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My Garden Journal 2017 – March

The weathermen tell us that March is the first month of Spring so in this our third look at my 2017 Garden Journal we shall see if our garden illustrates this idea at all.

As an introduction to the month I wrote,”March is the month that should come in like a lion and go out like a lamb”. This year it came in like a wet fish! Rain and wind dominated, interspersed with occasional bright cheerful days. In the first week we managed very few gardening moments. But the Avocet patch will not be beaten, with leaf and flower buds bursting on trees and shrubs, signs of colour waiting in the wings.”

“Bursting blooms”! I continued by sharing photos of flowers bursting from buds.

     

 “Unfurling foliage!” And more of foliage escaping their bursting buds.

       

Turing over the page reveals a look at our Fritillaries, Fritillaria meleagris and Fritillaria uva vulpis which grow in our Spring Garden and in Arabella’s Garden.

I write among my  photos of Fritillaries,  “Fantastic Fritillaries – a March marvel! 

I looked for all the common local names for this Fritillary. “Our native Fritillary also known as Fritillaria meleagris is a plant of many names.”

 

“Snake’s Head Fritillary – Chequered Lily.”

 

“Chess Flower – Leper Lily” – Lazurus Bell”

 

“Guinea-Hen Flower” –  “Frog Cup”

 

“Drooping Tulip” – “Chequered Daffodil”

We grow our native Fritillary, Fritillaria meleagris in our “Spring Garden”, but we also grow Fritillaria uva vulpis with flowers that are so different inside and out.

 

“Purple and yellow on the outside.”

“Yellow, orange and red on the inside.”

 

Over onto the next double page spread and I take a look at a special rather subtle plant combination and some early tulips.

I wrote that “Good plant companions and communities are what lifts a garden above a collection of plants put on display. Sometimes two beautiful special plants with strong attributes of their own shine out even more when joined  together to produce a harmonious pairing, each enhancing the other. Here, I feature the combination of a Hebe “Red Edge” and a Prunus, P. “Kojo No Mai”. The blushing of the Hebe foliage is a perfect foil for the “washing powder white” of the Prunus’ petals.”

   

Moving on to look at some of our species tulips, I wrote, “The tiny flowers of our many species Tulips are now putting in an appearance, impressing with their delicacy and subtlety. The blooms open with the sun and close with its disappearance.”

   

Next we move on to my plant of the month for March. I wrote.

My plant of the month for March is a Celandine called “Brazen Hussey”, a chance find by Christopher Lloyd discovered in a clump of our native Celandine in a lane near his home. Our native Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria brightens up our hedgerows with its deeply glossy foliage and yellow “Buttercup” flowers, while “Brazen Hussey” sports glossy purple-black foliage. 

 

“We grow a small patch of our native Celandine but as it can become very invasive it has to be strictly controlled.”

“We grow several other Celandines too because they are such cheerful addictions to the Spring Garden, a white cultivar, Ranunculus fiscaria “Randall’s White …………….”

“….. a pale yellow flower against bronzed foliage ……”

 

“……. a Giant Celandine and a Green Celandine.”

On the next double page spread we look at our new summerhouse and a selection of special small flowers.

Concerning the summerhouse I wrote, “As we put the finishing touches to our new summerhouse birds are busy gathering nest materials, with many setting up home in the nestboxes we provide for them. The first of our summer migrants are back, the little warbler, the Chiffchaff with its distinctive and repetitive call and the Little Owl calling out in the evening like a yapping Jack Russell Terrier. As we work in the garden the larger of our birds of prey, Buzzards and Red Kites enjoy the thermals overhead, often stooping low over our heads. In contrast our smallest bird of prey, the diminutive Merlin rushes through the garden at head height or lower disturbing the resident Blackbirds.

On the opposite page I looked at those special little flowering plants that catch the gardener’s eye at this time of the gardening year. In other seasons when the garden is rich in flowers these special little gems may get overlooked in favour of the bigger, bolder and brighter cousins. I wrote, “At this time of year every small flower is extra special and deserving of our closest attention.”

