I will once again be keeping my garden journal during 2016 recording my thoughts on our own garden here at Avocet in the tiny hamlet of Plealey situated just inside the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the South Shropshire Hills. I will share the sounds, sights and aromas of our garden and make mention of the wildlife that shares the garden with us. In 2015 I found a quote every month from a little book, ” Led by the Nose” written by Jenny Joseph. In 2016 I will look back at what I recorded in my first garden journal which I began in the first full year of living in Plealey. Although we moved here in August 2004 my journal began in January 2005. It will be interesting to compare 2005 with 2016.
So, welcome to our “Avocet” garden in 2016. I hope you enjoy the journey through the months with me.
My first page for 2016 features my gouache painting of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a few words about this charismatic garden visitor.
“The Great Spotted Woodpecker makes its presence felt in our garden. It is black and white with splashes of bright red. It announces its arrival with a loud call as it flies in with its undulating flight. It hits the bird feeders hard so they swing around. These hungry birds stay feeding for far longer then any other bird.”
On the opposite page I write “Gardeners often pose the question“What is your favourite season in the garden?” It is easier for some to answer this question and they quickly give a definitive answer, while others find the choice impossible to make. For me? Well, I admit I always answer “The one we are in.” Not many gardeners will say “winter” viewing it as a “non-time” in their gardens. Many put their gardens to bed for the winter by chopping a huge percentage of the plants to the ground. Their interest only returns when spring bulbs burst into flower. I absolutely love the winter garden!”
I illustrate the page with my watercolour painting of two hips from Rosa “Graham Thomas”, a David Austin New English Rose which we grow as a climber. It gives joy to the gardener for many months of the year with its profuse golden sunny yellow blooms and when it finally gives up in December it begins to produce its green hips which quickly turn to yellow then orange.
Turning the page over I write “As the weather turns colder at the end of the first week of the new year we are delighted to see the garden full of birds. Often we hear our feathered visitors before we see them. While spending a day in the garden cutting down soggy perennials we heard the Buzzards mewing over our heads and the grating call of Mistle Thrushes defending their favourite berried trees. The high pitch calls of Goldcrests are barely audible” Below these words we find my gouache painting of a pair of Goldcrests.
Foliage features on the opposite page where I write “In winter flowers generally give way to interesting foliage on both shrubs and evergreen perennials. There is such a wide variety of shapes, colours and textures to be found in our January garden”.
A selection of photographs which I took in the garden on the same morning follows.
Turning the next page my text is all about the scents of winter flowering shrubs.
“Scent is such a powerful force in the winter garden and it is shrubs that put in a strong performance. We plant these scented shrubs close to paths so that we can enjoy them close up. On still days though their perfumes can be appreciated all over the garden. Cornus mas, the Cornelian Cherry, has a delicate scent but striking flowers of a bright yellow to which sunlight adds a hint of lime green to make it really zing.”
A much more strongly scented winter flowering shrub grows close to the main path in our back garden and is generous with its scent spreading it all over nearby borders, is Daphne bhuloa “Jacquiline Postill”.
On the page opposite I put the spotlight on a plant called “Physalis alkenengi” as I had come across the skeletal remains of its fruiting head while gardening in the Hot Garden.
I write “Physalis alkekengi is a strange little plant. It is inconspicuous for most of the year apart for twice when it gives splashes of colour. We rarely notice its off-white flowers in mid-summer but bright red papery “lanterns” soon follow. Inside its lanterns are hidden glossy orange berries. The wet decay of winter breaks down the papery cases which turn biscuit coloured before the flesh falls away leaving a lantern shaped net within which sits the orange berry.”
I illustrated this page with a watercolour painting of this little garden treasure. It was a great challenge!
My next page is about two gardeners at work. Jude the Undergardener and I produce our own bean poles and pea sticks to use on our crops which we grow on our allotment plot.
“Bean Poles and Pea Sticks
We have reached the stage now where our garden has matured enough to allow us to produce our own bean poles and pea sticks to use on our allotment. Our two Hazels provide us with the majority, but other shrubs add to our stash when we prune them.”
On the page opposite I share my photos of the first frost of 2016.
“The first frost of the year arrived in the third week of January. It added a new white dimension to foliage which sported rims of tiny white crystals.”
My final words and pictures in my January entry in my garden journal look back at my 2005 garden journal and a current garden project.
“Looking back at my January entries in my garden journal of 2005, I notice that I was then building a heated propagator in our new 14 foot by 8 foot greenhouse. This has served us well over the years making seed germination so much easier. This year I am making a much bigger propagating bench. For this version I will need support of my Undergardener, Jude.”
I hope you enjoy my photographic journey through this most enjoyable two day project. It was a good task to do while the weather outside was too cold, windy and wet to get any outdoor gardening done. The greenhouse was warm and snug so a good place to be working. When describing our efforts I used short captions for each photograph.
“Using recycled wood we made a new bench. We checked it was perfectly level.”
“We fixed in a double layer of insulation boards after adding an edge of 6 inch board. Then we fixed on a layer of plastic sheet.”
“We added a 2 inch layer of soft sand. The control box, thermostat and probe were fixed to the box.”
“Then we laid out our heating cable carefully. The cable had to be covered in soft sand.”
“A second layer of soft sand was added to a depth of 2 inches. We carefully made it level. The final touch – a layer of capillary matting”.
Here ends the entries from the first monthly entry into my Garden Journal for 2016. See you in February when we will start to use our newly constructed heated propagation bench.