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garden design garden wildlife gardening log piles meadows Shropshire wildlife

Gardening in lockdown – new wildlife strip

At the bottom of our back garden we had a stock fence for which we were responsible under the details of our house deeds. Recently the farmer who owns the land behind us created a new enlarged paddock in which to keep their ancient pony and some ewes with lambs, which left us with an awkward strip of land just 45 cm or so wide but the length of our garden. This became home to tough weeds like nettles, brambles and comfrey which we found hard to keep tidy as they were jammed between the two stock fences.

So when I was chatting to the farmer’s wife I asked if we could move our fence back to theirs and use the strip as part of our garden. She was delighted to agree as she loves our garden and comes past when on dog walking duty and has a look at our patch.

We took our old fence and gate down and after quite a struggle managed to get up the old oak fence posts which had been there for over 30 years. Our fence panels needed stripping of algae before we set about putting in new posts alongside the field boundary and refitting out fence panels. The new strip of land was cleared of weeds, dug over deeply but not improved as we wanted to make a wildlife border with some natives.

The strip was sown with wildlife flower seed mixes and we planted lots of small plants we had grown from seeds which would also attract wildlife. Now we must wait for it to grow and for the wildlife to appear.

Three weeks later and the seeds have germinated and our little plug plants grown on nicely. Several plants are in bud and a few are already flowering. You will spot our insect attracting features, a couple of bee steaks, a stone pile and a couple of log piles.

 

We have no problem with weeds comng in from the field as the sheep and their lambs nibble right up to the fence and even tear off any leaf of our border they can reach with their tongue. Sheep pruning!

 

 

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climbing plants colours garden photography gardening gardens grasses hardy perennials ornamental grasses ornamental trees and shrubs roses shrubs

My Garden Journal 2019 – September

Into September now so here is a look at my Garden Journal 2019 for that month. I first decided to look at some of the many berries in our patch. We grow dozens of berry-bearing shrubs and trees. I wanted to feature some of our many Hypericum inodorum cultivars with their many different colours of berries.

“September sees the start of the berry season when our berrying trees and shrubs show more colour, from white to black and lemon to deep red. These were all planted to help birds survive, especially members of the thrush family both native and European visitors. Hypericum is the shrub that has the biggest range of coloured berries.”

I selected just 6 to photograph, but we grow a good dozen or so cultivars.

And so onto the next double page spread and garden wildlife takes centre stage, along with some seedheads discovered in our patch in September.

About the wildlife I wrote, “Our garden is always gifting us surprises, and this month our wildlife seems to be at the core of garden surprises. The first unexpected visitor was an unusual Pheasant, a male Black Pheasant, one of a very localised group centred around village of Plealey. This one is coming out of a moult so not as dramatic looking as usual. Much smaller but equally strange are these black and green, beautifully marked larvae. We had never seen them before but these were seen on the beans of our Runner Bean plants. We guessed they were Shield Bug larvae but had to look them up to identify them as Green Shield Bug larvae.”

We also spotted an unidentified fly and a hoverfly.

I then shared a set of my sketches of seedheads found in our garden. I used Japanese Brush Pens to paint the Commelinas and pencil crayons for the poppy seedheads.

Next I shared some of the garden tasks we got up to in September. I wrote, “Here are a few of the garden jobs we have carried out in September. We continued collecting seed, we painted our metal garden furniture and potted up a fern, Osmunda regalis which needs moisture. We planted it in a pot with a reservoir in its base. We even found time to create a new garden feature, a rope swag for roses and clematis. We also put together a selection of plants together on our sales table.”

I then went on to share how we made the rose swag, “The new Rose Swag allowed us to treat ourselves to visiting some nearby nurseries, where we bought roses and clematis and a whole lot more of course. Creating this feature meant banging deeply into the ground tall 3 inch diameter rustic poles eight feet apart and then swagging the rope from one to another. We planted a rose and a clematis up each pole.”

Rosa ‘James Galway’

Clematis ‘Blue Angel’               Rosa ‘Wollerton Old Hall’

Over to the next double page spread and clematis take centre stage. I wrote, “We returned from our nursery visits with more clematis than we needed but soon found homes for them all! If I list the roses and clematis on the swag, I will list them starting on the right end of the border and go left wards.”