 

Hacquetia epipactus and Iris reticulata “George”

“Daphne mezerium.”

 

Erysimum Red Jep”

Assorted Pulmonaria.”

The next turn of the page reveals a page about Primulas and the next about pollarding willows and dogwoods.

I wrote,”In February I wrote about the first of our native Primroses coming into flower, but in March they flourish along with their relatives.The pictures below show the diversity that we grow and enjoy.”

    

   

 

When I looked at pollarding and coppicing I wrote that, “The last week of March were mild and sometimes sunny so we took the opportunity to prune down our shrubs that we grow for their coloured stems, Cornus and Salix. We coppice some, pollard others.”

    

I continued to look at Salix and Cornus coloured stems on the last page of my entries for March, where I featured photographs of the bundles of cut stems.

      

So that was my garden journal for March. For the next month, April, we will see big changes as Spring becomes established.

 

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autumn autumn colours birds colours garden photography garden wildlife gardening gardens hardy perennials light light quality migration ornamental trees and shrubs Shropshire

My Garden Journal – October

So here we are with the tenth post in the “My Garden Journal” monthly series highlighting the changes that we see, hear and smell each month in our Shropshire garden at our home “Avocet”. Our garden open days have finished for the year and we have hosted our last visiting group for the year, so we have the garden to ourselves and our wildlife. From April to September we are open on set days and to visiting groups and although we love sharing our garden there is a feeling of letting go a bit once October arrives a sort of end of term feeling.

We will be busy taking hardwood cuttings and potting on those we struck last autumn. Our greenhouse becomes home to our more delicate plants, our Aeoniums, Salvias, and Echeverias. We put up bubble wrap as a cosy duvet for them and put the heating on gently.

My first page in my journal for October refers to the changing light the month brings.

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“Autumn is most definitely with us, its special low light with its own intensity and identity gives the garden its coat of many colours. Sedum give us flowers of pink to purple rising from its succulent leaves. 

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“October began by continuing September’s Indian Summer. We are enjoying blue skies and warm temperatures. Luxuries for the gardeners, who can use these special moments to sit in the sun, drink tea and drink in the colourful richness in every border.”

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My journal moved on to consider the changing colours which is symbolic of this season. The quote I have selected for October from Jenny Joseph also looks at October’s colours.

“The fire that October first brings to me is what has started in September. It is the woods flaming; not terrifying summer fires in some afforested countries, but the fire with no heat, no destruction. The torch that sets fire to our woods, hedges, trees in roads and gardens, blazing through cool damp darkening days is the sap withdrawing. It is a dying that can make us gasp at the intensity and great range of colour.”

In my journal I wrote “All those myriad shades of green that had been acting as foils for the colours of flowers are now coming to the fore. It is their turn to be the stars! As we move into autumn more deeply the green recedes to reveal yellows, oranges and reds. Our Euphorbia griffithii “Fireglow” glows yellow with thin red lines drawn on.”

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“We grow two different varieties of Hamamelis x intermedia, Jelena and Diana, mostly for their bright late winter/early spring flowers but in autumn they give us the same orange and red colours.”

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On the following pages I discuss the birds that visited our garden during October, the Merlin and the Little Owl. I hope you enjoy looking at my coloured pencil crayon drawing as much as I enjoyed creating them.

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“Most of our Summer Migrant birds have left us. Firstly the Swifts and the Cuckoos left us in July and then the Warblers and the sky dancers, Swallows and House Martins.

We have been surprised to spot two birds which until recently would also have flown to warmer climes. Some of our summer visitors now stay with us. Early in October we spotted a male Merlin hunting along the lane from our house, moving and manoevring low to the ground in definite hunting mood.

Recently we heard the call of Little Owls, their piercing sounds were more those of a yapping Terrier than those of an owl.”

