temperature as inside the greenhouse for watering. In the summer I have space to keep two there. I want to add, I didn't rearrange anything for my photo, you are seeing it as it was - algae on the glass and all! All I did was lift the bags so I could get in - they are now in the potting shed but more drying is required before they can be stored away :-)

Penstemon and Dianthus cuttings.

The rule I have adopted (when using my greenhouse) is to get the biggest number of pots I can get on my staging. The reason for this is, when I do use my greenhouse - I really use it! Although I have a selection of clay pots in my potting shed, I favour using square plastic pots in my greenhouse.

I did my sums a few years ago, working out that 9cm square pots would work well for my space. I ordered 100 from an online company and another 100 the next year (after I deemed it a great success) to make sure I had a good supply. I can get 36 x 9cm pots on the top shelf of each staging unit and a maximum of 32 x 9cm pots on the bottom shelf as there is a join up the middle.

My greenhouse rule for the square pots is to put 6 in a seed tray to make for an easy life when moving the pots about my greenhouse shelves for more or less light levels. The tray system works well when transporting the pots back and forth to my working bench in my potting shed (plug trays fit them too). Hardening off plants is easier with pots in trays too.

My next greenhouse rule is for labels – I find them a pest to do when there are lots of pots of the same plant. Oh dear, sounds like I'm a lazy greenhouse gardener here. When I ordered my square black plastic pots, I also ordered coloured plant labels – orange, green, yellow and blue. I already had a number of white labels.

The idea behind the coloured plant labels is a simple one. If I have a maximum of 4 plant species in my greenhouse (with multiple pots) I choose a colour of label for each species. I usually write one white label and add an unwritten coloured label with it (or make a note on the noticeboard in my potting shed). I then add that colour of label for every plant of that species. I have deemed that a great success too :-)

Living in my greenhouse in February 2014, with green labels, are Hellebore Orientalis. These plants weren’t grown from seed but lifted as tiny self-sown seedlings that I lifted from below the parent plant in my garden borders. They began growing in plug trays before they were potted up to one plant per pot.

Lifting tiny seedlings from borders, gravel paths and between paving is by far my most favourite way of using my greenhouse. I love scouting in Spring for new ‘baby’ plants. The reality is, I probably don’t actually have space to grow some of these plants but I love the whole process and will probably give some plants away to friends and family.

I’m really quite excited about the young plants with orange labels in my greenhouse at the moment. These are Astrantia seedlings that germinated beneath the parent plants again (Ruby Wedding & Gill Richardson) which both have deep red flowers. I don't know what I can expect from them yet.

Fingers are tightly crossed that I’ll get lots and lots of deep red flowers! I can see that I should probably do some clearing of debris in my pots and perhaps remove moss growth. These plants won’t be leaving my garden! My plan is to have a huge river of this Astrantia through one of my borders where bees will visit and I can admire their long flowering period.

I will need to be patient for my Astrantia flowers (not a gardening trait I am associated with) as they will probably take another year to flower. I’m clapping my hands with delight here, looking forward to the day I take my trays of pots to the border edge to plant it up - perhaps I'll have spare for other areas too :-D

In the shadier bottom shelves of my greenhouse, more self-sown seedlings lifted from the garden last year live. I don’t seem to have any coloured labels in these pots which was a big mistake. These beautiful dark green glossy leaves of this shade loving plant, Asarum, should have died down (like the ones in the border) and I wouldn’t have remembered what they were. Phew... that was lucky!

When I think a small ground carpet plant, like this Asarum, won't like being moved (it has sulked when I've moved it in the past) I put two or more plants per pot so the roots have a chance to grow together before I plant it.

The original plan was to add the new Asarum plants to the parent planting to increase it. As I have quite a few pots of Asarum, I might begin a new planting that I can see from my window and grow crocus through them. I’ll replace the Tellima plants with Asarum in my basket border as they have cut out the light for the crocus. I should have realised the Tellima would grow bigger there.

What fun it really is to look through the (green tinted) greenhouse windows knowing the jewels it holds for the garden. When there are new jewels already planted in the garden, that have been a great success and I fear possible winter losses, I lift them and overwinter them in good sized tubs in my greenhouse.

