It feels good to be back sharing my Garden Journal with you once again. So here is the first for 2017, my report on what was going on in our Avocet garden in January.
For 2017 I will share the beauty, the happenings and the stars of our Avocet garden month by month. I will consider the wildlife that visits and shares our garden with us and see what it is up to. I aim to record the birds we spot, the creatures which live in our pond and the mini-beasts who appreciate our plants in our borders.
I hope to set up my moth live-trap and carry out a pond dip regularly. I will record using words, photographs, paintings and drawings.
My 2017 Garden Journal opened with a comment about the weather, the favourite subject of the English and particularly English gardeners, “We were well into the third week of January when we were pleased to get typical January weather, frosty mornings followed by bright glue skies. Fog joined in on odd days. Until then every day was dull and wet, dull to the point of darkness at times. Not a good start to a new year of gardening and enjoying our garden.
Extra colour and movement, and of course sound, is added to the atmosphere of our garden by the birds who visit. This winter we moved our main bird feeding centre closer to the house so that we could observe the birds in close up. Surprisingly this had the extra bonus of increasing the birds visiting, in particular the finches.
Birds of our January garden:
Blackbird Goldfinch Blue Tit
Robin Greenfinch Great Tit
Wren Chaffinch Coal Tit
Dunnock Blackcap Long-tailed Tit
Jackdaw Siskin Collared Dove
Mistle Thrush Song Thrush Nuthatch
Turning the page finds me discussing scented shrubs starring in our January garden.
Scented shrubs add an extra element to enjoy in our Avocet garden all year round, but winter-flowering shrubs are probably the most important of all. Their rich scents, warm and sweet and spicy, spread far to attract the few insects flying in the colder months. In January we are enjoying the welcome aromas of Mahonia, Sarcococca, Witch Hazels and Daphne. The local honey bees are drawn to the Mahonia and we can hear their gentle humming whenever the sun gives some unexpected warmth and brightness.
I used my watercolours to create a painting of a Honey Bee, Apis mellifera, and it was a very difficult painting to do.
On the page opposite my bee painting, I included photos of the “Scented flowering shrubs of our January garden at Avocet, our home in Shropshire, a very cold county in winter.”, Sarcococca confusa, Daphne bholua “Jacqueline Postill”, Hamamelis Jelena and Diane and Mahonia “Winter Sun”.
Over the page we look at “new” gardening tools, one brand new and one new to me which is a vintage tool.
“Acquiring new tools to use in the garden is always a pleasure. Recently I have treated the garden, and myself of course, to a few interesting implements”.
Firstly a pair of Japanese secateurs, with the unusual problem of instructions written in Japanese. As I had ordered them from Japan I should not have been surprised really!
I painted a picture of my new Japanese secateurs, which was a lot harder that it looks.
“Okatsune secateurs are the favourite of professional gardeners in Japan. They are manufactured from Japanese high carbon steel so they sharpen easily and well.”
“My second “new” gardening tool is actually a vintage piece, a 1930’s turfing spade made in Birmingham by a company called Vaughan’s. The long handle is crafted from solid forged iron and the handle is made from Ash wood. The long wooden shaft reduces the workload and the beautiful “D” handle makes the tool comfortable to use. The shape of the blade makes it efficient at even lifting an even 1 inch thick slices of turf. The unusual shaped metal shaft increases the efficiency of this wonderful old tool. So my turf lifting spade is vintage circa 1936 but “new” to me.
I moved on to show how Ian, our gardener, used the vintage turfing spade to replace the grass on some of our paths.
“We bought the Vaughan tool specifically to use in our garden, to lift the turf paths in our back garden. Our gardener, Ian, loved using it and found it easy to use, a real joy. Now it is part of my vintage garden tool collection, a great addition.”
“The old turf from our worn paths is soon removed and new rolls are soon down.”
I next looked at a beautiful totally dried seed head of an Allium, which, with its spherical shape, tends to get blown around the garden with several others. We meet them at random times and places all overthe garden. We are always surprised by their simple beauty. I drew the Allium seed head using just a pencil. Looking and studying the Allium took much longer than the time spent with pencil moving on paper.
“The dried spherical seed heads of all our different sorts of ornamental Alliums remain in the garden through the winter months. They act as our own Avocet “tumbleweeds” as wind takes them on journeys.”
I hope you enjoy the close ups of my drawing below.
By turning the page we see little white birds and colourful bulb flowers. I wrote: “We bought three new stoneware sculptural pieces for our garden, three cheeky and chirpy Sparrows. We loved taking them around the garden seeing where they looked their best. We decided to keep moving them around as the mood took us. They, however, decided that their favourite place was our garden bench in “Arabella’s Garden”. Cheeky chappies indeed!
Opposite the photos of the sculpture birds are photos of early flowers, Irises and Hellebores.
“Iris reticula, the first bulb to flower in 2017.”
“Meanwhile Hellebores are budding up strongly, so we will have flowers in Feb.”
January frosts feature on the next double page spread.
“On the early hours of the days following cold frosty nights, the flowers which give colour to our January garden, were topped off with cold, icy halos.”
“Cold nights also gave our sculpture pieces a thin layer of icing sugar.”
My next page was titled simply “January Frosts” and featured a series of photographs of foliage and seedheads covered in a thin covering of frost and icy crystals.
Turn over to the next page and we leave the frost behind and take a look at one of our Birches, Betula albosinensis “Septentronalis”, one of the best Betulas around.
“Plant of the month – Betula albosinensis “Septentronalis”. This Birch is an elegant tree with an open canopy so casts little shade. We grow it mostly for its colourful bark which peels to expose clean, more colourful bark beneath. This is best described as pale salmon coloured which peels back to show gingers beneath. This tree also produces beautiful long catkins.”
I collected up some peeled bark from the tree and glued two pieces side by side to illustrate how different the layers of bark can be.
Betula albosinensis “Septentronalis” is probably one of the best trees for the small garden and no garden should be without one. Larger gardens can host a trio of them!
And that is it for my Garden Journal in January. Perhaps in February winter may be biting deeper or we may be experiencing one of our occasional February heatwaves when temperatures can reach 17 celsius.