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“In our “Secret Garden” we grow a miniature Chestnut, Aesculus mutabilis “Induta”. We forgive it for its ugly name as we love it all year. It gives salmon-pink new foliage in the spring which is followed by upright panicles of pinky-salmon flowers loved by the bees. Flowers are followed by little “conkers”, then in autumn the foliage turns the brightest yellow. When the foliage falls beautiful silvery-grey bark shines through the winter.”

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I featured the seed heads of Phlomis and Acer rufinerve in my journal pages for September. As we move through October more plants produce seed heads worthy of starring roles. Echinops, Eremurus, Eryngium and Crocosmia.”

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November will take us deeper into the autumn which this year is proving to be an exceptionally colourful one.

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autumn autumn colours birds colours flowering bulbs garden photography garden wildlife gardening grasses half-hardy perennials hardy perennials house martins light light quality migration ornamental grasses ornamental trees and shrubs Shropshire swallows trees

My Garden Journal – September

The September pages of my garden journal sees the first signs of autumn creeping in, colours changing, light creeping in at a lower level and our summer migrant birdlife disappearing. The skies are empty and quiet now that the Swallows and Martins have left us for warmer climes. We are missing the sight and sounds of Warblers flitting among the trees and shrubs but hopefully some Garden Warblers and Chiffchaffs will decide to stay with us. Climate change seems to be encouraging more migrants to remain in the UK all year through.

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Being a British gardener I start by talking about the weather! “The “Met Office” weathermen tell us that September is the first month of Autumn, but we hope it will be the continuation of Summer. This year September is unlike Summer, and is not even an Indian Summer. It is a dismal month of heavy skies and rain. Every flower that fights its way through the gloom is a ray of sunshine.”

Next comes my usual piece of writing from Jenny Joseph’s little book, “Lead by the Nose”.

For September, it is harvesting and clearing what is there on the one hand, with a great deal of sharp acrid savoury smells from dead-heading, disentangling, weeding, cutting down leaf and stalk, digging up roots.”

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I move on to consider a special group of plants which Jude and I love in our garden, the airy, whispy plants that can’t help but move in the gentlest of breezes, the “Windcatchers”.

“September has been a windy month, which has accentuated the part played by the “Windcatchers”, those special plants which display the ability to catch the slightest breeze and dance in it. These are the tall grasses, Stipa gigantea, Miscanthus sinensis and the Molinias and Calamagrostis, the airy flowering perennials especially Verbena bonariensis and Gaura lindheimeri. Gauras have variety names that suggest their windcatching skills, “Whirling Butterflies” and “Summer Breeze”. 

The photos below show what a beautiful plant Verbena bonariensis is with its bright purple flower heads nodding in the breeze atop its stiff thin stems. It is a true wildlife magnet too attracting Butterflies and Moths, Bees and Hoverflies and many other flying insects. As the light fades in the evening the flowers glow and their scent intensifies to attract night flying insects and a miriad of Moths.

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The movement of grasses and their big cousins the Bamboos also adds sounds to our garden, rustling, tinkling and sounds like those of the seashore, shifting sands, rolling pebbles and retreating waves.”

Grasses are such an important element in our garden and help create an all year round garden. From their fresh green leaves emerging in the spring right through to their flowers and on to their seedheads which stand right through the winter.

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Surprises are the subject of my next page.

Surprises are always fun in the garden, those little things not planned for or expected. Here are two surprises for September in our garden.

We were pleasantly surprised at the rich autumnal colours of our Euphorbia griffithii “Dixter” which grows in our Beth Chatto garden, and how this damaged Verbascum repaired itself.”

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My watercolour paintings of Acer rufinerve and Phlomis russeliana feature on the next page titled “Seedpods for September”. These seeds are capsules of promise, time capsules. The wing-like Acer seeds are shaped and moulded to allow a gentle descent in the wind, each maple key parachuting down to find a place to germinate. The pompom seedheads of the Phlomis are tightly packed balls of rough textured seeds designed to stick to any passing creature who will wander off and drop it away from the parent plant where it can find space to become a herbaceous plant with hairy heart shaped leaves and yellow-orange balls of flowers. 