This year I overwintered the multi-stemmed foxglove that was Chelsea Flower Show plant of the show back in 2012 - Digitalis ‘Illumination Pink’. It has flower buds now but I probably should trim the plants back to encourage new growth – I’m still learning with this one. I bought 6 plug plants of this plant and started them of in my greenhouse.

Seen in my first photo of this post, I also have a small aluminium planter with herbs in my greenhouse at the moment. It holds Parsley, Rosemary and Thyme (which I use in cooking). This container will stay there all year if there is room and during warm sunny spells it sits outside in a sunny spot. Last year we enjoyed some lettuce growing here too.

There are a few seed trays of wild flower sowings in my greenhouse at the moment but I’m not sure they will come to anything as I believe I sowed them too late. I felt it worth trying as the seed would be past its best this year. Phew! I never imagined I would chat so much about this small space in my garden that I don’t use to its potential.

Following the Greenhouse throughout the year (not intended as a monthly meme) was an idea Helen at The Patient Gardener's Weblog considered back in January. I had forgotten she mentioned it until I saw her Greenhouse post in my reader feed.

Helen's idea has caught the attention of a few bloggers and as I have exactly the same tiny 6ft x 4ft Greenhouse I thought I’d post the odd (much smaller) report on mine throughout the year too. Gosh… I might have to break out a new notebook and get my planning hat on now ;-)

If you make good use your greenhouse, have you any top tips you’d like to share? What is growing under glass in your garden right now? Do you have a Greenhouse Plan for 2014 or do you just make it up as you go along like me?

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2014.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Wildlife Videos: Noisy Tawny Owls

It wasn’t just the picture from the fascinating piece of video footage from an Owl nestbox, I came across on Twitter over the weekend, that made this capture catch my attention. We have heard strange noises from our garden but have never seen the Tawny Owls who were confirmed as being the mystery voices at dusk.

Please adjust the volume of your speakers before you view Gareth’s short 0.40 second video clip below taken from inside an owl nest box. I ‘m sure you’ll watch it again with the volume up again (as I did) to see the Male Tawny come in the nestbox carrying what looks like a mouse. It gets pretty noisy as the female Tawny follows the male to take the mouse from him. He looks slightly bemused when she leaves – like this has never happened before which I doubt ;-)

Thank-you, TigerGaret for allowing me to share your owl nest box video in a blog post. I’m sure my blog readers will enjoy seeing and hearing it as much as I did :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2014.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Along the paths at Edinburgh Botanics

What great news it was to read ‘The Access for All Appeal’  leaflet on the table at The Terrace Café at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh back in January. Having had one garden visit with a wheelchair last June, I can completely see the need for such a valuable project and wish it much success :-)

What well positioned good sized direction signs for wheelchair Accessible paths we saw on our January garden visit. Together with fresh looking rope edging, I’m guessing both are fairly new additions to the garden and possibly a result of donations to this appeal. Enhanced accessibility will benefit not only wheelchair users but families too, from the young in pushchairs to older family members with walking difficulties.

It has to be said, The Botanical Gardens at Edinburgh does have a fair few paths with slopes – some fairly steep at that. It was only when I found myself pushing at wheelchair up them (and just as hard holding it going back down them) that I wondered if maps were available to have made my visit easier. It should be noted that I knew the layout of this garden pretty well and I got caught out.

On leaving the garden at the end of our wheelchair visit (temporary for my daughter after knee surgery) I asked staff if they had maps to help guide visitors with wheelchairs/access needs and was told they didn’t. I said I thought it would be a great help and she said she’d note my suggestion. I wonder…

The leaflet I picked up on this visit suggests a donation of £10 will fund 200 new accessibility information leaflets for visitors which is just brilliant! You can read the leaflet here. There are four gardens under the umbrella of the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh – the other three sites of Benmore, Dawyck and Logan are all quite different from each other (having different needs too) but will all benefit from this appeal.