Rosa ‘Bobby James’ with Clematis tangutica ‘My Angel’

Rosa ‘Blush Noisette’ with Clematis viticella ‘Queen Mother’

Rosa ‘Wollerton Old Hall’ with Clematis ‘Blue Angel’

Rosa ‘James Galway’ with C. vit. ‘Venosa Violacea’ plus C. ‘Romantika’

Rosa ‘Paul’s Scarlet Climber’ with C. florida ‘Pistachio’

The newest additions to our ever growing Clematis collection. We must try to list all the clematis we have one day and see just how many we grow!

 

From flowering climbers I then moved on to plants specifically grown for their interesting foliage and I wrote, “I have featured Persicaria before and tended to focus on all the different coloured poker flowers of Persicaria amplexicaulis cultivars. So for a change I went out into the garden to photograph those different Persicarias we grow for their foliage.”

Because I am currently writing a new talk for gardeners I decided to feature some of the many plants we grow specially for their interesting foliage. I wrote, “It is easy to comment on flowers and their colours when writing about gardens at the expense of  foliage. Foliage is the unsung hero of our gardens and deserves more recognition. I am going to title my talk ‘Foliage – the unsung hero of our gardens.’ “

The photos below are of a small selection of the many foliage plants we enjoy.

So that is my September journal entries. I shall be back at the end of October.

 

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Another NGS Garden : Gorsty Bank – a wildlife friendly garden

This a wonderful wildlife friendly garden which opens for the NGS and is owned and gardened by fellow Hardy Plant Society Shropshire Group members Annie and Gary Frost. The garden is a short distance from home so we soon arrived after a short journey and enjoyed the walk through the village of Hyssington and up the drive to the garden. We found some lovely primulas along the lane and the driveway itself was atmospheric with old stone walls on one side and native hedging alongside.

We were warmly greeted by Gary and as usual made our way to the refreshments and enjoyed talking with Annie as we enjoyed tea and tasty homemade cakes. The views from our seats afforded an idea of the richness of the experience we could look forward to.

We then enjoyed a slow wander around this gentle garden with its paths and gateways to guide our way. We loved the two meadows and the mini-arboretum.

 

Another enjoyable return visit to a favourite NGS garden afforded us a great day out. We will be back!

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climbing plants colours garden design garden photography gardening gardens gardens open to the public half-hardy perennials hardy perennials meadows National Trust ornamental grasses ornamental trees and shrubs poppies roses The National Trust

Packwood – one of the stars of the National Trust.

We have held memberships of the National Trust for over 40 years and one of the first we took our two children to was Packwood Hall. Packwood is now a firm favourite and we made a visit again this year. The welcome sign describes Packwood as “a house to dream of, a garden to dream in”. We were only intending to look at the house from the outside and mainly intended to explore the garden in greater detail. Packwood is well known for its unusual collection of sundials.

 

The approach to Packwood is one of the most welcoming we have ever come across, passing through wildflower meadows and impressive gateways.

    

Once we had passed through a few of these gateways and archways we discovered colourful well-designed borders full of herbaceous perennials and roses. Much of the planting had been chosen to attract wildlife, predators and pollinators.

    

The gardens were well structured, divided into garden rooms with different characters and atmospheres in each. In one formal lawn area we came across a rectangular sunk garden built from limestone and its borders were planted with plants that enjoyed the dry well drained soil. These plants provided a strong contrast to the lush look of the rest of the gardens.

       

Lush planting was prevalent elsewhere throughout the garden making for an atmosphere of excitement. There were wonderful individual plants to be found as well as well designed borders.

         

A well-known aspect of the gardens at Packwood is its topiary, especially a group called the twelve apostles. Personally I found this part of Packwood rather dull but here are the photos I took to illustrate it. However I do have a soft spot for cloud pruning of hedges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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birds colours garden photography garden wildlife grasses meadows trees wildlife

Painting in a Meadow in Norfolk

Sometimes when you choose a holiday location and select accommodation you hit the right spot. When we spent a week in Norfolk in 2017 we did just this. We booked a barn conversion with its own little nature reserve in the middle of open farmland miles from any village or town.

Each morning as we got up we started the day by wandering around the meadow with a coffee mug in hand and camera over the shoulder. Each evening we repeated the exercise after our evening meal. Pure luxury! It brought back so many childhood memories for me.

The highlight was probably its wildflower meadow sat within the grounds. The meadow was full of such a wide variety of flowering plants and grasses, and hence full of wildlife, birds, bees, beetles, hoverflies, butterflies and moths. At night the birds were replaced by bats who hawked the surface of the meadow feeding on moths and night flying insects.

The meadow was a place of natural sights, sounds, movement and scent.