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We now move on to the end of the month when the weather surprised us as it changed for the better, change to good gardening weather and good weather for appreciating gardens.

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“As the month came to its end we were suddenly treated to an “Indian Summer”. The skies were clearest blue, the sun shone and temperatures went back up. The garden loved it as much as the gardeners! Our two varieties of Schizostylus, “The Major” and “Alba”are flowering better than ever before.”

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“Two real stars of the autumn garden are our two Salvias that are too tender for us to leave out over our winters, so we grow them in pots and bring them indoors as soon as the cold nights appear. They are Salvia “Amistad” with its bright purple and black flowers and Salvia confertiflora with its long spikes of red and salmon flowers.”

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So that is my journal all about our garden in September. I am already writing and painting my entry for October so that will be the next episode of “My Garden Journal”.

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countryside landscapes migration Powis Powys trees Wales wildlife woodland woodlands

Waterfall Walkabout

We made a quick visit to the waterfall at Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant, in Powys  last year and vowed to return. So in late august we did just that not thinking that being still in the holiday period it would be so much busier than our previous spring visit. But many people were walking off into the hills so our wander was still quite quiet.

After our usual coffee and cakes which we enjoyed in the cafe at the base of the falls we set off up a narrow path and quickly found the stream that flowed rapidly from the falls themselves. The cafe is part of an interesting and unusual endeavour, a business which involves a campsite and retreat as well as the cafe, a little empire to nourish the body, the soul and the mind. It is a place to find peace and get close to nature.

We heard the falls well before we saw them, the roaring and rushing  of water dropping over 100 feet splashing on rock outcrops as it falls. When the falls come into view we are always forced to stop just to stare and take in the scene. It is simply beautiful, a place where the gentle beauty of nature is disturbed by the sheer power of water. A mist of spray drifts among the trees. All around is green, bright almost fluorescent green. Ferns, mosses and lichen reveling in an atmosphere full of droplets of water, very pure clean water, not yet subjected to man’s pollution. It won’t be long before this stream, crystal clear but for a hint of the coffee brown stain from peat, will be subject to agricultural run-off. Nitrates, herbicides and sheep dip chemicals. But for now its purity adds to the delight of the place.

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After enjoying being close to the roar and rumble of the waterfall we took a narrow track into the valley. Our feet made no sound on the pine needles that covered the path so we could hear the sound of the falling water getting quieter as we moved deeper into the heavily wooded slopes of the valley side. The trees grew close together so had grown tall in their search for light.

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Every boulder and the bases of every tree trunk were carpeted in mosses and lichens, soft and silky to the touch.

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The boulders had been rolled down the slope by the forces of gravity after the equally powerful force of erosion had separated them from the rock faces of the vertical outcrops towering above the tree line. Erosion had also removed the soil and scree that once anchored this tree and its roots to the ground. Today it somehow remains upright by holding on with only half of its giant roots still in the ground.

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The openness at the end of the woodland afforded us vast views of the mountain range underneath which we had driven to find the waterfalls.

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In a place dominated by huge trees, massive mountains and rugged rock faces it is good to study tiny delicate things as a contrast. There can be no more delicate flower then the Harebell and no smaller plants than mosses, lichens and algae (algae and lichen are not strictly speaking plants). Although the beetles we came across were small at only a centimetre or so long they certainly did not look delicate. They looked tough as they moved through the grass with purpose. Theses little chaps are powerful predators in the mini-beast world.

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Fruit was colouring up on Hawthorns, Rowans and wild Crab Apples. We imagined that once the migrant thrushes passed through Wales they would home in on this valley side and gorge themselves on this fruit bounty.

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On the more exposed slopes of the valley trees live short lives and they grow stunted by the harsh winds and cold winters. This does though give them beautiful shapes, their branches and trunks taking on bonsai like twists and turns. The clean air here meant they wear coats of lichen, moss and algae. The first three pictures below are of a dead tree, partly felled but still giving a home to these tiny members of the plant world.