Our January garden visit had no restrictions in mobility (except for distance as my daughter’s knee has limitations yet). The plan for this visit was to head to the Rock Garden via the Chinese Garden, which is just down from the Terrace Café where we always start our trip by having a coffee there as we have a car journey to get to this garden. Here’s what caught my eye on this visit…

Along the path edge… whispy grass-like foliage en masse, boulders and Bergenia :-)

Trying to break over the path edge… I love to see branch structures at this time of year :-)

Along the path edge… and under, water falls over velvety, mossy rocks - magical :-)

The path edges of the Rock Garden… great to see evidence of gardeners at work here ;-)

Along the path edge… Helleborus foetidus, velvety moss again, Bergenia with lighting :-)

Along the path edge… More wheelbarrows and Wheelchair Access signs :-)
Rope threaded through posts – this idea has been on my mind for a few years now ;-)

Along the path edge… is where that eye of mine takes me when on garden visits. I have always been as drawn to the edges of paths and borders just as much as the contents inside. I look to be inspired on garden visits and depending on what I am working on in my own garden my eye is scanning as I go. As gardeners we all do that :-)

What does your eye scan to on big garden visits like a Botanical garden? The plant collections and houses, magnificent trees, what’s in flower or do you like looking at the structural stuff too? My eye was scanning for something quite different during my wheelchair visit last June. Looking back at my photos, I see they are all cropped and watermarked ready to post but it was a busy time and they never made it here. I’ll sort that soon – February is a great blogging month for sharing a bit of summer colour :-)

Wishing you good weather to enjoy your garden this weekend. Have you plans? I’ll be working on fine tuning some new path edges – of course! Assuming we don't get any snow, all will be revealed soon. I love it when a garden plan comes together – don’t you :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2014.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Wordless Wednesday: Red Squirrel nibbles

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2014.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Bird table reviews… Mmm

One very interesting ‘fact’ I picked up in my searching around looking at bird table reviews and advice given, was that birds prefer natural colours and a table that blends in to the garden. This caught my attention - is there really any evidence of this? I would question this suggestion. Please do leave a comment if you have experience to share on this :-)

Okay, so we do know that birds can see in colour but it isn't necessarily in the same ranges as we do. For example, I have heard the colour intensity (that our human eyes can’t see) in the breast of male Blue tits is recognised by female Blue tits as a good mate choice. It’s well known that come Spring the more colourful male birds show off and look their best to attract mates as well as singing their little hearts out in their own bird world, singing competition.

Regular blog visitors might guess why I might be getting a little vocal here. I have added a beautiful, mint green painted bird table to my garden. After seeing my full garden feeder view below (detailed chat about my garden feeders here) it’s pretty clear to see that my new bird table doesn’t blend into my garden at all!

On the contrary, this 180cm high bird table is in complete contrast to the blending I do in scale, materials, colour, texture and planting throughout my garden. I have a fussy eye and change plants and garden beds around a lot.

My garden borders have been planted to lead you through my garden – not to stop you in your tracks. This brightly painted bird table stops my fussy eye – what’s that about then? There are two answers to this question. Please do read on :-)

My eye spotted this pretty Buttermere bird table some time ago. My initial thought was - could a painted bird table be more hygienic than a wooden table without a washable plastic tray insert? Keeping bird feeders and bird tables clean is what stops the spread of disease around the bird population of our gardens - perhaps we have a solution here :-)

Sorry, the image below is bad, but I’m sharing it again to highlight good hygiene at bird tables and feeders. This is a starving Greenfinch suffering from Trichomoniasis in my garden back in 2007.

So, it may come as no surprise to readers that I’ve sold my blogging sole for a Greenfinch with a review of the Buttermere bird table! My garden budget can only stretch so far and I do provide lots for birds and wildlife in my garden.