We ate outside as often as possible on a terrace overlooking a small lake surrounded by mature, native trees, Alder, Ash and Oak. These trees were favourite haunts of owls who entertained us with their calls as light faded each evening. We brought the sweetpeas back from Houghton Hall, where they grow in the walled garden and visitor are invited to use the scissors and string provided to pick and tie a bunch. The Lavender, a Dutch Lavender, in the pot we had bought from another garden we visited. It is now planted at home.

   

I decided it would be a challenge to paint the flowering meadow sat in the picnic bench in the very centre. So I set up my gear and had a go.

   

A beautiful calming time! The sounds of nature as a background makes painting so much easier, more flowing.

 

Here are my finished pieces.

And here it is framed and on daughter and son-in-law, Jo and Rob’s wall. The left hand pic shows it alongside my brother, Derrick’s pastel drawing of a magnolia.

 

 

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autumn autumn colours colours flowering bulbs garden design garden photography gardening gardens hardy perennials light light quality Shrewsbury Shropshire shrubs

My Garden Journal – September

So, here we are back taking a look into my Garden Journal 2017 at the entries I made during September. Within the first double page spread I looked at a few hot coloured perennials and shared a favourite quotation from designer, Dan Pearson.

I started off by writing, “September is a favourite month of mine in our garden because it is the time when our grasses peak and hot colours of late perennials get blazing and burning against pale clear blue skies”.

   

Dan Pearson, probably the world’s leading garden designer, wrote in his book “Natural Selection, a Year in the Garden”, “The light is never more beautiful than it is now, sliding into the garden at an ever-increasing angle to tease out the detail………. Rosy-faced apples weigh down branches and lazy wasps have the remains of the plum harvest. Sunflowers will never be taller, berries are hanging heavy on the once-blooming roses, and the butterflies which have had a hard time of it this summer, are making the most of the asters and the last heat of the sun.”

As long as the weather remains mild and calm then our predatory insects and pollinators remain busy taking advantage of every possibility  as they sense the onset of autumn.

Over the page I continued by considering two very special small-flowered plants. I wrote,

“September sees two small-flowered plants with very unusual flower structures. Both are striking little plants and neither are fully hardy for us.” I was referring to “Commelina dianthifolia” and “Lotus maculatus “Gold”.

“Commelina dianthifolia is commonly known as “The Bird Bill Dayflower”. The electric blue flowers are enhanced byits bright green stamens. Although our Commelina flowers for months during the summer, each flower lasts only a few hours.”

  

“Lotus maculatus “Gold” displays flowers looking like gold and red lobster claws. Its foliage is of delicate blue”needles” and hangs beautifully over the edge of the terra-cotta pot it shares with an orange Osteospermum and a striking grass, newly renamed Anemanthele lessioniana. The Lotus is commonly known as “Pico de Paloma” or “Parrot’s Beak”. Although a tender perennial we have to treat it as an annual and sow it every year.”

   

Over the next page I began to show how we are re-building a garden, not by choice but out of necessity.

“We planned to revamp the Freda Garden this Autumn and change it more into a shady area featuring colourful Hydrangeas. However as we suddenly had to fit a new oil storage tank we decided to put it up in this bed. So we got to work clearing plants more urgently than we had expected.” 

“Any plants to be replaced in the same border were potted up while others were moved elsewhere.”

  

“Within a week the border was cleared of its plants except for a Cornus mas at one end and a Ribes odoratum at the other, and the oil storage tank in place. Quick work!

 

“The next task was to plan our renewed bed, decide the sort of plants to use and work out a system of screening the new oil tank. We decided that as the border was mostly shaded or semi-shaded we would plant flowering shrubs such as Hydrangea and Viburnum with shade-loving herbaceous underplanting.”

As we move to the next double page, I will begin to share the plants we discovered as we searched for suitable candidates

“We have room for a couple of trees at the back of the border – so far we have got one very special tree ready to plant. Heptacodium miconiodes is an elegant tree with peeling bark, fragrant white flowers that are attractive to useful wildlife and attractively curled leaves. It will be such a wonderful addition to our tree collection.

To grace the ground beneath our new tree we have a collection of Pulmonarias chosen for their early flowering and finely coloured and marked leaves. We will also plant an Anemone, grasses and ferns with a selection of Viburnum and Hydrangea. Now we need to prepare the soil for fresh planting and plant the plants.”

   

Three Hydrangeas, pink, white and blue.