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On our return back along the track we took a detour to see if we could get a closer look at the falls by going upwards. The path rose steeply and we found ourselves on a ledge almost halfway up the falls so we did get different views but not as dramatic as we had hoped for.

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What a great place this is, possibly as close to wilderness as we can find in this part of Wales. The walk isn’t easy or indeed sensible for either of us – me walking with a crutch and one leg without any feeling and Jude being scared of heights and hating walking with a gap alongside. But we did it and we enjoyed! And we will probably do it again! No – we will definitely do it again!

 

 

 

 

 

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autumn autumn colours birds climbing plants colours garden photography garden wildlife gardening gardens grasses hardy perennials migration ornamental trees and shrubs poppies roses trees wildlife Winter Gardening

A Garden Bouquet for December

Already we are almost at the end of the year so here is my December bouquet from our garden,the final chapter in 2013.

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It is only mid-December and while in the garden we are treated to the beautiful repetitive piping call of a Song Thrush, already making his territorial proclamation. He must have found a mighty fine territory which he is making sure no-one else can take possession of.

The skies seem full of passing flocks of Redwing and their larger noisier cousins the Fieldfare on migration, escaping their cold food-less summer homes in central Europe. Below them exploring the trees and shrubs of our garden mixed foraging flocks of finches seek out the last of the seeds and berries while amongst them groups of Titmice, Great, Blue, Long-tailed and Coal arrive in hurried flight to explore every nook and cranny of dried stems, tree bark and shrub branches for insects especially spiders.

A few delicate looking soft coloured flowers still hang on determined to be the final blooms of the year. It seems amazing but the odd big bumbling Queen Bumble Bee appears to feed on them.

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Berries on shrubs and small trees add extra sparkles of colour but the resident Mistle Thrushes guard them from the migrant thrushes. They are the larder for the colder days to come. The red fruit of the Cotoneasters, Hollies and Rowans will be eaten first and most will have been devoured by the thrushes and Blackbirds before the month is out. The creamy-yellow berries of the Cotoneaster rothschildiana will stay longer being mere second choices. The last to go without fail will be the white berries of the Sorbus, so we can get to enjoy them against dark winter storm clouds before the birds eat them.

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At this time of year we can enjoy the dessicated seed heads and old flower heads that have managed to survive the wet times that autumn invariably brings. This year has been so wet that we seem to have fewer still standing than ever before. But a few are putting on a display for us and when covered in a frosty layer or when donning a hat made of snow will look even better. Within them are the remnant autumn leaves as yet to be blown from their branches by blasts of wind.

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Signs of next year’s growth are already in evidence like this adventurous bud found on a clematis snuggled between stem and petioles.

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Patterns become important in winter as they emerge from seasons hidden away behind plants. So that is the end of my year of garden bouquets for 2013. Perhaps they will return for 2014.

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autumn autumn colours birds garden design garden photography garden wildlife gardening grasses hardy perennials migration ornamental grasses ornamental trees and shrubs photography trees

A Garden Bouquet for November

I began writing this post in mid-november when we should have been surrounded by the blaze of autumn colour, the hedges and trees should be on fire with the reds and oranges and the autumn migrant thrushes should be gorging on the berries in the hedgerows and gardens. At that time there was little sign of these things  happening.

As we move towards the end of November things have changed greatly. We now garden to the sounds of migrant thrushes passing high over head, Redwings, Fieldfares and Mistle Thrushes and a few small flocks are settling in our berried trees. They see us as a stopping off point where they can gorge on the berries and fruits of our Crab Apples, Sorbus and Cotoneasters.

But what will they see when they drop in? Come with me and my camera for a wander.

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autumn birds garden wildlife hedgerows migration

The Little Edible Hedge

When we were visiting my mother recently I was amazed to see just how much food for wildlife the old hedge alongside her back garden was presenting to the mammals and birds and of course the odd late flying butterfly and wasp. This stretch of hedge was originally an old field boundary and it illustrates just how much damage to Mother Nature’s larder the destruction of our hedges by intensive style agriculture actually causes. Here we have a 20 yard stretch of mixed natives with an odd cultivated plant creeping in from the garden that is a veritable larder for all sorts of wildlife.