Back in November last year, I spotted an advertising request from ROSINDALES in my mail box. I instantly recognised the company name and replied, with a big smile, proposing a Butteremere bird table (free of charge) for review instead. Thanks again, Phil & Sharon, it was nice to speak with you both on the phone too :-)

As my bird table didn’t come through the normal ordering channels I can’t comment on delivery times or any notification of delivery given. However, I can comment on the size of my parcel – it was bigger than I expected and pretty heavy. At the time, I joked that it could have been a washing machine inside – slight exaggeration it weighs in at 16.4kg ;-)

Congratulations, Rosindales that was a pretty impressively packed bird table! Oh yes, I needed a second pair of hands to get the main table out :-) As you said, when we spoke, delivery of the slate roof intact requires careful packing. My slate roof arrived intact.

The reason for the weight of my parcel (apart from the obvious being slate) was clear to see as we unwrapped the many pieces of painted wood – this was a quality product. This bird table was made using hard wearing Swedish redwood sourced from managed sustainable forests.

It was great to see the main bird table came already made up in one piece! All the other elements in the parcel related to the stand. I liked the use of wooden dowels and glue although did feel a small bottle of glue would be easier to use than the sachet of glue provided. We used our own bottle of PVA glue so I can’t comment if there was enough glue in the sachet.

The main support pole came in two parts which fitted nicely together. The building of the base took the longest time and it should be noted that, at 74cm x74cm, it needs a good sized space in the garden. I staggered my base between stone paving and a paving brick in my border to prevent any deterioration to the base feet (not visible in my images).

The Buttermere bird table is much higher (134cm feeding platform height) and bigger overall than I expected. Having a small garden with limited space in the area I would choose to site a bird table, I really should have checked measurements but I was smitten by the product look! Come on, as gardeners we have all done this with many a garden feature or plant ;-)

For extra stability in high winds, which we’ve had, I positioned some colourful heavy pots from another part of the garden between the table base legs. These pots also camouflage the base a bit as I feel without them my eye would be drawn to the base and not the table. However, I completely understand the need for such a sound base on a solid product like this.

There are a good few flimsy stands/bases being sold with bird tables which is always disappointing to see. At a solid 7cm x 7cm thick, the Buttermere bird table stand cannot be labelled as flimsy - not at all.

Flimsy quality is often reflected in a product price - although not always. Where price is concerned, comparing the Buttermere to other tables of similar size in garden centres I'd say its a fair price/good value for money for the design, quality of wood and finish.

The regular price for the mint green painted Buttermere bird table is £149.99 but at the moment it is being sold at a special price of £119.99. At present Rosindales are the only supplier of this bird table although I have seen one in a local garden centre.

“This brightly painted bird table stops my fussy eye – what’s that about then?” The second answer to that is that I wanted to make a feature of a bird table to lift the wet, dark winter days. I also wanted to see the birds more clearly and improve my chances for photos and video of my visitors. Standing tall and catching the early morning light this bird table works a treat :-)

As yet, I can’t comment on how the paint finish of the Buttermere bird table will stand up to long periods of heavy frosts and cold temps. We had a few cold days when my table took its place in my garden. I became a tad concerned with the paint finish on an edge of the feeder tray and contacted Rosindales who found my images a mystery as they hadn’t seen this before and had no other similar customer feedback.

A faulty batch of paint was suspected and I was sent a replacement tray – what a great design feature there! Over, the weekend we finally got round to changing over the table trays and it was a very simple job. Before screwing the new tray on I took the opportunity to wash down the frame legs and that worked well too. As I suspected, I’m liking the wipeable paint finish on a bird table. My table looks like new once again too :-)

In answer to the statement that birds prefer natural colours - today, the birds in my garden have been looking for their colourful feeding spot! They have been missing it and so have I. My table will go back outside in a couple of days, after I add a bit of paint to the roof edges which saw a paint problem too. I don’t mind doing this as this table really looks good and I want to keep it that way :-)

One final, important point I should make about this very sturdy bird table – yep, I’m back to chatting about its weight and size again. I’d say you need two people to get it out of the box, build it and to move it into position so this should be considered if giving as a gift – what a great gift to get though!

If you are considering buying your first bird table/replacing an old one I might suggest you do a search on ‘bird table reviews’ where customers comment on how a bird table fits into their gardens as well as how they found the quality of product, delivery etc. Don’t worry, the 62,100,000 results that I just picked up won’t all be on bird table reviews ;-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in February 2014.