  

Viburnum nudum, Anemonopsis macrophylla and Panicum  virgatum “Squaw”.

  

Next I shall look at some wildlife visitors who share our Plealey garden, and get out my watercolours, brushes and fine felt pens.

“I will try to paint two wildlife visitors to our September garden, one a moth and the other a cricket, very different creatures but both beautiful to look at and observe as they move around the garden borders. One is resident, the Oak Bush Cricket and the other an occasional visitor, the Hummingbird Hawk Moth.”

“The Hawk Moth is attracted to our Centranthus ruber plants which we grow in several borders, but our cricket will be attracted to our apple trees.”

On the opposite page I record the visit of a beautiful dragonfly to our garden. Over the summer months on any sunny warm day there is a good chance of us spotting a dragonfly or damselfly hatching from our wildlife pond or resting almost anywhere in the garden. This particular dragonfly had alighted on a shrub close to the house itself and was enjoying a spot of sunbathing, absorbing the rays. “Mother Nature is so god at giving us gardeners some wonderful surprises. We discovered this beautiful creature on a shrub far from any water. It is a female Southern Hawker. The markings and colours are like no other. It is hard to imagine why it sports these patterns. She will return to our pond to lay her eggs in the rotting logs that edge it.”

   

We can now turn over to another double page spread where dew highlights some natural creativity and three small flowered Clematis flower brightly.

As September moved on we began to notice dew on the grass and plants in the borders several mornings each week. One special effect this has is the way it highlights the handiwork of our garden spiders. It is good to see so many webs as we like to have spiders working as predators in the garden for us. On one particular morning the dew was so heavy that it was weighing down the webs heavily.

   

“We have three very delicate Clematis flowering in our Avocet patch this month, all with small  flowers but very different from each other. They share the same colour purple on their petals with white-yellow centres.”

“Clematis Little Bas”

 

“Clematis aromatica”

  

“Clematis Arabella”

 

Another Clematis features overleaf, this time a yellow flowered one matched with some pencil crayon sketches of some seed heads.

“Staying with Clematis I will now look at a very delicate and unusual yellow-flowered cultivar, Clematis serratifolia “Golden Harvest”. The centre of each flower contrasts strongly with the golden petals. The central area features deep yellow, a touch of orange but mostly a deep purple-maroon colour. “Golden Harvest” is often sold as a Golden Wedding Anniversary gift. That surely would be a gift to give years of pleasure to any gardeners.”

Now we move on to look at a couple of my coloured pencil sketches of seed heads found in our September garden. “Two more seed heads discovered in our borders, with slender stems and bell-shaped seed capsules coloured biscuit and rust.”

I moved on next to look at two of our larger plant collections which feature strongly in our September garden. “Two of our largest plant collections we grow at Avocet are Crocosmias and Persicarias, both of which look at their best in late summer moving into autumn. 

Crocosmias appear in every shade of yellow, orange and red and thus add cheer to our patch.”

“Crocosmias feature in virtually every one of our borders.”

         

“Varieties of Persicaria amplexicaulis also feature on most of our borders fitting in with most styles of planting, being equally at home in Prairie planting, gravel garden, herbaceous borders and wherever they grow they enhance their border partners.”

          

These two collections of hardy herbaceous perennials brings the month of September to an end. The next visit to my garden journal will be in October

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Young naturalists visit Avocet

We recently hosted a visit to our garden by students from our local school, who came to look at how we garden with wildlife in mind, how we attract wildlife of all sorts and create a balanced ecosystem. We all had a great time!

We began by looking at our live moth trap that had been in operation overnight. We studied the wide variety of moths that inhabit our garden overnight and slowly released them after encouraging each student to let a moth or two sit on their hands. Our overnight trapping was most successful with hundreds caught, with dozens of different species from the smallest micro moth up to our largest hawk moth. All were successfully released unharmed.

     

This Poplar Hawk Moth took a real liking to this young lady and stayed on her face for the whole visit. She even named him Steve!

 

We then enjoyed giving a guided tour of our patch, starting in the front garden and slowly moving through the whole patch, looking for plants that attract wild and identifying why and seeking out wildlife habitats and home made features.

 

A quick pond dip and the students were delighted to meet one of our frogs, a really impressive large one.

We then moved into the front garden and began a tour of our plot when we pointed out how we attract wildlife to our garden, highlighting plants that attract pollinators and all our home-made features, such as insect hotels and bird boxes. There was then time for a break when we all enjoyed tea, coffee and some of Jude’s home-made cakes. This was followed by a quiet time when the students explored the garden on their own and recorded what they had experienced in words and drawings.