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Think of hedgerow food for wildlife and the first fruit to come to mind will be the Bramble or Blackberry. This may be simply because we enjoy a tasty nibble of these glossy black gems ourselves. We might also think of Roses with their red fruit following on from their beautiful pink or white flowers. As children we may remember them as natural itching powder – remember the effects of popping a crushed hip down a friend’s jumper? Admit it! Humans have also long collected the hips of the wild roses to produce Rose Hip Syrup.

Rose Hips have long been enjoyed by humans as well as wildlife, being used for jams, jellies, marmalades, wine and tisanes. More recently it has been appreciated for its medicinal benefits in relation to alleviating the effects of arthritis, gradually displacing glucosamine. Our pets also appreciate them as apparently they are given to chinchillas and guinea pigs as a treat.

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A couple of hedge row fruits are also favourites of foragers, the Sloe and the Crab Apple as we readily turn these into tasty winter warmers Sloe Gin and Crab Apple Jelly. In this little length of hedge we found a wild crab and a cultivated crab growing a few feet away from each other. Our birds and mammals probably view them as equally important sources of winter nutrition. They will not be concerned that one has been planted to delight my mother with its spring blossom and red autumn fruits.

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One important food source for wildlife is a little black berry that clumps together in spheres but this will not be until later on in the winter. For now the Ivy is still in flower and these tiny green florets are just starting to become berries. The Ivy plant is a vital  for wildlife throughout the whole year. It provides shelter for all sorts of creatures from the tiniest insect to the plump Wood Pigeons, nest sites for birds such as Wrens, Blackbirds, Song Thrush and Robins and again the Wood Pigeon. In winter the Ivy provides warmth and secret hiding places for all sorts of creatures.

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Less useful for wildlife are the cultivated plants that make their way into the hedge but the local Blackbird population will not turn their beaks up at the tiny long tear drop berries of the Berberis.

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In contrast the deep red berries hanging in full bunches on the Hawthorns will be appreciated by many birds both residents and winter migrants. Once the Redwings and Fieldfares arrive on the back of the cold wet storms of autumn they will soon disappear.

The hawthorn berries have a place to play in human lives as well as wildlife, perhaps not yet seen as important as rose hip but it is being researched at the moment in relation to heart functions. For centuries it has been a part of the cuisine in China. Interestingly the name haw, which is now used to mean the berries, was originally a name meaning “hedge”.

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So this short section of hedge of native shrubs mixed with the odd garden specimen will soon become the favourite restaurant for our avian neighbours.

Categories
bird watching birds garden wildlife house martins migration natural pest control swallows wildlife

Mad Autumn Moments with Martins

Six weeks or so ago our flocks of martins suddenly departed southward and the swallows gathered on the telephone wires above the road passing the front of our house. They chattered and fidgeted, stretched their wings and tails and preened busily ensuring that they were in the best of trim for their long migratory adventure.

Then one day the skies were silent and the wires empty.

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But a week later as we were working away in the garden borders we heard excited calls overhead and dozens of swallows were swirling around just above shrub height. They were so close to us as they enjoyed a feeding frenzy. They must have been en route south from further up North, Scotland or the Lake District perhaps, when the big old oak tree in the paddock behind us and the gardens of our little group of houses called them down. This place meant insects to gorge on to refill and prepare themselves by stocking up for the next leg of their long migration. As we watched stunned by their excitement, their noise and flying acrobatics, they were joined by an equal number of house martins.

They periodically stopped in mixed groups on our roof ridge to chatter and catch up on the latest migration news. For us of course there was the added bonus of all those garden pests being hoovered up by gaped beaks. Great pest control!

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Now in early October they have definitely all gone. We miss their constant chattering in the sky above the garden and await their return in the Spring.