       

The group had target pollinator species to find and several were found and identified during the morning including this Marmalade Hoverfly, in its orange and black striped pyjamas.

All too soon it was time for the group to leave us and wander down the road to board their coach, with a request to come again. We enjoyed the big waves we received as the bus drove off.

  

 

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Nest Box Cam

During the early Winter I made a special nest box for Blue Tits, one designed to house a wireless camera. To finish the project son-in-law Rob fixed  the tiny “spy” camera inside and linked it up to our television. So now that it is fixed up, partly hidden in our grape vine, we patiently wait to see if a pair take up residence to raise a brood. Exciting!

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You can see the second hole on the side, covered in a sheet of scratched perspex placed to let some light in.

It felt so good to see our first images of the empty box appear on our TV screen. Just how excited will we become if we spot a Blue Tit entering! Watch this space! It will be so good if they do nest because not only will we love watching them but we will know that they will be acting as great natural pest controllers, devouring thousands of insects especially aphids and thousands of caterpillars as they raise their young. Now that is real natural gardening!

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Ponthafren – an amazing community garden.

We love visiting community gardens whenever we can find one to explore. We like to see what they are trying to do and particularly how gardening is involved in their client activities. We were delighted to find one open under the auspices of the National Garden Scheme not far away just over the Welsh border into Powys. As we approached over a river bridge and first spotted the building we were taken aback by its sheer size. It looked an impressive building with its gardens sloping down to the river bank.

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We received a warm welcome from the volunteers who ran the centre and enjoyed a tasty cup of tea and extravagant looking cup cake each as we chatted and learned more about the work of the group. We were amazed at what we heard and were full of admiration.

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We couldn’t wait to wander around the garden and see what the volunteer leaders and their clients were up to on this steeply sloping wooded riverside site.

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Bunting and flags always add to the feeling of being warmly welcome in any garden and here they fluttered in profusion.

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Mosaics were popular ways of decorating features here from table tops to sundials. The clients created these in their art and craft sessions.

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There were clues at every turn that wildlife was welcome to share the garden with the clients, volunteers and visitors.

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There was such a sense of humour prevailing throughout the community garden and many craft items created by the clients illustrated this.

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As with any garden whatever its primary function fine examples of plants are good to see.

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Productive gardening was all part of the work here with the produce grown and nurtured by the clients being sold to help raise funds for the community garden. Wormeries sat in one corner working away producing compost and liquid feed for the veg.

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We found some fine examples of craftwork in metal and fabrics among the plants on the slopes.

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We finished our tour by taking wooden steps and gravel paths down to the riverside where we ended beneath colourful cheerful bunting just as we had started. We were so glad to have discovered this special place run by such special people and they also told us of another community not too far away which may be a place for a future visit.

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A beautiful wildlife garden in Herefordshire

Today we travelled further than we usually do for our regular visits to NGS gardens and made our way southwards through South Shropshire and down through Herefordshire to a tiny village near Ross-on-Wye. Even the approach to this garden was special as we left the temporary car park in a farmyard and followed a narrow track through a narrow band of woodland down towards the cottage and its garden. The description in the NGS Yellow Book promised a great afternoon out in a quirky cottage garden created for wildlife and managed organically. We were not to be disappointed in any way!

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We found a steep driveway as we left the woodland shade and slowly made our way down it to the cottage below passing floriferous meadows all the way. We were delighted to see orchids in with more common meadow flowers.

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We paid our entry fees and met the gardener who like us loved peaceful gardens full of wildlife especially. As we spoke I noticed this little selection of artifacts found in the garden. It was to set the tone for the day.

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As we slowly ambled along the many meandering softly surfaced paths we kept one eye on the plants and another on the look out for more artifacts and sculptural pieces. We first found this perky looking pig! We found many more varied pieces to amuse, appeal and amaze.

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This was a garden that invited us to wander and explore its many paths, to discover its calm and restful character. It succeeded in doing what we hope our garden does, to make you feel calm and contented. The planting was gentle and brought to mind the writings of William Robinson, especially how he expressed his philosophy of gardening in his book, The Wild Garden.

We shall now take a wander around this lovely gentle garden by following the pics in this gallery. As usual just click on the first picture and use the navigation arrows.

This was such a beautiful garden which welcomed other gardeners and wildlife alike, and was so full of atmosphere. We hope we are able to return one day in the future.